The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

75 mins | Western | 21 May 1943

Director:

William A. Wellman

Writer:

Lamar Trotti

Producer:

Lamar Trotti

Cinematographer:

Arthur Miller

Editor:

Allen McNeil

Production Designers:

Richard Day, James Basevi

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

Lamar Trotti's onscreen credit reads "Produced and written for the screen by Lamar Trotti." According to contemporary news items, the rights to Walter Van Tilburg Clark's book were originally acquired in 1941 by Harold Hurley, a former Paramount producer who tried unsuccessfully to make a distribution deal with United Artists. Modern sources note that director William Wellman bought the rights from Hurley and then interested Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck in producing the story. Zanuck agreed on the condition that Wellman direct two other films for the studio, Thunderbirds and Buffalo Bill . A 18 May 1942 studio press release indicated that Preston Foster was to be cast in a "key role," and HR news items note that Sara Allgood was originally cast in the role of "Jennie 'Ma' Grier," but was replaced by Florence Bates. Bates was then injured in a horseback riding scene, necessitating her replacement by Jane Darwell, who appears in the finished film.
       A 23 Apr 1942 HR item reported that due to "defense regulations hindering exterior shooting in the Hollywood area," the film would be shot in Nevada, but later items indicate a limited amount of location shooting was instead done at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth and in Lone Pine, both in CA. On 10 Aug 1942, HR announced that production on the film would be shut down for a week or ten days "due to the $5,000-per-film limit on new construction materials." During the shutdown, already used sets were torn down so that their material could be re-used to build the mountain pass set. Studio publicity ... More Less

Lamar Trotti's onscreen credit reads "Produced and written for the screen by Lamar Trotti." According to contemporary news items, the rights to Walter Van Tilburg Clark's book were originally acquired in 1941 by Harold Hurley, a former Paramount producer who tried unsuccessfully to make a distribution deal with United Artists. Modern sources note that director William Wellman bought the rights from Hurley and then interested Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck in producing the story. Zanuck agreed on the condition that Wellman direct two other films for the studio, Thunderbirds and Buffalo Bill . A 18 May 1942 studio press release indicated that Preston Foster was to be cast in a "key role," and HR news items note that Sara Allgood was originally cast in the role of "Jennie 'Ma' Grier," but was replaced by Florence Bates. Bates was then injured in a horseback riding scene, necessitating her replacement by Jane Darwell, who appears in the finished film.
       A 23 Apr 1942 HR item reported that due to "defense regulations hindering exterior shooting in the Hollywood area," the film would be shot in Nevada, but later items indicate a limited amount of location shooting was instead done at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth and in Lone Pine, both in CA. On 10 Aug 1942, HR announced that production on the film would be shut down for a week or ten days "due to the $5,000-per-film limit on new construction materials." During the shutdown, already used sets were torn down so that their material could be re-used to build the mountain pass set. Studio publicity noted that the Ox-Bow Valley setting was "the largest set ever constructed" by Fox, and that it covered 26,703 feet.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA file for the film at the AMPAS Library, the PCA initially was reluctant to approve the script because of its suggestion that the sheriff condoned the lynchings. The treatment of the lynchings and the characterization of those participating were discussed by the PCA and the studio at great length, and in a 9 Jun 1942 letter, PCA director Joseph I. Breen advised studio public relations head Jason S. Joy that the script would be approved if: "Major Tetley's" suicide is retained, "thus constituting a punishment for the ring-leader of the lynching party;" there is an indication that the whole gang will be arrested; the character of "Gil" is rewritten to make him less callous and more active in trying to stop the lynchings; and "Davies'" denunciation of the killings is retained. A 17 Sep 1942 HR news item commented on how unusual it was for the Hays Office to approve a film containing a lynching, and stated that "the early period [1885] was partly responsible for the exception."
       A 20 Jul 1942 studio publicity synopsis indicates that early versions of the script included the suicide of "Gerald Tetley" and that the film was to end with the reappearance of "Rose Mapen" and her husband in the saloon rather than with "Gil" and "Art" leaving to take the letter to "Martin's" wife. A modern source notes that the contents of Martin's letter are not revealed in the book, but Wellman thought that it was important to make them explicit and had Trotti compose the letter. In the letter, Martin tells his wife: "Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It's everything people ever have found out about justice and what's right and wrong. It's the very conscience of humanity. There can't be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience?"
       According to a 4 Sep 1942 HR news item, Henry Fonda was to do a special trailer for the film in which he would speak about Clark's novel. The Ox-Bow Incident , which marked the screen debut of stage actor William Eythe, was selected as the best drama film of the year by the National Board of Review. It also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but lost to Casablanca . Although the picture generally received positive reviews, commentators did note that it might not do well financially. The NYT reviewer praised the "all-round excellent cast [which] played the film brilliantly," but noted that "it is hard to imagine a picture with less promise commercially." The Life reviewer commented that the film was "an unusual Hollywood product, lofty in its purpose, stark in its realism and slashing in its savagery. But it is likely that these very distinctions will make it unpopular." The MPH reviewer also stated that the picture was "a well produced and well acted film which may present a rather special selling problem." According to Wellman's autobiography, the picture did not return a profit to the studio until after it was well-received abroad and then re-released in the United States. A television version of the film, starring Robert Wagner and Cameron Mitchell, was adapted for the 20th Century-Fox Hour , broadcast in Nov 1955. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 May 1943.
---
Daily Variety
6 May 43
p. 3.
Film Daily
16-Feb-42
---
Film Daily
10 May 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 42
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 42
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1942
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Nov 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 May 43
p. 3, 12
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 43
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 43
p. 1, 6
Life
24 May 42
pp. 41-42, 44
Motion Picture Daily
6 May 1943.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Aug 42
p. 872.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 May 43
p. 1302.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 Aug 43
p. 1507.
New York Times
10 May 43
p. 15.
New York Times
16 May 1943.
---
Variety
12 May 43
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by, Wrt for the scr by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (New York, 1940).
MUSIC
"Red River Valley," traditional.
SONGS
"You Got to Go Through the Lonesome Valley" and "We Will All Stand Together on That Day," music and lyrics by Leigh Whipper.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 May 1943
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 8 May 1943
Production Date:
late June--early August 1942
addl seq and retakes mid August--late August 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
19 November 1943
Copyright Number:
LP12907
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
75
Length(in feet):
6,776
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8590
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1885, cattlemen Gil Carter and Art Croft travel from their small ranch to the nearby town of Bridger's Wells, Nevada, after the winter round-up. Gil is hoping to meet his sweetheart, Rose Mapen, and is infuriated when Darby, the bartender, informs him that she left town to be married. Gil's temper worsens when rancher Jeff Farnley insinuates that he and Art, as the only strangers present, may be responsible for the recent cattle rustling that has hit every rancher in the area. Gil and Farnley engage in a fistfight, which ends when Darby shatters a bottle over Gil's head. As Gil and Art are standing outside afterward, a rider rushes into the saloon. Gil and Art rejoin the crowd, which has just learned that Larry Kincaid, a well-respected local rancher, has been murdered, presumably by the rustlers. Farnley, Kincaid's best friend, is easily whipped into a frenzy by the town drunk, Monty Smith, and other bored men who insist that the perpetrators should be lynched. Storekeeper Arthur Davies tries to persuade the men to wait for Sheriff Risley and Judge Daniel Tyler, but when they persist in forming a posse, Davies sends Gil and townsman Joyce to get Tyler. Davies asks Gil to avoid involving Butch Mapes, the brutish deputy sheriff, but Mapes is at Tyler's house, and when he learns of the excitement, he joins the gathering crowd. Tyler tries to dissuade the men from pursuing the alleged criminals, but Smith, Farnley and the others insist that Tyler's justice moves too slowly. Smith caustically suggests that black preacher Sparks should come, and even though he knows Smith is kidding him, Sparks decides ... +


In 1885, cattlemen Gil Carter and Art Croft travel from their small ranch to the nearby town of Bridger's Wells, Nevada, after the winter round-up. Gil is hoping to meet his sweetheart, Rose Mapen, and is infuriated when Darby, the bartender, informs him that she left town to be married. Gil's temper worsens when rancher Jeff Farnley insinuates that he and Art, as the only strangers present, may be responsible for the recent cattle rustling that has hit every rancher in the area. Gil and Farnley engage in a fistfight, which ends when Darby shatters a bottle over Gil's head. As Gil and Art are standing outside afterward, a rider rushes into the saloon. Gil and Art rejoin the crowd, which has just learned that Larry Kincaid, a well-respected local rancher, has been murdered, presumably by the rustlers. Farnley, Kincaid's best friend, is easily whipped into a frenzy by the town drunk, Monty Smith, and other bored men who insist that the perpetrators should be lynched. Storekeeper Arthur Davies tries to persuade the men to wait for Sheriff Risley and Judge Daniel Tyler, but when they persist in forming a posse, Davies sends Gil and townsman Joyce to get Tyler. Davies asks Gil to avoid involving Butch Mapes, the brutish deputy sheriff, but Mapes is at Tyler's house, and when he learns of the excitement, he joins the gathering crowd. Tyler tries to dissuade the men from pursuing the alleged criminals, but Smith, Farnley and the others insist that Tyler's justice moves too slowly. Smith caustically suggests that black preacher Sparks should come, and even though he knows Smith is kidding him, Sparks decides to go in case prayer is needed. The mob is joined by Jennie "Ma" Grier, a tough woman who also insists that they find Kincaid's killers. Tyler and Davies have almost persuaded the crowd to desist, however, when Major Tetley, a former Confederate soldier who now fancies himself a town leader, arrives and announces that three men were seen on Bridger's Pass, and that they had forty head of cattle bearing Kincaid's brand. Despite Tyler's protests that only Risley can appoint new deputies, Mapes swears in the posse members and they set off for the pass. Gil and Art reluctantly go along, for they fear that suspicion will fall on them if they do not participate. Gil's uneasiness about the situation increases when Sparks remarks that he still has nightmares about seeing his brother lynched many years previously. Night falls as the posse travels, and everyone begins to suffer from the cold. As they stop on the mountain road to rest, a stagecoach passes by and the driver mistakenly assumes that the crowd are robbers. Art is shot in the shoulder during the ensuing confusion, and while his wound is being cleaned, Gil discovers that the passengers are Rose, her new husband, Swanson, and his sister. After the wealthy Swanson vaguely warns Gil to stay away from Rose, the stage departs. Art is determined to stick with the posse, which continues on to the Ox-Bow Valley. There they find three sleeping men and the cattle bearing Kincaid's brand. After surrounding them, the mob awakens the three men, who are led by young rancher Donald Martin. Martin's companions are Alva Hardwick, an addled old man whom Martin calls "Dad," and a Mexican named Francisco Morez, who does not appear to speak English. Martin is amazed by Tetley's accusations and immediately protests their innocence. Martin insists that he moved to nearby Pike's Hole three days earlier and purchased the cattle from Kincaid, who was too busy to provide him with a bill of sale. Gil tries to persuade the others to bring the trio back to the judge, but Art reminds him that they may get lynched as well if they interfere. Davies also pleads for the men's lives, and finally, Tetley agrees to give them until dawn to prepare themselves. Martin writes a letter to his wife and two young children, while Dad sits in a daze and Morez hungrily consumes a meal prepared by Ma. While Davies tries to get Tetley to read Martin's moving letter, Morez attempts to escape. He is shot in the leg and brought back, and Kincaid's gun is found on him. Morez, who now reveals that he does speak English, asserts that he found the gun along the road, but the presence of the weapon seals his fate. Davies again protests the lynching, and this time, Sparks, Gil, Art, Tetley's cowardly son Gerald and two other men stand by him. They are outnumbered, however, and the condemned men are put on horseback. Tetley tries to force Gerald to whip the horse from underneath Martin, and when he cannot, Tetley knocks him unconscious. Martin, Dad and Morez are hanged, after which the now somber crowd leaves. Before they have journeyed far, though, they are joined by the sheriff, who tells them that not only is Kincaid alive, but his attackers have been caught. Risley promises that those responsible for the lynching will pay dearly, and the group rides back to town. There, Gerald castigates his father for his cruelty, and the distraught major commits suicide. Meanwhile, in the crowded saloon, a collection is taken up for Martin's wife. Gil and Art contribute, and Gil tries to get Art to read Martin's letter. Art cannot read, however, so Gil reads the letter aloud, and the men are ashamed to hear Martin's stirring words about the nature of justice and conscience. Gil and Art then leave Bridger's Wells on their way to deliver the letter and look after Martin's wife and children. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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