A classic western I have been meaning to see for quite sometime, part of Richard Slotkin’s lecture series on the genre which I first picked up during the last few months at art-school. It really started to broaden my mind as to what the genre was about, the history and starting to pull apart the myth. I’ve just about seen all the films on the list and this was one of the last ones still up there I couldn’t listen until I caught The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). You could say this was well overdue essential viewing for me.
Running at just over 70 minutes you can’t expect too much from the film. There’s not a lot of action on the screen. Beginning with a drunken Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) drowning his sorrows, all he has hoped for is gone, a drifter venting at the wrong time when there is more important things at hand. We see a town consumed by the news of a rancher who apparently has been killed by rustlers. Its angers the men of the ghost town that becomes more populated as the news spreads and a posse forms. All against the wishes of the oldest member of the town Arthur Davis (Harry Davenport) who is fighting a losing battle against the young men who after this emotive news allows the anger they feel grows. It has to be legal, to find the men who have left.
There’s an internal fight to do things right from the start, I couldn’t help but think ahead to 12 Angry Men (1957) as one man tries to convince the majority to change their minds. Reasonable doubts is something that doesn’t really exist in the west, or this film, its all black and white. Literally as it is here allowing you to hopefully see the greys in between what we see. The audience is left shouting at the screen as the men and single woman Jenny Grier (Jane Darwell) who is more man than woman, a mean match to any of the men who she rides with. Making Darwells part all the more engaging, more used to seeing a softer woman on-screen, the mother figure. All that is lost here as she is more masculine than some of the men.
Figures such as the Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) is a throwback to the confederacy, a man of principle and ashamed of his son, a coward unlike himself. Living on past glories to sustain himself. Influencing Jack Palance‘s Captain Quincey Whitmore in Chato’s Land (1972) wearing his uniform once more with pride as he hunts for the infamous Chato (Charles Bronson). It’s all about having one more chance at glory, to have a victory after the surrender. Also we have the preacher portrayed as an old and feeble, a judge fat and loud who gives into the demands of the posse who will leave at any time.
Once they leave the town, around 30 riders leave the back-lot for the sound-stage where the real drama and suspicion unfolds as the close in on the men they believe to have killed the much-loved rancher. A group of three men led by Donald Martin (Dana Andrews) who wants only to support his family. Is that not honorable enough? They are back into a corner as nooses are already being tied, horses positioned under a hanging tree. With little chance of interrogating they are fighting a losing battle reason against assumption.
The people’s trial before lynching takes place in the comfort of the sound studio which maybe a budgetary constraint with such a big cast, that makes the scenes all the more claustrophobic as these three men innocent or not are. I do have my doubts about Juan Martínez (Anthony Quinn) a Mexican with a colourful past. Our own prejudices are tested on-screen, is one of the group guilty and are they covering for one another. How can they with the sincerity of Martin who pleads to for reason, a fair trial, all the things they aren’t getting out there around their camp for their last night of life.
It’s a western of words and few actions which speak louder than any firing of a gun. Loud ones confused and angry deafening out those of quiet reason. You want to shout at the screen along with Fonda one of the few to stand up and speak his own mind as the night goes on. Teaching us not to be led by our assumptions and to not forget the systems in place by society to ensure we are all treated fairly. It could easily be applied to a racial killing today, as people easily turn against innocent muslims when act of terrorism’s committed. It’s easy to do when you’re blinded by anger and hate which can consume you, leaving you later on with guilt and remorse as the consequences of that night dawn upon them. The act of lynching is seen from below, probably a mechanism to get around censorship at the time, working better for dramatic purposes we know they are up there, would seeing them make it any better for us, even a boot off the top of the screen? The lack of bodies allows the audiences imagination to run wild, what have this posse done, how could they let it happen so fast. We all know why it did.
- Walter von Tilburg Clark’s Ox-Bow Incident & William Wellman’s film adaptation (ellenandjim.wordpress.com)
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) – Directed by William Wellman (filmsworthwatching.blogspot.co.uk)
- Reeling Backward: “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943) (captaincritic.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) (filmnomenon2.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Ox-Bow Incident (Fox, 1943) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) (catchingtheclassics.blogspot.co.uk)
- 100 Days, 100 Movies: The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) (flickchickcanada.blogspot.co.uk)
This is one review I never thought I’d be ever writing up. Theres a few reasons really behind why i had to get around my dislike for Citizen Kane (1941) which was recently overtaken by Vertigo (1958) in the BFI’s latest Sight and Sound greatest films of all time poll, made by a whole host of directors, critics and other esteemed film folk. After 50/60 years of being on-top Orson Welles‘s masterpiece was overthrown by Alfred Hitchcock voyeuristic private detective thriller. At the end of the day all these polls are incredibly subjective, the IMDB Top 250 poll is changes constantly, we have The Shawshank Redemption (1994) currently in the top-spot, the only definitive classic from the “golden age” in the top ten is 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Of course we do have The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 completing the top 3. It’s always varying. Probably influenced this time if year by the awards season.
Putting all that aside to focus on why I wasn’t really enamoured by the “greatest film of all time” I found it at the time of first viewing to be self-indulgent. I could easily see its technical achievements which lead to film noir in the following decade. I was watching it to see what all the fuss was about, not looking into what was going on in terms of story telling and the technical combined, Something I have since rectified, understanding it to be both innovative in terms of both aspects. Welles coming from radio stardom on the other side of the country with his realistic telling of War of the Worlds, he had a natural flair for story telling which Hollywood had to have. On strict conditions set down by the man himself, no outside interference from the studio, his choice of actors and production team, very much a crafted piece of work that pushed the boundaries. With a little help from Stagecoach (1939) which he referenced, I think I now need to watch that to see the connections.
History lesson over and onto the opening shot which was a number of transitions that leads the audience into the Xanadu home of tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Welles) who we see in his final moments of life, his last words begin a journey back through his life, a journalist investigates the importance of that last word, something we all begin to want to know. A new way of storytelling is born, retrospectively looking at the life of a fictional characters who was larger than life, even larger than the man Kane was “based upon” William Randolph Hearst turning him into caricature, a man who wanted to loved by all he knew, without loving anyone really himself. The story of a sad man who made it big before losing his media empire.
All this is made even more real with a fictional news reel that pardon the pun reels you into this world that is entirely constructed for the film. This is where you could say its self indulgent, to bathe in the glory of what this man was, before realising that the great man in the news reel was a fallible man who appeared more successful. We no longer see the powerful figures in films as these great indestructible people. They are now full of faults like everyone else.
On the technical side there is also a lot going on, from the dissolves that take us into his life, intruding into his own life. To the set design which is more elaborate than many films of the previous decade to this. Welles creates world that is so grand in scale that you are taken, losing yourself to the high angles and stretched out pieces that go on endlessly. Incredibly theatrical in design allowing for a grand figure to be explored, pulled apart and put back together again. Leaving a reporter still none the wiser as to what Rosebud means. Only the audience is allowed to know that secret as the evidence as the life of Kane is burnt.
It’s easy to say it’s just a comment on the media, how it has the power in influence world events, or even local ones. It’s so much more really, a new form of narrative is born, techniques are crafted. I would now say it’s an important film to say the least, but not the most important film, I guess that will always evade me, they are all so different, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Kane indulges on Kane, a look into the life of a man who wants what we all want love in the form of a fictional biography.
- Money Can’t Buy You Love: ‘Citizen Kane’ (Orson Welles – 1941) (behindtheseens.wordpress.com)
- CITIZEN KANE (1941) (entertainmentguidefilmtv.blogspot.co.uk)
- EW #1: Citizen Kane (1941) (filmreviewfeast.blogspot.co.uk)
- CITIZEN KANE (1941) (classic–movies.blogspot.co.uk)
- Citizen Kane (1941) (residuefilmreviews.blogspot.co.uk)