Archive for November 13th, 2013

by John Greco

At this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s hard to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was “The Ox-Bow Incident,” based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. “The Ox-Bow Incident” was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play, focusing on vigilantism, group mentality, reducing men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds. It is also possibly the first psychological western ever made. (more…)

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© 2013 by James Clark

  This exciting film plays out along two ranges of discernment. There is a foreground from out of which the protagonist, Grace, musters an increasingly enigmatic saga of affectionate solicitude for all those around her. And there is a background of variably emergent film and theatre precedents serving to make at least slightly more manageable the graces comprising her singular actions. There is—despite what friends and foes of this picture will claim—no denying the unusual difficulty of the concerns it conveys to us.

    Accordingly, let’s find some footing amidst the very overt staginess of its approach to us, a theatrical underpinning for the drama. The entire experience stems from a large sound stage wherein the houses and streets are adumbrated by lines drawn in chalk, augmented by a few austere furnishings, appliances and a small truck. The pronounced artificiality of this evocation of a slice of threadbare life has reminded many of its viewers of the alienation strategy of playwright, Bertolt Brecht; and still others have noticed, in the lack of realistic settings apropos of a rural community, some affinity with that well-known and much-beloved study of American sensibility, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Forget right now, about the Communist diatribes of Brecht, as afforded by paring down the narrative recognition of concrete life in order to deliver coals to Newcastle for an audience of oldies thinking to be new. (Academics, with neither experience of nor respect for film per se, rise to this bait in order to grind out dusty chestnuts supposedly the big yield of an innovator like von Trier.) But don’t forget the burden of the brilliant Our Town, its microscopic discovery that we never take the time to see the fully sensuous moment in all its magic. And also hold on to its stripped-down physicality as purportedly rendering an exhaustive sufficiency in humanity as seen by mainstream humanism. (more…)

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