Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Ox-Bow Incident


Hollywood made so many crappy westerns—Saturday matinee serials, “singing cowboys” in ridiculous outfits, endless B and C movies—that I sometimes forget that some of the best movies ever made were in a western setting. I can easily think of a dozen. This, which I had somehow never seen, can stand with any of them. Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan ride into a dusty little shithole in Nevada and quickly find themselves caught up in a so-called “posse” formed to catch some rustlers who murdered a local man. It is nothing more than a lynch mob, and they have pretty much established the guilt of these men before they even find them. Most of them are having a grand old time of it, until they find the “rustlers.” One is a feeble old man, another is a Mexican played by Anthony Quinn, and the leader of the group is Dana Andrews, who has a wife and two young daughters. Some begin to have doubts. But in the end only seven of the men vote to take the accused back to town for trial. They string the varmints up, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to hear that they were all innocent. The movie is a powerful indictment against vigilante justice, based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and quite faithful to the book. The performances are first-rate all around, including Jane Darwell, playing a character about as far from Ma Joad as she could be.