Before I continue, I’m going do this:
SPOILER WARNING!! GO WATCH THIS FILM BEFORE CONTINUING!!
Vigilantism is a complex beast. When it comes in the form of a traumatised billionaire with a cape, it’s the most awesome thing ever; when it’s a mob brandishing a noose, it’s much less so. Obviously these are two very different scenarios (and the fact that one is way more plausible than the other may be a big reason in the differing reception), but they both rely on a reaction to crime that everyone can understand, though few would have the gumption to pursue: why doesn’t someone just deal with it now? The Ox-Bow Incident is a film that looks at a story of the latter.
It seems like such an odd notion that both 20th Century Fox and the censors at the Production Code Administration would have such struggle with a film that is effectively a defence of conscience and justice by law. However, The Ox-Bow Incident walks a murky trail to reach its conclusions. Its characters have an idea of justice, of acting for the perceived good, that drives them forward, but it’s the need to act (and quickly) that becomes the most important aspect of their endeavour. And it’s tough to find a character that can really be taken as a moral centre, as someone who can be the example of goodness that everyone follows.
(Also, note the comment shortly into the video put there by whomever uploaded the clip.)
Setting the scene: The posse is back in the saloon, drinking in silence, clearly having trouble coming to terms with what they have done. After one of their number leaves to deal with his guilt in his own way, Gil tells Art to read the letter their own victim wrote to his wife. Unable to read it, Art declines, so Gil reads it aloud for all to hear…