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Sunday Classic Movie: The Oxbow Incident (1943) – Henry Fonda,Dana Andrews,Anthony Quinn,Harry Morgan,Jane Darwell

09/12/2018

Classic Western, with a stellar cast

Wikipedia

The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1943 American western film directed by William A. Wellman, starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews and Mary Beth Hughes, with Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Harry Morgan and Jane Darwell. Two drifters are passing through a Western town, when news arrives that a local rancher has been murdered and his cattle stolen. The townspeople, joined by the drifters, form a posse to catch the perpetrators. They find three men in possession of the cattle, and are determined to see justice done on the spot.

The film premiered in May 1943 to positive reviews from critics. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 16th Academy Awards, losing to Casablanca.

In Bridger’s Wells, Nevada in 1885, Art Croft (Harry Morgan) and Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) ride into town and enter Darby’s Saloon. The atmosphere is subdued due to recent incidents of cattle-rustling. Art and Gil are suspected to be rustlers because they have rarely been seen in town.

A man enters the saloon and announces that a rancher named Larry Kinkaid has been murdered. The townspeople immediately form a posse to pursue the murderers, who they believe are cattle rustlers. A judge tells the posse that it must bring the suspects back for trial, and that its formation by a deputy (the sheriff being out of town) is illegal. Art and Gil join the posse to avoid raising even more suspicion. Davies (Harry Davenport), who was initially opposed to forming the posse, also joins, along with “Major” Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his son Gerald (William Eythe). Poncho informs the posse that three men and cattle bearing Kinkaid’s brand have just entered Bridger’s Pass.

The posse encounters a stagecoach. When they try to stop it, the stagecoach guard assumes that it is a stickup, and shoots, wounding Art. In the coach are Rose Mapen (Mary Beth Hughes), Gil’s ex-girlfriend, and her new husband, Swanson (George Meeker).

Later that night in Ox-Bow Canyon, the posse finds three men sleeping, with what are presumed to be stolen cattle nearby. The posse interrogates them: a young, well-spoken man, Donald Martin (Dana Andrews); a Mexican, Juan Martínez (Anthony Quinn); and an old man, Alva Hardwicke (Francis Ford, brother of film director John Ford). Martin claims that he purchased the cattle from Kinkaid but received no bill of sale. No one believes Martin, and the posse decides to hang the three men at sunrise.

Martin writes a letter to his wife and asks Davies, the only member of the posse that he trusts, to deliver it. Davies reads the letter, and, hoping to save Martin’s life, shows it to the others. Davies believes that Martin is innocent and does not deserve to die.

The Mexican “Juan” is recognized as a gambler named Francisco Morez. He tries to escape and is shot and wounded. The posse discovers that Morez has Kinkaid’s gun.

Major Tetley wants the men to be lynched immediately. A vote is taken as to whether the men should be hanged or taken back to stand trial. Only seven, among them Davies, Gerald Tetley, Gil and Art, vote to take the men back to town alive; the rest support immediate hanging. Gil tries to stop it, but is overpowered.

After the lynching, the posse heads back towards Bridger’s Wells and encounters Sheriff Risley, who tells them that Lawrence Kinkaid is not dead and that the men who shot him have been arrested. Risley strips the deputy of his badge.

The men of the posse gather in Darby’s Saloon and drink in silence. Major Tetley returns to his house and shoots himself after his son condemns him for being sadistic. In the saloon, Gil reads Martin’s letter while members of the posse listen. In the final scene Gil and Art head out of town to deliver the letter and $500 raised by those in the posse to Martin’s wife.

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