20 September 2005 | The_Void
Brilliant and timeless ensemble drama
The Ox-Bow Incident isn't a very well known cinema classic, and therefore it's fan base is comprised mostly of cinema buffs that are willing to go that extra mile to see great films. It's a shame that this film hasn't managed to cement itself better in cinema history since it's release in 1943, but on the other hand; anyone who does make the effort to seek it out is definitely in for a treat! Unlike many other westerns from the golden age of cinema, this one doesn't focus on Cowboys and Indians or other such entertainment friendly subjects, but instead the story is of a much more absorbing and long-lasting nature. The implications of this film can be applied to almost any time in history and it will be relevant, and that is what makes The Ox-Bow Incident such a great film. The story follows two drifters who ride into a town to find that the locals are forming a posse to catch and hang the men that they believe have murdered a local farmer and stolen his cattle. It quickly becomes apparent that the men accused may not be guilty, but the townsfolk are bloodthirsty and hungry to see justice done there and then.
The themes in the film are more prevalent and important than the plot itself. The film shows how rash decisions can out-shadow the truth, and this story can be likened to any number of stories over the last few centuries where the American value of 'innocent until proved guilty' has been overshadowed in favour of a crowd-pleasing decision. The tragedy of the film is always at the forefront, and this makes it difficult to aptly categorise this film as a western. Putting this film in with a genre of film that often focuses on gunfights and chase sequences somehow doesn't seem right. This film is really an ensemble drama, and in just a 72 minute running time, director William A. Wellman has managed to make a film that both intrigues and gives it's audience food for thought. Too many filmmakers these days think that a long running time is what makes a great film; but Wellman has proved that tight plotting and an important story are the far more important aspects. Henry Fonda is the biggest name on the cast list, and he does well; but even he struggles to shine amongst this film's real star, which is, of course, the script and the themes on offer. On the whole, this is a great film, which deserves more respect and shouldn't be missed by anyone!