Friday, January 18, 2008

The Ox-Bow Incident (William Wellman, 1943)


William Wellman's taut, unaffected Western explores the bloodlust that overwhelms the outwardly wholesome folk of a frontier township when news arrives that one of their own has been found murdered on the outskirts. The picture is overtly incendiary in its evisceration of mob mentality and the nastier basic human impulses, yet so subtle and probing in its characterisations that a silent sideline exchange of glances between old lovers is enough to evoke a scarring, tangled shared history. It mixes a traditionally literary concern with the human condition with a traditionally Hollywood sense of escalating tension as well as a visceral and unusually confronting threat of violence. And it wraps up in just under 75 minutes.

With its cynical undercurrent and blistering assault on frontier mythology, this is the kind of 'classical Hollywood' Western that makes you wonder how much of the claims of subversiveness and exposé of the revisionist craze that began in the late 60s (and is yet to really go away) is purely a matter of self-serious posturing.

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