The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) For a genre as critically dismissed as the Western, there are a great number of them that questioned the clichés of westerns … and those tend to have endured far more than the basic westerns. The Ox-Bow Incident is one of those, a western that squarely took aim at the crude justice that other westerns seem too quick to condone. Things are set in motion when a rancher disappears while strangers are seen around. Soon enough, a posse is formed to catch those strangers and enact justice. Despite doubts from various characters, the strangers are found and … but that would be spoiling the film. Suffice to say that The Ox-Bow Incident is meant to leave viewers unsettled and more thankful than ever for due process. Visually, the film isn’t special: it’s in your usual early-forties black-and-white, not particularly distinguished. Harry Morgan and Henry Fonda both star, but the real strength of the film is in its daring screenplay. Adapted from a novel, the film was a box-office failure and a modest critical success (it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) but it has endured and is still, today, regularly played on cable TV. It certainly belongs alongside films such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Searchers, The Shootist, Unforgiven and other westerns that weren’t satisfied with the simplistic cowboys-and-Indian stories that westerns often showcased.

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