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Ox-Bow Incident, The

    Mark Tolch
    Senior Member

  • Ox-Bow Incident, The

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: June 14, 2016
    Director: William A. Wellman
    Cast: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan, Mary Beth Hughes
    Year: 1943

    The Movie:

    It's Nevada, 1885, and Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and his good buddy Art Croft (Harry Morgan) have just rolled back in to town to belly up to the bar at the local saloon and see what's been going on in their absence. A whole lot, apparently; Gil's main squeeze Rose has done picked up and moved to Frisco to get married, even though she promised Gil she'd wait around, and there's talk of cattle rustlers that are up to no good, stealing the livelihood of local farmers. After resenting an implication that he and Art may have something to do with those rustlers, Gil gets himself in a rowdy punch-up that finds him with a whiskey bottle busted across his head.

    He awakens to a significantly worse situation; the second-hand news that local Irish farmer Larry Kincaid has been found face-down in a ditch with a bullet in his brain, and some of his uniquely-branded cattle gone from his ranch. A mob starts to gather, initially led by local hothead Jeff Farnley (Marc Lawrence) who is adamant that the murderers will escape if they don't get a posse together immediately. Gil and Art are sent to roust Judge Tyler and the Sheriff so that something can be done about the situation legally, but the Sheriff's absence sends his not-so-bright deputy, Butch Mapes, in his place.

    With the Judge present and promises of a couple of rounds of free drinks if they wait for the Sheriff, it seems that tempers may cool enough for some rational thought to take place, but the arrival of Army Major Tetley brings news that a trio of men were recently seen heading to the mountain pass with Kincaid's stolen cattle. The angry talk starts up again and escalates quickly, with the mob convinced that heading through the mountains will surely mean escape for the criminals. Mapes, with his need to be the big man about town, illegally deputizes everyone itchin' for a hangin;, and the lynch mob, with Gil, Art, and a Black Preacher as the voices of reason, head out to track down the quarry. It doesn't take them long to find the trio of unlikely suspects bedded down for the night in Ox-Bow Canyon, but as unlikely as they seem as murderers, their alibis of having just moved into the area, legally purchasing the cattle from Kincaid, and otherwise being completely innocent ring even more suspicious. As a hanging dawn approaches, infighting between the men blurs the lines of morality and justice, with consequences that may haunt them to their dying days.

    A slightly toned down version of the novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the film The Ox-Bow Incident still packs a wickedly dark punch as it examines the mentality of the lynch mob and the evil that some men are destined to carry out. Though it does attempt to occasionally break up the disturbing atmosphere with comic relief, the film is a sharp departure from the cowboy and western films of the day, where good guys were good guys, and villains were easily identifiable. Demonstrating such internal struggle onscreen is a difficult task made easier by Ox-Bow's stellar cast; Fonda and Morgan are fantastic, but the ensemble of supporting characters here is what allows them to take their roles to the next level, by offering up a wide variety of complex personality platforms to play off of. Frank Conroy's Major Tetley is just one such example, a self-manufactured war hero who never had to face the horror of battle, but whose demons will not allow him to rest fitfully, and the others fit the same mold, making it difficult to distinguish if they're really good people who are doing bad things, or bad people who occasionally show a glimpse of humanity. There are no sub-par performances to be found from anyone, from the major players right down to an un-credited bit part featuring Margaret Hamilton.

    The source material is fantastic, yes, but Wellman's part in this is what keeps The Ox-Bow Incident important after seventy years, from his stubborn determination to get the film made to his seat behind the camera. Despite it's fairly narrow aspect ratio, Wellman offers up some beautifully-composed shots, especially the night scenes in the canyon, and he keeps the film moving along VERY quickly, making its already short runtime of 75 minutes seem even more brief. Predating 12 Angry Men by over a decade, The Ox-Bow Incident functions in a similar vein, forcing a still-relevant introspection that most would find an unpleasant task.


    Kino brings The Ox-Bow Incident to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.33:1 transfer that boasts of a 4K Restoration on the back cover. The film certainly looks good for being almost seventy-five years old, and there's not too much in the way of dirt or damage to detract from the viewing experience. The original negative for The Ox-Bow Incident, as is mentioned in one of the supplements, is long-gone, and an earlier restoration saw a new negative struck from a restored black and white safety fine grain master. All technical stuff aside, The Ox-Bow Incident doesn't look fantastic here, with a fair amount of softness present. Blacks are acceptable, to be sure, but viewers may experience elevated contrast levels and therefore, not much in the way of dynamics. As I said, it's still fine looking for its age and not beat up, but using it to show off your home theatre might not be a good plan.

    The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track fares much better, with dialogue remaining clear throughout, though it does very occasionally get a little abrasive, but it's more than acceptable, again given the age of the film. Like the video transfer, it's definitely clean of dirt and other damage issues, and for a talky film with a lot of simultaneous speaking, does very well.

    There are no subtitles provided with this release.

    One of the cooler supplements on the disc is the 1997 Biography program, Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero (44:51), narrated by Richard Kiley. Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane and Peter Fonda and others reminisce about Fonda's acting chops and life as a family man, taking a look at the actor from his ancestry through to his films and personal life. One of the more interesting bits found regarding a lynching that Fonda witnessed ties in well with the Ox-Bow Incident, and it's a decent look at a man with a long career.

    2002 Restoration Comparison (2:52) is a short and largely annoying look at the restoration process used to digitally clean up the dupe made from the safety print in the Fox collection. Why is it annoying? Because the comparisons don't look that great on either side of the line in the side-by-side comparisons. Add to that the screens full of text that have to be paused to be read...they seem to be on-screen for about a second, not nearly long enough, and you can safely take my word that this supplement can be skipped with no consequence.

    Trailers for The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky, Man of the West, and Man With the Gun can also be found.

    The most informative supplement comes in the form of a commentary featuring New Mexico University Professor and "Western Scholar" Dick Eulain, and William Wellman Jr., son of the Director of the film. These are two separate tracks merged together rather seamlessly, and full of good stuff. While Eulain looks more at the themes of the film, such as masculinity and religion that the film shares with the book, Wellman Jr. provides a number of anecdotes about his father, covering how the book was originally pitched, why it needed to be low budget, why the film was almost not made, and the poor response it got from audiences while being critically acclaimed. Though there are some gaps in the conversation, it's well worth listening to, especially Wellman Jr.'s entertaining stories about his dad.

    The Final Word:

    Dark and powerful, The Ox-Bow Incident is a superb film with a lavish and effective cast of actors. Kino's disc is not without flaw, but a fine way to see such an important film. .

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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