The Ox-Bow Incident

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This article is about the film. For the book of the same name, see The Ox-Bow Incident (novel).
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Ox-Bow Incident poster.jpg
original movie poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Lamar Trotti
Written by Lamar Trotti
Based on The Ox-Bow Incident 
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Starring Henry Fonda
Dana Andrews
Mary Beth Hughes
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Allen McNeil
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • May 21, 1943 (1943-05-21)
Running time
75 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $565,000[1]
Box office $750,000 (rentals)[2]

The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1943 American Western film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews and Mary Beth Hughes, and featuring Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Harry Morgan and Jane Darwell. Two drifters are passing through a Western town, when news comes in that a local farmer has been murdered and his cattle stolen. The townspeople, joined by the drifters, form a posse to catch the perpetrators. They find three men in possession of the cattle, and are determined to see justice done on the spot.

The film premiered in May 23, 1943 to positive reviews from critics. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 16th Academy Awards, losing to Casablanca.[3]

In 1998, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[4] The film was adapted from the 1940 novel of the same name, written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.[5]


In Bridger's Wells, Nevada in 1885,[6] Art Croft (Harry Morgan) and Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) ride into town and enter Darby's Saloon. The atmosphere is subdued due to recent incidents of cattle-rustling. Art and Gil are suspected to be rustlers because they are rarely seen in town.

A man enters the saloon and announces that a rancher named Larry Kinkaid has been murdered. The townspeople immediately form a posse to pursue the murderers, whom they believe are cattle rustlers. A judge tells the posse that it must bring the suspects back for trial, and that its formation by a deputy (the sheriff being out of town) is illegal. Art and Gil join the posse to avoid being its target. Davies (Harry Davenport), who was initially opposed to forming the posse, also joins, along with "Major" Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his son Gerald (William Eythe). The major informs the posse that three men and cattle bearing Kinkaid's brand have just entered Bridger's Pass.

The posse encounters a stagecoach. When they try to stop it, the stagecoach guard assumes that it is a stickup, and shoots, wounding Art. In the coach are Rose Mapen (Mary Beth Hughes), Gil's ex-girlfriend, and her new husband, Swanson (George Meeker).

Later that night in Ox-Bow Canyon, the posse finds three men sleeping, with what are presumed to be stolen cattle nearby. The posse interrogates them: a young, well-spoken man, Donald Martin (Dana Andrews); a Mexican, Juan Martínez (Anthony Quinn); and an old man, Alva Hardwicke (Francis Ford, brother of film director John Ford). Martin claims that he purchased the cattle from Kinkaid but received no bill of sale. No one believes Martin, and the posse decides to hang the three men at sunrise.

Martin writes a letter to his wife and asks Davies, the only member of the posse that he trusts, to deliver it. Davies reads the letter, and, hoping to save Martin's life, shows it to the others. Davies believes that Martin is innocent and does not deserve to die.

The Mexican, a gambler named Francisco Morez, tries to escape and is shot and wounded. The posse discovers that Juan has Kinkaid's gun.

Major Tetley wants the men to be lynched immediately. A vote is taken on whether the men should be hanged or taken back to face trial. Only seven, among them Davies, Gerald Tetley, Gil and Art, vote to take the men back to town alive; the rest support immediate hanging. Gil tries to stop it, but is overpowered.

After the lynching, the posse heads back towards Bridger's Wells and meets Sheriff Risley, who tells them that Lawrence Kinkaid is not dead and that the men who shot him have been arrested. Risley strips the deputy of his badge.

The men of the posse gather in Darby's Saloon and drink in silence. Major Tetley returns to his house and shoots himself. In the saloon, Gil reads Martin's letter while members of the posse listen. In the final scene Gil and Art head out of town to deliver the letter and $500 raised by those in the posse to Martin's wife.



Director William A. Wellman loved the novel and had long wanted to adapt it into a film and then interested Darryl F. Zanuck in producing it. Zanuck agreed in producing the story, on the condition that Wellman would also direct two other films for the studio, Thunder Birds and Buffalo Bill (1944).

The role of Gil Carter, played by Henry Fonda, was originally offered to Gary Cooper, who turned it down. Fonda was generally unhappy with the quality of the films he had to do while under contract with 20th Century Fox. This was one of only two films from that period that he was actually enthusiastic about starring in, the other being The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Fonda regarded this film as one of his favorites.

The studio didn't think highly of the project so insisted that it be shot on studio backlots to keep the budget down. The budget of the film was of $565,000.

Filming took place from late June to early August 1942. Additional sequences and retakes were made from mid-August to late August 1942.[7]

The production on the film would be shut down for a week or ten days "due to the $5,000-per-film limit on new construction materials." During the shutdown, already used sets were torn down so that their material could be re-used to build the mountain pass set. Studio publicity noted that the Ox-Bow Valley setting was "the largest set ever constructed" by Fox, and that it covered 26,703 feet.

The western street set seen in this film was also used for another western, The Gunfighter (1950), starring Gregory Peck. After filming was completed, Fonda immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He remained in the Navy until 1946, with his next film being another Western, My Darling Clementine.

Although the film was completed in late August 1942, it was kept on the shelves as the Fox executives had no idea how to market a film with inflammatory politics.


The film released in May 21, 1943 to positive reviews. La Furia Umana‍ '​s Toshi Fujiwara said the film is "one of the most important westerns in the history of American cinema".[8] Clint Eastwood has stated this is his favorite film.

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 16th Academy Awards, losing to Casablanca.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 242, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 220, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  3. ^ "1943 (16th annual) Academy Award winner for Outstanding Motion Picture". Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  4. ^ "National Film Registry, 1998". Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  5. ^ "The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)." The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). FilmSite, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012. <>.
  6. ^ Detailed synopsis
  7. ^ tcmdb entry
  8. ^ Fujiwara, Toshi (Autumn 2012). "Confidential Report: THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943)". La Furia Umana (14). ISSN 2037-0431. Retrieved Jan 3, 2013. 

External links[edit]