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The Ox-Bow Incident(1943)

Seventy-five years ago, in the midst of World War II, U.S. film audiences were not ready for this trenchant indictment against mob mentality, which caused this film to do poorly at the box office. Over time, however, it has come to be recognized as one of the greatest Westerns. Director William A. Wellman wanted to film Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s novel since it first appeared in 1940, but he couldn’t find a studio to back it. He only got Twentieth Century-Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck to agree to it if he signed on for two additional pictures and agreed to make this film entirely on the back lot with a low budget. That turned out in the picture’s favor. To hide the fact that some of his Western vistas were painted backdrops, Wellman used tight close-ups, which emphasized the script’s intimate moral debates and created a claustrophobic feel. It also helped that he had a top-notch cast, with Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan among those opposed to a proposed lynching and Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and Francis Ford filling out the cast. Fonda hailed it as one of his best films, while Clint Eastwood referred to it as his favorite movie. (d. William A. Wellman, 75m, Digital)

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