The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) ★★★★★ 4/5
This is a Western unlike any other Western. There are no sweeping landscape shot, there are no shootouts between the good guys and the bad guys and the headlining star Henry Fonda as Gil Carter is not the central character. A local cattle herder has been robbed and killed. The townspeople gather and form a mob to avenge the death of their fellow cattleman. The angry group finds three men asleep "near Ox-Bow" in the middle of the night. They awaken the men and immediately conclude they are the murderers. Donald Martin (Dana Andrews) is the soft spoken leader of the three. He is found with cattle which bear the mark of the deceased rancher. He claims to have paid for them but has no proof of sale. His fellow traveler Juan Martínez (Anthony Quinn) is found to have a gun on him . . . the same gun that belonged to the murdered rancher. Alva Hardwicke (Francis Ford) is the third in their party, and he is a mindless old man that only complicates matters by claiming Martinez is the murderer.
The "Major" Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his son, Gerald (William Eythe) lead the mob that has cornered the three accused of murder. Gerald is completely opposed to the whole situation, but the hard nosed major bullies him into lead the three men into execution. While the majority of the group is in favor of the "eye for an eye" attitude, Davies (Harry Davenport) is absolutely against any revenge and tries to sway the men into bringing the three to town for a fair trial. He allows Martin to write a letter to his wife, and he shares that letter to the Major in an effort to convince him for a fair trial. The effort is in vain, and while only 7 of the men are opposed to killing the three captured, it is not a majority and the men are ultimately hung.
Following the hanging of the three, the mob runs into Sheriff Risley (Willard Robertson) and finds that the man who was initially said to be dead was merely injured and recovering quite well. In addition, the men who really shot him were all in custody. Immediately, the men all realize they have themselves committed murder, and all will be dealt with except for the 7 who opposed the hanging.
This was quite a shocking movie as Westerns of that particular era were notorious for ending with the good guys riding off after defeating the bad guys and saving the town. In this instance, the good guys took action which in turn left them to be the bad guys. The good guys were hung and murdered. Although the intention of the townsmen was good, their actions were careless and lawless. This was a great twist and quite ahead of it's time. I also liked the relationships between the characters. The dynamics between the Major and his son, as well as Davies and the rest of the group. It is a movie that makes you think after it ends. There is a direct impact it has on the characters we have seen deal with the situation, as well as characters we were never even introduced to in the film.