It's hard for me not to tie this film a little bit to 12 ANGRY MEN. It surely has something to do with Henry Fonda being in both films and his characters both being "voices of reason" against a raging mob mentality. This is one of those important pieces of cinema that doesn't get talked about as much as things like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or 12 ANGRY MEN, but it deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with films like that. Frankly, this movie is easily worthy of a Criterion Collection release. Thankfully, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a very nice job with it. Featured on this Blu-ray is a new 4K restoration of the film and some solid extras (see below).
I love the kinship between Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) in this movie. Not only do they have a good repartee, but they also have a neat tall man/short man physicality that plays nice on screen. The movie kicks off with a scene in a bar and right away you can tell there's a seasoned hand behind the writing. The dialogue is quite snappy and it feels like an elevated western reality that we are seeing. Even the asides and throw away lines are well done. And both Fonda and Morgan are great actors for the genre. They have a look and manner about them that feels like it could belong just as easily in the old west as the present. In THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, they play two out-of-towners who find themselves caught up in what turns out to be a lynching party (under the guise of a deputized posse). Though they disagree with how the townsfolk are going about their business, they also recognize that there is a lot of irrational rage going down and that they might have to hold their tongues a bit.
Another cool thing about this flick is that it is lean and mean with a running time of 75 minutes. Inside of that 75 minutes, we don't even meet Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn until just under half way through the movie. I'm always a fan of movies introducing interesting and solid actors later on. It has this great effect of elevating things. In this case, it works well as we don't know them (Andrews and Quinn) at all and we are forced to try to determine if they are telling the truth about what they are doing with fifty head of cattle apparently bought from a man who was murdered. There is real tension and a true feeling of sadness on the part of the men (especially Andrews) in the face of their oncoming fate that is quite engaging for a movie that is mostly a lot of people arguing. Interestingly, it resonates to the present day and parallels a lot of the behavior we see in contemporary internet culture. It shows how tough it is to dissuade misguided people once they have made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of others - regardless of the actual evidence present to convict them or exonerate them. The movie makes it easy to see that, in the face of hordes of people passing judgement, that it can be can take a lot of courage to stand alone and go with your gut about what you feel is the right thing to do. It is a morality tale that remains relevant even after seventy plus years.
Also, there's a quick and sassy uncredited appearance by Margaret Hamilton, so keep an eye out for that!
Check out this trailer with Henry Fonda speaking to camera about the film:
-An Audio commentary by Western Scholar Dick Eulain and William Wellman Jr.
-HENRY FONDA: HOLLYWOOD'S QUIET HERO - a 45 minute documentary featuring interviews with Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Ron Howard, Roddy McDowalll, Anthony Quinn and more. This is a really nice little supplement for sure.
THE OX-BOW INCIDENT can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
FIVE MILES TO MIDNIGHT (1962; Anatole Litvak)
I am fascinated by the career of Anthony Perkins. I am especially curious about all of his roles outside of PSYCHO. Rarely is an actor so completely identified with a single role as he has been with Norman Bates. This has much to do with his performance in the film, but also to do with its place and impact in cinema history. Because that character overshadows everything he's done, I've made it my mission to seek out the other films he made before and after PSYCHO. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of good stuff to be found. From westerns like THE TIN STAR to goofy comedies like THE TALL STORY to cult movies like PRETTY POISON and PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, Perkins has done a ton of interesting work outside his signature role. He even co-wrote the excellent whodunit mystery THE LAST OF SHEILA with none other than Stephen Sondheim. So there's a lot of gems to be found in his filmography and I'm always looking so FIVE MILES TO MIDNIGHT was something I had to check out. Being that it co-stars the lovely Sophia Loren, very little arm-twisting was required to get me to watch it. I had no idea what it was about so I was pleasantly surprised that there's a little bit of Hitchcock in the film.
Perkins plays a very interesting and somewhat unstable fellow called Bob Macklin. He and his wife Lisa (Loren) have been struggling in their marriage and she finally decides to leave him after and he hits her - kind of out of nowhere - one night after she's been out with some friends. Bob is kind of boyish in his behavior and mannerisms (outside of the hitting) and almost manic in his mood swings, so it's easy to see why Lisa would want to bail. When takes a flight soon after their fight and his plane crashes (the paper says "no survivors"), Lisa is off the hook as far as having to break it off with him. But Bob returns mysteriously soon afterward with some scrapes and an injured leg. He had filled out a form for flight insurance at the airport prior to leaving and now Lisa is entitled to $120,000 as long as they can keep things quiet. Bob sees it all as a lucky break that he survived and can now provide lots of nice things for his wife and finally make her truly happy. Will they be truly happy though? And can Lisa keep Bob's return a secret? Such is the drama of the movie and it's got some interesting twists and turns. Perkins is one of the best at playing characters that exude a certain innocence, but then can turn on a dime and get creepy and he's some opportunity for that here. There's also lots of suspenseful and paranoid moments for Perkins as he hides from people to make sure they don't find out he's not dead. And speaking of creepy, Gig Young plays a rather persistent (if upbeat) stalker to Sophia Loren here and that's kinda fun too. There's also a kind of DOUBLE INDEMNITY vibe happening too which is quite comforting for noir fans. There are enough moving parts in this thriller to keep things interesting throughout.