Ox-Bow Incident

Ox-Bow Incident

4.7 4
Director: William Wellman

Cast: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes


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This now-classic indictment of mob rule was a pet project of both star Henry Fonda and director William Wellman, both of whom agreed to work on lesser 20th Century-Fox projects in exchange for this film. After a hard winter on the range, cowboys Gil Carter (Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan) ride into a fleabitten small town for a drink. Within minutes, they get… See more details below


This now-classic indictment of mob rule was a pet project of both star Henry Fonda and director William Wellman, both of whom agreed to work on lesser 20th Century-Fox projects in exchange for this film. After a hard winter on the range, cowboys Gil Carter (Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan) ride into a fleabitten small town for a drink. Within minutes, they get mixed up in a barroom brawl, which earns them the animosity of the locals. By and by, word reaches town that a local rancher has been killed by rustlers. With the sheriff out of town, a lynch mob is formed under the leadership of Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), a former Confederate officer who hopes to recapture past glories. Worried that they'll be strung up, Carter and Croft reluctantly join the mob and head out of town. In the dark of night, the group comes across three sleeping transients: a farmer named Martin (Dana Andrews), a Mexican (Anthony Quinn), and a senile old man (Francis Ford). The fact that Martin carries no bill of sale written by the so-called murder victim is evidence enough for Tetley to demand that the three men be hanged on the spot. Carter knows that this is a gross miscarriage of justice, but he's helpless to intervene. Resolving himself to his fate, Martin gives Carter a letter to deliver to his wife. The three unfortunates die at the end of the rope, and the mob rides off, only to discover that there never was a murder of any kind. Based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident is not so much a western as a gothic melodrama, with deep, looming shadows and atmospheric underlighting worthy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Though the film lost a fortune at the box office (a fact that Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck never tired of pointing out to Fonda and Wellman), it gains in stature with each passing year.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
This darkly hued, downbeat picture -- a critical success but a commercial failure upon its 1943 release -- has taken its place among filmdom’s classic westerns, even though it eschews the form’s conventions and lacks the archetypal nature of most great horse operas. Essentially, Ox-Bow is a Greek tragedy transposed to the American West, where three suspicious drifters (Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Francis Ford) are captured and summarily tried -- without convincing evidence -- for cattle rustling and murder. A group of outraged citizens led by a Confederate officer (Frank Conroy) are determined to lynch the convicted men, but two levelheaded cowboys (top-billed Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) attempt to reason with them. Faithfully adapted from Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s distinguished novel by writer Lamar Trotti and director William Wellman (Beau Geste), Ox-Bow proffers a searing indictment of mob violence, along with a straightforward depiction of frontier life. That virtues of decency and compassion slip into the story is a testament to Fonda and Wellman, whose insistence on making the film during World War II -- when Japanese Americans were being subjected to similar outrages -- speaks well for their commitment and integrity. Socially conscious westerns from this era are rare, and to this day none of them have been as powerful as The Ox-Bow Incident.
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident was an anomaly at the time it was released. Produced in the middle of World War II, when Hollywood was concentrating on movies that either boosted morale or entertained, it did neither: it was a major studio release, with a hot young star (Henry Fonda) in the lead, about an unjustified lynching in the 1870s West. Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel had been kicking around for years, but Hollywood had never had much luck making movies about mob violence and vigilante justice (Fritz Lang's Fury had been a box-office disaster for MGM before the war, despite the presence of Spencer Tracy), and no one was anxious to film it. Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck agreed to do the movie only because Fonda and Wellman agreed to do other films for the studio, and the result was a movie that was singularly unpopular during its initial release but which has aged magnificently. It was a labor of love by all concerned, a chilling indictment of American justice and America's past in which there are no heroes, just participants who are less guilty than others. Once the war was over, and the movie made it to television, it began to find an audience; the belated response from critics and viewers, as well his pride in having made it, inspired Fonda's similar effort 14 years later to make 12 Angry Men, a movie built on a similar theme. Ironically, 12 Angry Men also took decades to find its audience and begin recording a profit. For all its lack of recognition at the time, The Ox-Bow Incident has become, along with Otto Preminger's Laura, perhaps the most distinctive and well-remembered film issued by Fox during the first half of the 1940s. Still startling today is the performance of Jane Darwell as Ma Grier. A 1940 Oscar winner for her Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Darwell here plays the dark mirror image of that part, a bloodthirsty, mean-tempered, jocular sadist; Darwell was an anomaly herself, a lesbian living an almost open lifestyle: there were Hollywood columns of the era describing visits to her ranch in Northern California and the coterie of "nieces" (quotes in the articles) living with her.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
20th Century Fox

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Henry Fonda Gil Carter
Dana Andrews Donald Martin
Mary Beth Hughes Rose Mapen
Anthony Quinn Mexican
Jane Darwell Ma Grier
Harry Davenport Arthur Davies
William Eythe Gerald Tetley
Matt Briggs Judge Daniel Tyler
Frank Conroy Major Tetley
Marc Lawrence Farnley
Paul Hurst Monty Smith
Chris-Pin Martin Poncho
Frank Orth Kinkaid
Ted North Joyce
George Meeker Mr. Swanson
Almira Sessions Mrs. Swanson
Margaret Hamilton Mrs. Larch
Dick Rich Deputy Butch Mapes
Francis Ford Old Man
Stanley Andrews Bartlett
William Benedict Greene
Rondo Hatton Gabe Hart
Paul E. Burns Winder
Leigh Whipper Sparks
George Chandler Jimmy Cairnes
George Lloyd Moore
Hank Bell Red
Forrest Dillon Mark
Don House Actor
Walter Robbins Actor
Larry Dods Actor
Henry Morgan Art Croft
Victor Kilian Darby
Willard Robertson Sheriff
Cap Anderson Posse Member
Tex Driscoll Posse
Tom London Deputy
Frank McGrath Posse Member
George Plues Alec Small
Ed Richard Posse Member
Clint Sharp Posse Member
Ben Watson Posse Member

Technical Credits
William Wellman Director
James Basevi Art Director
Alfred Bruzlin Sound/Sound Designer
Richard Day Art Director
Roger Heman Sound/Sound Designer
Frank E. Hughes Set Decoration/Design
Thomas K. Little Set Decoration/Design
Earl Luick Costumes/Costume Designer
Allen McNeil Editor
Arthur C. Miller Cinematographer
Cyril Mockridge Score Composer
Guy Pearce Makeup
Ad Schaumer Asst. Director
Lamar Trotti Producer,Screenwriter

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