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William A. Wellman
Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan, William Eythe
Writing Credits:
Walter Van Tilburg Clark (novel), Lamar Trotti

Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Henry Morgan) ride into a town frustrated by the prevalence of cattle rustlers. Suddenly, word comes that a popular rancher has been murdered, which puts the already enraged town over the edge. When the spiteful mayor forms a posse, Gil and Croft are swept up in their mission - to seek vengeance - even upon those innocent of any wrongdoing.

As it becomes clear that blood-lust may win out over rationality, the tension mounts in this "masterpiece" ("Tim Dirks' The Greatest Films") with its timeless message about the dangers of mob mentality.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Stereo
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural

Runtime: 75 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 11/4/2003

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Western Scholar Dick Eulain and Director’s Son William Wellman Jr.
• A&E Biography “Henry Fonda: Hollywood’s Quiet Hero” Documentary
• Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
• Restoration Comparison

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Ox-Bow Incident: Studio Classics (1943)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 4, 2003)

Though it fits into the category of a classic western, don’t expect any of the stereotypical cowboys and Indians from 1943’s winning The Ox-Bow Incident. Set in Nevada circa 1885, Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Henry Morgan) wander into a small town after the long winter. They go to a bar where the inhabitants regard the strangers suspiciously. Carter asks about the status of his “girl” Rose Mapen (Mary Beth Hughes) but soon discovers that she left town recently.

We learn that rustlers have caused problems around town, and some wonder if Carter and Croft are involved in those activities. Word comes in that local rancher Kinkaid has been murdered, so some bloodthirsty locals form a posse. Shopkeeper Mr. Davies (Harry Davenport) attempts to calm the fury but does so unsuccessfully. Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) takes charge of the group and insists that his “cowardly” son Gerald (William Eythe) come along to “make a man of him”. Sheriff Risley (Willard Robertson) is missing in action, so thuggish deputy Butch Mapes (Dick Rich) acts as the authority and deputizes the mob.

The pair lead the posse. Croft, Carter, Davies and others come along with the group to try to keep some level of reason intact. Eventually they encounter a trio sleeping at the Ox-Box, and the posse immediately assumes these three were responsible. They interrogate leader Donald Martin (Dana Andrews) and try to come to conclusions about the incident.

As I noted earlier, Incident marks a distinct break from the western tradition. It draws a murky line between heroes and villains. While the members of the posse could be seen in the latter category, they never come across as black and white portrayals. A few of the vigilantes seem cartoony, such as the town drunk who gets a laugh out of the gang’s endeavors. Nonetheless, while the film clearly favors the side of the argument that prefers temperance, it allows us to understand their motivations.

However, don’t mistake that comprehension for sympathy, as Incident provides a definite cautionary tale. It indirectly reflects on the fascism then ruining Europe and examines the problems with the mob mentality. Director William A. Wellman gives the material a cold and cruel feel that works well for it. Very little music appears throughout the film, so while it doesn’t exactly come across like a documentary, it nonetheless lacks the broadness that might make the story melodramatic.

Instead, Incident remains consistently taut and harrowing. The narrative builds slowly and doesn’t ever let the viewer off the hook. In fact, it does all it can to get us to feel suspicious of the alleged perpetrators. This doesn’t seem to support the posse, but it complicates things and keeps the movie from becoming simplistic.

Indeed, the complications of The Ox-Bow Incident are what makes it great. This isn’t a basic and one-dimensional examination of its topic, and it comes across in a stark and unsentimental manner. If you want a chipper tale with a happy ending, look elsewhere. Incident seems dark and tense and is a tremendously satisfying study.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C- (stereo) B- (mono)/ Bonus B

The Ox-Bow Incident appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its advanced age, Incident provided a consistently positive presentation.

Sharpness seemed very good. Almost no intrusive softness appeared at any time during the movie. Instead, it looked nicely detailed and well defined. I witnessed no concerns related to jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of moiré effects occurred.

As for print flaws, they were very minor. Occasional marks, spots, or smudges showed up, but these occurred infrequently. Overall, the image remained quite clean and fresh. A few frame jumps popped up as well. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dense, and shadows mostly appeared distinctive. A few nighttime shots were slightly opaque, but those instances seemed rare. Instead, most of the dark shots – of which the flick employed more than a few – looked clear and appropriately defined. I’ve seen better transfers for movies as old as Incident, but not many; the flick looked very good.

As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, The Ox-Bow Incident presented both a remixed stereo and the original monaural soundtracks. As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, the mono mix seemed noticeably stronger than the stereo one did. The soundfield heard in the stereo version lacked much definition. Essentially the domain displayed broad mono; it spread the audio in a vague manner across the forward channels, but it failed to substantial accuracy or delineation. No really well delineated stereo elements showed up, as the whole thing seemed blandly developed.

Mostly the stereo track just offered a vague echo, though this didn’t seem as obnoxiously enforced as in some prior Studio Classics releases. Audio quality appeared fairly decent, at least. Speech demonstrated some edginess but generally remained acceptably distinct and intelligible. Effects were somewhat thin and tinny, but they sounded reasonably clean and accurate, and they different suffer from notable distortion. The music seemed fairly rich given the age of the material, though it was a bit loose and boomy at times.

The problematic delineation of the stereo spectrum and the somewhat excessive reverberation caused most of the problems related to this mix. Due to those reasons, I preferred the mono track. Speech still showed a little edginess, but it seemed a little warmer and more natural since it lacked the echo. Effects and music also displayed similar dynamics for both tracks, but the greater focus on the single-channel presentation and the absence of reverberation made the elements sound clearer and tighter. The music was a little thinner than in the stereo track but still seemed more accurate. Some light distortion popped up for louder elements like gunfire, but given the generally subdued nature of the mix, this wasn’t a real concern. Ultimately, the mono track for Incident seemed like the more satisfying one.

This “Fox Studio Classics” edition of The Ox-Bow Incident includes a smattering of supplements. We open with an audio commentary from western scholar Dick Eulain and director’s son William Wellman Jr. Both sat separately for their sessions, and the results were combined for this track. Overall, the discussion offers a nice look at the subject. Wellman mostly tells us about his father’s life and career, with a moderate emphasis on his involvement with Incident. Eulain dominates the track as he goes into comparisons between the movie and the novel on which it was based, the evolution of the western, interpretation of the film, and production topics. Both men prove to be informative and entertaining. The commentary suffers from more empty spaces than I’d like, especially during the flick’s second half, but as a whole, the track gives us a fine examination of Incident.

Next we find an episode of A&E Biography called Henry Fonda: Hollywood’s Quiet Hero. This 44-minute and 59-second program mixes archival materials, film clips, and interviews with daughter/actor Jane Fonda, biographer Kevin Sweeney, son/actor Peter Fonda, actors Anthony Quinn and Richard Dreyfuss, director/actor Ron Howard, director Mark Rydell, and wife Shirlee Fonda. In keeping with other entries in the Biography series, this one follows Henry Fonda from childhood through death. It alternates between discussions of his career and his personal life. We get a decent feel for Fonda’s life, though I continue to dislike the somewhat superficial way in which the Biography shows tend to emphasize the negative. They don’t reach Behind the Music levels of dirt, but they push those parts, whereas I’d rather learn more intricacies about the actor’s career. Nonetheless, “Hero” gives us a reasonably good examination of Fonda’s life and work.

A few minor components round out the DVD. In the Still Gallery, we find 17 photos, most of which offer publicity images. We also get the film’s Theatrical Trailer and a Restoration Demonstration. The latter provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film.

A pioneering western, The Ox-Bow Incident offers a rich and dark examination of frontier “justice”. It gives us a good psychological portrait of the mob mentality and comes across as taut and compelling. The DVD presents surprisingly positive picture quality along with fairly average audio, especially if you listen to the flawed stereo mix; the original monaural tracks fares much better. Add to that a good audio commentary along with some other supplements and Incident earns my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 40
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