[Movie Review] The Ox-Bow Incident


Bow knows lynchings

The plot for The Ox-Bow Incident is one that could work in plenty of genres.  Sci Fi, drama, war, film Noir, crime, etc.  It takes place in 1885 Nevada which gives it a western setting, but the movie is a social commentary on mob violence and due process.  Does that sound exciting or what?

Well, it isn’t as exciting as an ultra-violent Sam Peckinpah western (we’ll get to those), but it is a solid character-driven story that had me riveted to the end.

The film stars Henry Fonda, who just rode into a small town with his friend, played by Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H.  After setting themselves up at the local Saloon they find out quickly how on edge the locals are over some nearby ranchers who become the victims of cattle-rustling.

When news comes in from out of town that one of the ranchers has been murdered, the townspeople form a posse with the cattle rustlers as their prime suspect.  A judge informs the people that forming a posse without the town’s sheriff (who is away) is illegal, and the suspects must be brought back for trial.  Henry and Harry (not their names in the movie, lol) can see how riled up the locals are and decide to join the posse to keep suspicion off of themselves.

Later that night the posse discovers three men sleeping in Ox-Bow Canyon, and nearby what they believe are the murdered rancher’s stolen cattle.   One of the men claims to have purchased the cattle but did not receive a bill of sale.  A few in the posse want to bring the men back to town, but the majority believe they have enough evidence to justify lynching the men immediately.

This film was meant for a 1940’s USA going through a war,  but its simple message of how wrong we can be in a heated moment is oddly still relevant today.  It is their version of “watch the whole video” or “read the whole thread”.  Heck, I just watched Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell which pretty much covers a similar them.

It was a little weird for me to see Henry Fonda play a tough guy as I’ve only seen him in Tom Hanks 1.0 mode before.  But after watching the film, I can see why this was one of only two parts he claims he was excited to play while he was unhappy in his seven-year contract Twentieth Century-Fox. (The other being his role in Grapes of Wrath.)

The film clocks in at just over an hour (Yep, I’ve watched longer episodes of The Sopranos) so it isn’t a major time commitment.  I saw this one was coming up on TCM and programmed a recording simply because it stars Henry Fonda and the guide gave it 5 stars.  I’m in a posse with the guide.




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