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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka 'Strange Incident')

directed by William A. Wellman
USA 19
43

In the movies, you can pretty much count on Henry Fonda always to do the right thing. This is the man, after all, who played Abraham Lincoln, Wyatt Earp, Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, and Clarence Darrow. Sure, he also played the menacing Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, but every actor needs to stretch once in a while. Some of Fonda’s characters, like those above, were unqualified heroes. Others, like his Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident are more morally conflicted, yet still emerge from their particular predicaments without having condemned their souls to Hell.

The Ox-Bow Incident puts Fonda’s character at the center of an episode of Western mob violence that is the result of emotions running high and reason taking a vacation. Adapted from Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s popular 1940 novel, the film was written by Lamar Trotti, the screenwriter of some of John Ford’s more picaresque and light-hearted films, and directed by William Wellman, the director of some of the best films of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Unfortunately, the material does not play to either of their strengths, resulting in the kind of earnest, overly didactic film in which Fox specialized in churning out during the time during and directly after the second World War. As an exploration of the motivations of mob violence, it is certainly a much darker Western than audiences weaned on Tom Mix and Zane Grey were used to at the time, but the filmmakers seem not to know quite how to get their ideas across without having each of the many characters deliver sermons on what is right or wrong about hanging a man without sufficient evidence. These themes would be delved into with much more subtlety and sophistication a decade later in John Sturges’ superior Bad Day at Black Rock, although that film deals with the emotional and social aftereffects of mob violence (perhaps the more interesting approach) than with the events and struggles leading up to it.

It is not just the approach to the themes that dates the film, however. Wellman’s characteristically brisk seat-of-the-pants direction, normally a great asset to a film like The Public Enemy, works against him in this film with several scenes with approximately thirty people in the frame at any given time. Crowd scenes, it appears, were not Wellman’s strength. They are recklessly filmed with almost complete disregard for the coherence and continuity of on-screen space and eyeline matches. These scenes are also almost unbearably talky. Were it not for the horses, the script as filmed could easily be performed on the stage as a three-act play. Filmed almost exclusively on soundstages on a low budget, the film is hamstrung by its stage-bound direction. It is worth watching, though, even just for the sight of the sturdy Jane Darwell on a horse who, in her hat and dungarees, could effortlessly pass for Eugene Pallette.

Excerpt of Matt Baily's review on "Not Coming to a Theatre Near You" located HERE

Poster, Comic Book and Video Cover

Theatrical Release: May 21st, 1943

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Comparison:

20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Koch Media - Region FREE - Blu-ray

20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Koch Media - Region FREE - Blu-ray RIGHT

DVD Box Cover

   

Distribution Fox Home Entertainment - Region 1 - NTSC Koch Media - Region FREE - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:15:24 1:15:28.982
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.72 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s 

1080P Single-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 15,299,987,620 bytes

Feature: 12,505,061,376 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Video Bitrate: 14.99 Mbps

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate: DVD

Bitrate: Blu-ray

Audio English 2.0 Stereo, English 1.0 Mono, Spanish 1.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio English 1757 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1757 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 1789 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1789 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio German 1791 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1791 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Subtitles English, Spanish, None English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Screen-specific audio commentary by Dick Etulain, and William Wellman Jr.
• Biography - Featurette "Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero" (44:58)
• Still gallery
• Theatrical trailer (2:12)

DVD Release Date: March 2nd, 2004

Keep Case
Chapters: 16

Release Information:
Studio: Koch Media
 

1080P Single-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 15,299,987,620 bytes

Feature: 12,505,061,376 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Video Bitrate: 14.99 Mbps

 

Edition Details:

 Henry Fonda Hollywood Bio (45:03)
• Stills Gallery (1:59)

 Trailer (2:13)

Blu-ray Release Date: August 26th, 2011
Book-style
Blu-ray Case
Chapters: 11

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Koch Media - Region FREE - Blu-ray - September 11': I think this is a more modest improvement comparing to Yellow Sky - also on Blu-ray from Koch. The technicals are far from overwhelming with less than double the bitrate of the fine Fox DVD. It may have more damage but in motion looks fairly good. Actually, a great film to re-watch in 1080P. Contrast is a shade fainter and there may be less artifacts. There is some grain though is not finely separated. It doesn't help the case for the Blu-ray that the DVD was so strong. I think the better the systems and more discerning the eye will appreciate the visual upgrade more.

Audio offers a respectable lossless track that had moments of impressiveness and perceived depth via the 2.0 channel limitations. We have to remember this film is almost 70-years old and the sound is imperfect at best with some uneven patches but unobtrusive hiss. There is also a German DUB and optional English subtitles. It plays on my Oppo and we determine it to be Region FREE!

Nice to see some supplements included - we get a Hollywood Bio of Fonda that is quite extensive at 45-minutes (German subtitles). Plus a stills gallery (in slideshow collage format) and a trailer in ghastly condition.

Bottom line is that this is not an overwhelming superiority but will become more apparent depending on your system. Example - if you were intending to project in your HT - this Blu-ray would be a must-have. I'm guessing it is a long way back on the list to be upgraded by Fox - so this will probably be the best way to see The Ox-Bow Incident for a few years... or possibly even a decade.

***

ON THE DVD: Very Strong DVD offering from Fox. # 13 in their Studio Classics series that usually does not disappoint.  It is approaching Warner sharpness, but still is a shade hazy with some print damage showing occasionally in the form of lines down the screen. Good extras (with a commentary) and painful yellow subtitles. Great film, solid DVD.  out of  

Gary W. Tooze

 


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Distribution Fox Home Entertainment - Region 1 - NTSC Koch Media - Region FREE - Blu-ray




 

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Gary Tooze