Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943)

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), directed by William A. Wellman

Two cow-pokes -- in town for a quiet drink -- are unwillingly swept up into a lynch mob seeking vengeance for cattle rustling and murder. They try to put brakes on the blood-lust, but sometimes the thoughtful, law-abiding citizens are just outnumbered.

This is more of a civics lesson than an actual western, and must have been jarring to people looking for relaxing entertainment. It is a dark, bitter vision of vigilante justice.

One of the voices of reason and restraint is Sparks (Leigh Whipper), an itinerant black preacher, who tells of how his brother was lynched. The Message doesn't get more blunt than that. He sings an early version of "Lonesome Valley".

Filmed on backlots with some unusual scenes for that era: the posse silently entering the suspects' camp is very eerie. The mob picnics on the condemned men's food.

Cast notes:

The opening bar scene was repeated in the director's Yellow Sky (1948). Same bartender, different painting.

Photographed by Arthur Miller.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. The edited commentary track includes a film scholar and more from the director's son. Wellman sounds like he was a tough character. He bought this script, the only time he put his own money into a picture.