Saturday, September 12, 2015

The William Wellman Blogathon

Now Voyaging is hosting their very first blogathon, and its subject is one I'll admit I'm not deeply familiar with. That said, I have seen one film by Wellman. The film in question?

(1943, dir. William A. Wellman)

The Ox-Bow Incident starts off like your standard western: lamenting over a lost love, a bar brawl, things like that. Then news of a murder quickly passes through the town, and the story kicks off. A sense of blood lust starts coursing through the lynch mob. That said, there are those who think the posse are acting too rash.

Soon they come across three men: Donald Martin (Dana Andrews), Juan Martinez (Anthony Quinn) and Alva Hardwicke (Francis Ford). Immediately the posse assumes the trio of men are responsible for the crime. But it becomes very clear to the viewer that they had nothing to do with it. (The fear in Martin's eyes when he's told of what he'll be hanged for says it all.)

In a way, The Ox-Bow Incident is almost like the western equivalent of 12 Angry Men. Not because both star Henry Fonda as the peacekeeper but because both films are morality-driven. Much like how the eleven jurors of 12 Angry Men wanted to get the verdict over with, the posse just want someone to pay regardless of who actually did it. Had it not been for those dubious members among the groups, guilt would surely not have set in for the others. (At least 12 Angry Men ends on a more positive note than The Ox-Bow Incident.)

And though the film stars Fonda not long after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Grapes of Wrath and Quinn at the start of his career stealing every scene he was in, the actor who deserves the most attention for his work in The Ox-Bow Incident is Andrews. The fear coursing through Martin knowing he's going to be hanged for someone else's actions is something that could easily be overdone by a second-rate actor. But with Andrews, it's a performance that makes one wonder how the hell he didn't get an Oscar nomination for it. (Or, for that matter, at any point in his career.)

Speaking of lack of Oscar nominations, The Ox-Bow Incident was only nominated for Best Picture and lost to Casablanca. (Tough choice, huh?) The script by Lamar Trotti was equally worthy of recognition but what also deserves a mention is Arthur C. Miller's cinematography. Indeed, it's a film more reliant on the strength of its story and actors but some of the shots Miller captured simply must be mentioned. (No surprise that he won an Oscar for Best Cinematography the following year albeit for The Song of Bernadette instead of The Ox-Bow Incident.)

When one thinks of westerns, you usually think of the ones starring John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or the ones directed by John Ford or Sergio Leone. And many times said westerns usually rely more on guns a-blazin' and not much else. (Looking at you, The Wild Bunch.) It's not very often where a western focuses more on the characters and less on the violence though there have been exceptions throughout the years. (See High Noon and Rio Bravo.) And honestly, The Ox-Bow Incident doesn't get the recognition it so rightly deserves.


  1. Yes, the cinematography of this film is stunning, which makes the message even more gut-wrenching.

    I liked your comparison to "12 Angry Men". I agree that the themes are quite similar.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. :)

  2. YES!

    Andrews gutted me here. One of my favorite supporting turns of all time.

  3. A really thoughtful and thought provoking post! I agree this is a film that doesn't always get the recognition it deserves! Thanks for this posting and for taking part in the blogathon!

  4. Must agree that Dana Andrews is devastating in this and the cinematography is wonderful. Interesting comparison with 12 Angry Men and the way both the jurors and the posse want a scapegoat rather than justice.


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