The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) is a low-budget Western masterpiece from director William A. Wellman. This anti-Western is a morality play that lacks the action of a typical Western. What struck me the most about the film was how simple and elegant it was. No flying cameras or cutting to a close up a every time a new character starts speaking. In current films there is a tendency to cut all the time and when we don’t cut there is a steady-cam flying around for no reason. In the Ox-Bow Incident elegant and simple compositions are used to let the story play out in the frame.

Characters are lined up in a formation that leads your eyes to the character who is speaking.

In this shot simple design elements are used to introduce a new character. We automatically know not to trust this new character by his placement in the frame.

In this shot we have the accused characters lined up in the foreground.

It seems so simple but at the same time controlled and elegant.

The shadows Horses disappearing into the distance.

Here Henry Fonda has his eyes blocked by the rim of a hat to reinforce the main theme of justice being blind.

As simple as these images may seem, they work because of their simplicity. We live in a new 3D film world where every movie must out do the last films explosions. Looking back at films from the past is the best way I have found to learn and grow. There are no giant robots punching each other but each story is told with a camera pointing towards actors. A camera that is pointed at the story.