Pelish’s Gold Mine—Nuggets from Film History The Ox-Bow Incident

By Randy Pelish

Director William Wellman routinely made great films. Beginning in the silent era his Wings won the first Academy Award for best picture in 1927. He was well qualified to direct this film as he was a decorated fighter pilot during World War I in the Lafayette Escadrille. He directed so many wonderful pictures it is difficult to choose just one for review, but choose I did.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) is a perfect film. Based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s classic novel with a script by Lamar Trotti it is a poignant argument for the rule of law.

Three innocent men are arrested for crimes they did not commit. Instead of turning them over for prosecution, the angry citizens dispense vigilante justice. Minutes after they are hanged the sheriff arrives and announces the vigilantes are all murderers, but he guarantees them the justice they denied the innocent trio they hanged.

This breathtaking adaptation stars Henry Fonda and a supporting cast of many great actors including Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan, and Anthony Quinn in the role that elevated him to stardom.

It is a profound exploration into the mob mentality responsible for so many tragedies in our long, violent history. The 75 minute feature film leaves us devastated. A minority fights to save the men for trial, but the blood lust of the majority wins out leading to a far greater tragedy for all these men and women.

This is filmmaking at its very best. At once moving as well as relentlessly morbid, The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the greatest films ever made.

The Ox-Bow Incident can be seen free of charge at

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