Tag Archives: Anthony Quinn

Across 110th Street (1972)

Barry Shears’ brutal crime drama begins with an aerial shot, high over East Harlem. The camera tilts to let us catch a glimpse of Roosevelt Island before it comes to rest on a black Cadillac making its way uptown. An observant viewer will notice that we are now over Riverside Drive, on the other side of the island. The camera descends to street level. The car crosses 110th Street, the dividing line in the early 1970s between black and white, then makes a right turn onto 125th Street. Eventually we find ourselves inside a Harlem apartment, where we learn what was inside the suitcase we had noticed sitting on the front seat of the Cadillac, 300,000 dollars.

Five men, three black, and two white, count the money together, efficiently thumbing through stacks of tens and twenties. What we are witnessing is not interracial harmony, but interracial corruption. The white men, representatives of the Italian mob, and the black men, their local enforcers in Harlem, are dividing up the proceeds from the old “numbers” racket, the lottery before the state took it over in the 1980s. Black and white criminals have come together to extract money from the struggling black working-class, the people we noticed living in poverty on our drive up Riverside Drive through Harlem.

We near a knock on the door. Through the keyhole we notice two police officers, both black. “Does anybody here own a black Cadillac parked out in front of the hydrant?” one of them asks. The five men aren’t worried. “Give them a few twenties,” one of the Italians says, letting us know early in the film that the NYPD is on the take. But the two men aren’t police officers coming to get their cut of the numbers money. One of them, a man named Joe Logart, works in a laundry. The other, Jim Harris, is an ex-con out on parole. It’s a daring heist, two anonymous members of the black working-class, coming to take back what was theirs, the labor power stolen from them by organized crime. One of the mobsters reaches for his pistol. It’s a mistake. Jim Harris who has a machine gun, has no hesitation about using it. Harris and Logart massacre the five gangsters, and make their way out to their getaway car, an old Checker Cab driven by Henry Jackson, played by Antonio Fargas, Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch. After a clumsy escape, where they bump a street cleaner, wreck half the cars on the block, and kill two real cops, they’re home free.

Of course they’re not. The three men have just robbed the mob of 300,000 dollars and killed two cops. We all know how the movie will end, with Harris, Jackson and Logan in their graves. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. Everything else about Across 110th Street, however, at least from the perspective of 2015, seems to have come from a world as strange as Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Don’t let the misleading Netflix page fool you. Yaphet Kotta, as the black Lieutenant Pope, a college graduate an a straight arrow, and the great Mexican actor Anthony Quinn, as the corrupt, racist Italian American Captain Mattelli, are the Across 110th Street’s biggest stars. But neither Pope nor Mattelli dominates the film. Rather, they are two more characters in a Darwinian world where everybody is out for himself, and everybody is out to get everybody else. 110th Street is not pro-police propaganda, copaganda. There is little or no moral difference between Mattelli and Doc, the head of the black mob from whom he takes bribes — but only “clean gambling money” —- or between Mattelli and and Nick D’Salvio, the savage Italian mobster who wants to find Jackson, Harris, and Logart before the police do.

Who will capture Harris, Jackson, and Logart first? The police, who will send them to Attica, or Doc and D’Salvio, who will make of them an example that will terrorize the rest of Harlem? It’s important to Doc and D’Salvio that Harris, Jackson and Logart die under slow torture instead of going to Attica. Mattelli, in turn, is a 55-year-old white man who has to prove he’s still in control of “the blacks,” the insecure representative of a white supremacy that had been rocked to its deepest core by the Civil Rights and black nationalist movements of the 1960s. Pope is an ambitious younger, black man who wants to make his mark, an example of the new black leadership class who have allied themselves with state in order to displace both the mob, and the white ethnic police unions. He’s a tough, straight-edged man who takes no grief from anybody, but, in the end, he’s not Across 110th’s Street most sympathetic character.

That honor would go to Jim Harris, played by Paul Benjamin. You’ll recognize him as one of the street corner guys from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Harris, a self-described “42-year old nigger ex-con,” is an anarchist and a nihilist. We don’t like him in spite of the way he slaughtered 5 gangsters in cold blood with an automatic weapon. We like him precisely because he slaughtered 5 gangsters in cold blood with an automatic weapon. Harris is the image of a black working-class that has finally had enough. Nobody will make him go back to jail, or take a dead-end job. Unlike Logart and Jackson, who die begging for their lives, Harris goes out in a blaze of glory, with all guns firing, killing cops, Italian and black mobsters as if they were stormtroopers on the Death Star. His final gesture, throwing a bag full of money off a roof to a playground full of school children just before he bleeds to death, is cinematic, anarchist poetry.

In the end, in spite of its many flaws – Barry Shears was mainly a TV director and it shows. –Across 110th Street is the kind of film Quentin Tarantino only wishes he could make, and probably ripped off trying. While it lacks the polish of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it makes up for it by directly addressing the issues of crime, class, and race. It also makes me wonder. Surely the NYPD is every bit as much “on the take” in 2015 as it was in 1972. Tony Serpico is still in hiding, after all. Why don’t filmmakers tell these kinds of stories any more?

Behold a Pale Horse (1964): Fascist Spain and American Cinema

Although Ben Urwand’s recent book on the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Hollywood studio head Louis B. Mayer has largely been discredited, the collaboration of the American film industry with fascism has always been very real. Urwand was simply looking at the wrong country. Between the early 1950s and the late 1960s, so many big-budget films were made in fascist Spain that it’s no exaggeration to call Generalissimo Francisco Franco the father of the American independent film studio. The relationship was mutually beneficial. Franco got jobs and American tourist money. He deftly used American “soft power” to help normalize Spain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. American film studios like United Artists, in turn, got cheap, union-free labor, thousands of extras, and even the use of the Spanish Army. For his epic film El Cid, producer Samuel Bronston got access to the walled medieval town of Avila, the grand castle of Manzanares, the ancient Valencian town of Pensicola, and the Cathedral at Burgos. Those are not sets you can build, even on a budget of 7.5 million dollars. That Bronston, who was also Leon Trotsky’s nephew, was willing to ignore, or even actively promote Spanish fascism goes without saying.

The honeymoon between Francisco Franco and the American film industry came to an end in 1964, with Fred Zinnemann’s film Behold a Pale Horse. Behold a Pale Horse, a fictionalized dramatization of the last days of Spanish anarchist Francesc Sabaté Llopart, is neither stridently left-wing, nor a particularly damning indictment of Spanish fascism. Captain Viñolas, the Francoist police captain played by Anthony Quinn, is a complex, even sympathetic character. It’s not anti-Catholic. The moral center of Behold a Pale Horse is probably the conflicted young priest played by Omar Sharif. Manuel Artiguez, the aging Catalan guerrilla leader played Gregory Peck, is stiff, dour, and by no means heroic. Nevertheless, Zinnemann’s portrayal of Viñolas as a venal, insecure womanizer so angered Spanish Minister of Tourism and Information Dr. Manuel Fraga Iribarne that he retaliated against Zinnemann’s distributer, Columbia Pictures, blocking their entire catalog in Spain for over 5 years. He even bullied the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo into butchering his great film Queimada. Pontecorvo rewrote the script to make the villains Portuguese not Spanish. He also cut over 20 minutes of offending material.

Behold a Pale Horse is an underrated film that deserves to be better remembered, but it’s not exactly Weekend or The Battle of Algiers. So what exactly made Fraga come down so hard on Columbia pictures, which, to its credit, refused to knuckle under to the Spanish government and lost millions of dollars? Franco, unlike Hitler or Mussolini, was a subtle, clever man, and Fraga a sophisticated cosmopolitan, but fascists have very particular tastes in film. They do not want to see themselves portrayed as flawed, three-dimensional, middle-aged men like Anthony Quinn’s Captain Viñolas. Rather, they like to see themselves as grand, larger than life, heroic figures like Charlton Heston’s Rodrigo de Bivar. Anthony Mann’s El Cid is an utterly thrilling movie, and I won’t apologize for liking it, even though it’s basically Francoist state propaganda. But there’s a reason why Robert Bresson made Lancelot du Lac, his deconstruction of the chivalric epic. Whatever El Cid’s politics, and you can read it as a liberal call for the reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, great romantic spectacles that require the use of half the Spanish Army as extras, and two of the grandest castles in Spain as locations, are based on a fundamentally reactionary aesthetic.

Behold a Pale Horse opens at the end of the Spanish Civil War. A column of anarchist soldiers, now a column of refugees, makes its way into France. One by one they turn in their arms to the French police. But Manuel Artiguez, Peck, won’t turn in his rifle, or give up the struggle. He turns around, and goes back to Spain to organize a guerrilla war against the fascists. The next scene takes place 20 years later. Paco, a boy whose father died under torture to protect Artiguez, is being led into exile in a French town called Pau to live with his uncle. There he hopes to meet the great Manual Artiguez, who he hopes to convince to go back to Spain to assassinate Captain Viñolas, the same policeman who killed his father. When Paco does meet Artiguez, however, he finds, not the great guerrilla leader and Spanish Robin Hood he’s heard so much about, but a dour, stiff, disillusioned 50-year-old man. American anarchists who grow up dreaming about going back in time and enlisting in the Durruti column won’t like Artiguez any more than Fraga liked Captain Viñolas.

The Basque country scenery, on the other hand, is breathtaking. We can see exactly why Artiguez has lost all his taste for revolution. The neat, well-kept little towns on both sides of the Spanish French border are far too beautiful for another war. When we meet Captain Viñolas, in turn, he’s no more heroic than Artiguez. He’s an ordinary man who likes women, fine horses, nice clothes, and the good things in life. He doesn’t strike you as the type who would torture a man to death to capture an old political rival. We see that his obsession with capturing Artiguez is more professional ambition than it is a continuation of the Spanish Civil War. If all he wanted was to neutralize Artiguez, he could easily send a spy to assassinate him, but what he wants is to capture the old guerrilla leader and put him into prison as a common bandit. He wants to deny that it’s a political conflict altogether. He not only wants to kill his political opponent. He wants to erase him from history altogether.

When Viñolas learns that Artiguez’s mother is dying, he gets his chance. Pilar Artiguez, a fiery old anarchist wants to die at home, but Viñolas, seeing his opportunity to capture his old enemy, and probably get a promotion, kidnaps her and brings her under guard to a hospital, which he then orders locked down and quarantined. She is the bait he will use to lure Artiguez back across the border into Spain. While Pilar is dying in the hospital, we meet the film’s third important character, Francisco, a young, secretly liberal priest played by Omar Sharif. As much as she hates priests, Pilar trusts Francisco. Even though she had previously told one of Francisco’s colleagues to “go bless the rifles of the firing squad priest,” and even though she refuses to take the last rights, she does beg Francisco to grant her a deathbed request. She wants him to take a letter back to her son in Pau and warn him not to fall into the trap. Francisco, who has seen anarchists kill priests, and even has a friend who was wounded in one of Artiguez’s bank robberies, nevertheless, takes pity on the old woman. He not only agrees to deliver the letter, he refuses to divulge to Captain Viñolas what she said on her deathbed. He will not violate the privacy of the confessional, even for the Francoist state.

Captain Viñolas is astonished. Aren’t the Catholic Church and the Francoist state allies against communism? Why wouldn’t Francisco tell him everything he knows? But we begin to see what so angered Manual Fraga about Behold a Pale Horse. Released in 1964, a year after Vatican II,  the film is setting up the idea of a separation of church and state in Francoist Spain. Captain Viñolas knows he can’t harm a priest, but he did not expect a priest to show so much independence. He’s undismayed. Whether or not Pilar is dead, he will still try to lure Artiguez into his trap. He sends Carlos, a slimy agent provocateur and informer played by the French actor Raymond Pellegrin. Francisco gets to Pau ahead of Carlos and attempts to deliver the letter to Paco, who has since become friends with Artiguez, but Paco flushes the letter down the toilet. He thinks the priest is lying. He refuses to believe that Pilar is dead, and sends Francisco on his way. But when he sees Carlos, he realizes he’s been mistaken. Carlos is the informer who helped Viñolas capture his father. Francisco was telling the truth. Pilar is dead. Artiguez will be walking into a trap, and almost almost certain death.

The process by which Paco manages to convince Artiguez to believe a priest, his supposed enemy, makes Behold a Pale Horse worth watching, whatever its flaws. Just as Francisco had to wrestle with his conscience, Artiguez has to wrestle with his intellect. How do you uncover an agent provocateur? Is the priest lying, “snitch jacketing” a loyal anarchist, or is Paco correct? Francisco wins Artiguez’s trust when he informs him he’s from the town of Lorco, a place Artiguez knows well, and an anarchist, not a fascist town. Francisco radiates the kind of personal integrity that will convince an enemy to believe him. He won’t lie, or have his fellow priests lie to save his own skin. If he winds up in a fascist prison for honoring the deathbed wishes of an old woman, so be it. In any event, Carlos removes all doubt about who he is when he reaches for Artiguez’s gun, and escapes after a desperate struggle.

Artiguez finally knows Pilar is dead and he knows he’ll be walking into a trap, but he decides to cross back into Spain anyway, partly to honor his dead mother, partly to kill Viñolas to avenge Paco’s father. Behold a Pale Horse ends on a note of sadness, but also one of enigma. Artiguez successfully infiltrates the town of San Martin, where Viñolas has set his trap, kills a fascist sniper, and gets Viñolas in his sights. Viñolas is his. He could kill him any time he wants. Instead he spares the Viñolas and kills Carlos. Why? Does Artiguez spare Viñolas to break the cycle of revenge and violence, to free Paco from the civil war that claimed so many lives? Or does he simply recognize Viñolas as a worthy opponent he can’t bear to kill. Zinnemann never really gives us an answer. But what he does seem to be saying is that Francisco, not Artiguez is the future of resistance in Spain. Artiguez ends up shot down by Viñolas’ troops. Francisco ends up in jail, but Viñolas admits he will have to let him out when the church hierarchy demands it. We can’t help but think that Artiguez died in vain. By contrast, we see Francisco as a Spanish cousin to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It’s 1964, the year after the March on Washington.

Zinnemann’s politics may sound wishy washy and liberal, but how many directors can brag about how they provoked a fascist government into trying to destroy a whole film studio?

Lion of the Desert (1981)

General Rodolfo Graziani, a member of Mussolini’s inner-circle, was one of the 20th century’s worst war criminals, but he paid little price for his crimes. Unlike the Germans and Japanese, the Italians were not subjected to Allied military tribunals, so he wasn’t hanged at Nuremberg. What’s more, even though an Italian military tribunal did find him guilty of collaborating with the Nazis and sentence him to 19 years in prison, he was released after only a few months, and even went on to become the “honorary president” of a neo-fascist organization called The Italian Social Movement in 1953. In 1955, he died comfortably in bed at the age of 72.

If Americans often think of Italian fascism as less violently racist than German fascism, then it probably has something to do with how the worst of Mussolini’s atrocities took place, not in Europe, but in Libya and Ethiopia. For most of our popular historians, black lives seem to matter less than Jewish lives. But Mussolini was more than just the clownish opening act for Adolf Hitler. In Libya, in the late 1920s, in the north-eastern region of Cyrenaica, the Duche’s henchman Graziani, “the Butcher of Fezzan,” forced over 100,000 people into concentration camps, where, according to most estimates, at least 80,000 people died. He also pioneered the use of aerial bombardment against civilians almost a decade before Guernica, and ordered the construction of a barbed wire fence all along the Egyptian border, a project that dwarfed both the Berlin Wall, and the Israeli “anti-terrorist” wall in Palestine. Later, in Ethiopia, the Italian army would go onto massacre over 30,000 people in retaliation for his attempted assassination.

“The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians,” he infamously remarked.

Lion of the Desert is an unjustly neglected film about Omar Mukhtar, the Libyan resistance leader who fought the Italian occupation from 1911, when the Ottoman Empire retreated after the Italo-Turkish War, until 1931, when he was finally captured and hanged. Directed by Syrian filmmaker Moustapha Akkad and partially funded by the Libyan government under Muammar Gaddafi, it was banned in Italy for most of the 1980s, and never widely distributed in the United States. The reasons are political. Lion of the Desert is a great film about resistance to imperialism and fascist war crimes, far better than the ponderous Gandhi, or the manipulative Schindler’s List, but it doesn’t fit the framework of the “white saviour” story usually required by Hollywood. What’s more, Ariel Sharon would invade Lebanon the very next year, and the United States was awash in Islamophobia. The story of a North African, Muslim resistance movement fighting a genocidal, European colonizer probably hit a bit too close to home.

While it might be a stretch to compare Lion of the Desert to Gillo Pontecorvo’s great film The Battle of Algiers, both films end on a similar note, a tactical victory for imperialism, but a historical victory for the resistance to imperialism. In The Battle of Algiers, Colonel Mathieu crushes the leadership of the Algerian independence movement with forced labor, torture, and the overwhelming brute force of a first world army. In the end, however, he wins the battle, but loses the war. The French occupation of Algeria tears France apart. Algerian independence is inevitable.

Colonel Mathieu’s counterpart in Lion of the Desert, General Graziani, played by British actor Oliver Reed, wants to conquer not only a country, but a man. The film begins with an elegant, contrapuntal movement contrasting the Italian people under Mussolini with the Berber Bedouin people of north-eastern Libya. Graziani is not a cartoon villain. On the on contrary, he’s an intelligent, subtle man, a brave soldier, and deft political thinker. We can see exactly why Benito Mussolini would trust him with the difficult job of pacifying Libya. But if Graziani is an intelligent man, he’s also a brutal, coarse, vulgar man, the very embodiment of the harsh, martial culture of fascist Italy. By contrast, Omar Mukhtar, an elderly ex-school-teacher played by the Mexican American actor Anthony Quinn, is cultivated, poetic. He loves children, and hates war. Personal advancement doesn’t interest him at all. He only wants to serve God. If this sounds corny, sentimental, then it’s my writing, not the movie. Anthony Quinn is so convincing as a soft-spoken old man, a gentle father figure defending his country from a genocidal invader that he almost seems to become the father we all wish we had. In the film’s best single line, Omar Mukhtar and his resistance fighters set a clever ambush for one of Graziani’s patrols. They kill everybody except for one young office, a young man barely in his 20s. Mukhtar’s soldiers want to kill the young Italian, but his fatherly instinct takes over. He orders the young Italian to be released.

“They kill us,” one of the Libyan rebels says.

“Would you have them become our teachers?” Mukhtar responds.

Graziani, by contrast, has no trouble ordering the cold-blooded execution of a brave young Bedouin soldier who allows himself to be captured by the Italians rather than let Mukhtar fall into enemy hands. The Italian victory is as inevitable as their spiritual defeat. Graziani brings in more troops, tanks, heavy armored cars. Mukhtar’s clever knowledge of the local terrain, and his mastery of guerrilla warfare beats Graziani’s fist big push. “We’re not fighting an army,” Graziani concludes. “We’re fighting a people.” Take a page from the counterinsurgency manual, he decides that if Mukhtar’s fish swim in the sea, he’ll dry up the sea. The Italians then herd almost the entire population of the the Cyrenaica region of north-eastern Libya into concentration camps. This is non-fiction. Moustapha Akkad not only makes good use of his 30 million dollar budget, putting thousands of extras behind a gigantic stage constructed of barbed wire and guard towers. In a clever twist, he spices in newsreel footage of the real concentration camps The Butcher of Fezzan used in the 1920s. Did you really think the only concentration camps built by fascists during the Second World War were in Poland? Think again, the film tells us. But the concentration camps only stiffen Omar Mukhtar’s determination to fight on. In fact, as Moustapha Akkad, cracks begin to appear in the Italian facade. When the young officer that Mukhtar had declined kill refuses a direct order to carry out a mass execution of Libyan women, Graziani realizes that time is not on his side. Like the French in Algeria, like the Americans in Vietnam, like the Russians in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, the Italian occupation of Libya is doomed to fail.

The Italian occupation of Libya is doomed to fail, but Rudolfo Graziani, the fascist war criminal, Mussolini’s right hand man, has options that Colonel Mathieu doesn’t. After Omar Mukhtar defeats a large Italian army, and evades a cleverly laid trap, Graziani realizes that he’s losing the chess game. He may have a large, first world army at his command, tanks, airplanes, armored cars, machine guns, concentration camps, and the free hand given to him by Benito Mussolini, but, man for man, he’s no match for Omar Mukhtar. So he sweeps the pieces off the board onto the floor and changes the rules of the game, yet again. The Cyrenaica province in northeast Libya, Mukhtar’s base, also abuts the borders of Egypt, where Mukhtar gets most of his supplies. Graziani travels back to Italy to get Mussolini’s permission to rebuild “Hadrian’s Wall” in north-eastern Libya, hundreds of miles of barbed wire, 270 kiometers long, running from Assalumm on the coast to Jaghbubin the deep south, 10 meters wide and 1.5 meter high. The historical reference wins Mussolini over. How can the Italian dictator resist being compared to one of the greatest of all Roman Emperors? What’s more, in a fascist state, unlike in a democracy, the government doesn’t have to worry about public approval. Perhaps the money would be better spent building schools in Milan than building a 200 mile long human cage in Cyrenaica, but it doesn’t matter. The Duche wants what the Duche wants.

Omar Mukhtar is a gifted military man, but even he can’t do the impossible. Cut off from his supply lines in Egypt, caged in on all sides by barbed wire, his people in concentration camps, he’s captured by the Italians and hanged in front of thousands of of his people. But Graziani’s victory is also his defeat. Omar Mukhtar would not take a bribe, save his life, betray his people, or go into retirement. He goes to his death with so much quiet dignity that the brutal Italian warlord realizes his mistake as soon as the rope snaps his neck. All the concentrated might of the Italian fascist empire has succeeded in doing is to kill one old man. The camera lingers on a little boy in the crowd. Mukhtar smiles at him. The next generation is ready to carry on the battle against colonialism.

Final Note: During the Libyan Civil War in 2011 and 2012, Gadaffi and the rebels both claimed to be heirs to the legacy of Omar Mukhtar. I suppose that’s both inevitable and a testament to Mukhtar’s status as a national hero. It’s also worth noting that while the Pentagon and the corporate media attempted to bring back The Battle of Algiers during the American occupation of Iraq, Lion of the Desert remains in obscurity. The American ruling class can deal with the idea that a Colonel Mathieu can ask us to make the “hard choices” we need for the good of the empire. They can’t take being exposed as fascists.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

The Ox Bow Incident has so much intense, dramatic focus that even its flaws, like the crappy studio lighting, only seem to lend to it a stripped down authenticity. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, William A. Wellman’s brutal masterpiece about three innocent men lynched by a mob of Nevada ranchers stars Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, Dana Andrews, and a young Anthony Quinn. That such a film could be made in the middle of a war against fascism speaks highly of American culture. That such a film could be made at all reminds us that there’s a dark, sinister side of American history that we often ignore.

It’s 1885, two cowboys, Gil Carter, Fonda, and Art Croft, Harry Morgan, ride into a small town in Nevada called Bridger’s Wells. Bridger’s Wells is not a friendly place. Not only have the local ranchers had to deal with ongoing epidemic of cattle-rustling, there’s something deeper going on. After Gil Carter learns that his favorite prostitute has been driven out of town, he picks a fight with another cowboy, an angry reaction we don’t entirely understand until we realize that there’s a big shortage of available women in town. Bridger’s Wells, like many towns on the American frontier, has a toxic, masculine culture that comes from having no women or children.

We find out just how toxic Bridger’s Well is when a young man arrives with the news that Larry Kinkaid, a popular local rancher, has been murdered. In a matter of only minutes, a posse forms. The posse, led by Major Tetley, an ex Confederate army officer, Deputy Butch Mapes,  and a genuinely frighting Jane Darwell as a hardass, butch cowgirl named Jenny Grier, is an obvious lynch mob from the very beginning. A local judge does make a token effort to stop it, but gives up at the first signs of resistance. Arthur Davies, a shopkeeper, pleads with the mob to wait until the sheriff gets back into town, or, at the very least, bring anybody they catch back for a fair trial. Gil Carter and Art Croft, not being popular, solid citizens, and fearful they might be themselves accused of rustling, decide to tag along in order to avoid looking suspicious. The mob bullies Sparks, an African American preacher, into being their unofficial chaplain. They ride out to look for suspects.

After an abortive attack on a stage coach — which contains Gil Carter’s prostitute ex-girlfriend and her newly acquired rich husband — the lynch mob comes upon three men in sleeping bags, a half senile old man, and two men who appear to be in their 20s or 30s. One is a white man named David Martin, who’s played by Dana Andrews. Earlier that day he made the mistake that will cost him his life. He bought a stock of cattle from Larry Kincaid and didn’t get a bill of sale. The other young man, a Mexican named Francisco Morez, Anthony Quinn, is a gambler and petty thief David Martin had decided to hire without checking into his background, another fatal mistake.

The real heart and soul of the Ox Bow Incident is how differently both men react to their inevitable deaths.  Francisco Morez, as a brown skinned Mexican, has no illusions about what a posse of thirty, heavily armed white ranchers means. It’s a lynch mob. He’s not going to get a fair trial. He’s never going to see a judge or get a lawyer. They probably don’t even care if he’s innocent or guilty. They want their blood and they’ll get it. After a token attempt to escape, Morez concludes that fate has quite obviously punched his ticket and his time on earth is over. All he needs is a priest, or, in lieu of that, a Spanish speaker who will take his final confession back to a priest. His final prayer, in Spanish, is so moving you can see the blood lust in the eyes of the lynch mob briefly dissipate.

For David Martin it’s not that easy. Martin is a solid, middle-class citizen from out of town, an educated family man who composes a letter to his wife that’s so well-written that the shopkeeper Arthur Davies thinks if it’s only read out loud it will prove his innocence. Davies doesn’t understand that Major Tetley, the deputy, and Jenny Grier, the three ringleaders, don’t really care if he’s innocent or not. The contrast between Dana Andrews and Jane Darwell is revealing. All the strength that Darwell exhibited as Ma Joad has become toxic. She’s a cold Maggie Thatcher of the frontier, a stone face woman without any sign of feminine gentleness or compassion. Dana Andrews, on the other hand, even though he made his career playing macho war heroes, is soft, feminine, vulnerable. At first he can’t believe what’s really happening to him. Then he pleads with his soon to be murderers to have mercy on him because he’s a husband and a father, pathetic in his inability to see that he’s no longer in a civilized country where things like that matter. They may invoke law and order, but this mob is nothing more than a gang of serial killers. David Martin is not only every solid middle-class citizen who can’t believe it when the law doesn’t realize he’s innocent. He’s a human sacrifice to the blood lust at the heart of frontier America.

Gil Carter and Art Croft represent the rest of us. A pair of everymen who know what they’re witnessing is wrong, they make the right choices. Carter especially, who tries, and fails, to stop the lynching, acts heroically. But Wellman’s vision is too uncompromising and darkly Calvinist for any kind of happy ending. All we get is a brutal, ironic twist. The cavalry, the town sheriff, finally arrives, but 5 minutes too late. Then we learn what really happened to Larry Kinkaid.