Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Henry Fonda’

Been thinking about what drives people to extremism, about how seemingly normal people can take on attitudes and perform actions that seem completely out of character for them. The kind of thing we’ve seen in recent years here where people retreat into online venues that echo back their fears and prejudices in a way that magnifies them beyond all reality. That online virtual world of fear and hatred eventually finds its way out into the real world and an extremist mob is formed. Such was the case on January 6.

This all reminds me of a post from back in 2009 that I reran in 2017. It seemed like a good time to run it again. It features Henry Fonda who, for me, is the voice of the American conscience on film. His characters in Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men, My Darling Clementine, Mr. Roberts and the film featured below, The Oxbow Incident, were men of character, principle, and great conscience.

They tried to do what was right even when it went against the mob. Even when its futile.

I urge you to watch the short clip from the film. It speaks volumes. Then and now.



The Oxbow IncidentI don’t like crowds.

Maybe it’s just some sort of neurosis like agoraphobia or maybe it’s just having developed a sense of uneasiness from seeing how individual people could react differently after becoming part of a group.

It always confounded me from an early age how the dynamics of a group could change the behavior of an individual person, bringing out characteristics that might be undetected in one-to-one interactions. It’s as though the protection of the group brings out extreme attitudes that would otherwise be stifled. The whole moral compass is pushed further from the center and whatever sense of conscience that is present becomes diluted.

I was reminded of this feeling when I saw a short film about the actor Henry Fonda that talked of the parallels between his character’s experience  in the movie The Oxbow Incident , where his character was the lone voice of reason against a mob that lynches three men without evidence of their guilt and those of a being witness to a horrific episode as youth in Nebraska.

As a 14 year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, he witnessed a mob storm the courthouse that was located across the street from his father’s printing business. They  were inflamed by allegations made by a white woman that she had been assaulted by a black man. A suspect had been taken into custody and was in the courthouse. The mob, whose size was estimated to be between 5000 and 15000 people, exchanged gunfire with police in which two of the mob were killed.

The mayor of Omaha tried to intervene  and was beaten and himself lynched before being saved. The suspect was not so lucky.

The accounts of this mob rule are horrific. Fonda carried this memory with him for the rest of his life and it informed many of the roles he had over his career. In The Oxbow Incident his character confronts the lynch mob afterward in a bar and reads them a letter written by one of the hanged men to his wife.  I could go on and on but I think the clip says it all…



Read Full Post »

Grapes of Wrath Book CoverIt was on this date 75 years ago, in 1939, that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published.  Following the Joad family as they lose their family farm in Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma and head for fields  and groves of California,   this epic tale has parallels for the dispossessed and downtrodden everywhere and in every time.   The book and subsequent movie, the 1940 John Ford classic starring Henry Ford as the everyman Tom Joad,  have influenced my perspective on the world since I was child.

When it was published, The Grapes of Wrath was an instant bestseller but it also stirred more than  a little controversy.  Many were shocked at the portrayals of poverty and couldn’t believe they were true, that such destitution could exist in our country.  Many were alarmed at the book’s themes of collectivism, feeling that it was a nudge in the direction of some form of Soviet Communism instead of  a gathering of the preyed upon and voiceless into a form that had a strong and unified voice and gave them protection against their oppressors.

I am sure there are many who still see the book as some sort of threat to the status quo– it is still one of the most frequently banned books in the country.  I think that says a lot about the strength of the powers-that-be and the fact that there are even more  families like the Joads out there today– dispossessed, voiceless and feeling absolutely alone in the world.  I am sure that Steinbeck could find plenty of source material in today’s America to write a modern day sequel.

It’s a powerful book and movie, one that I play at least once a year in the studio.  It still moves me deeply ad always will.  I wrote about the movie here a few years back in a post titled Then Who Do We Shoot?, outlining my early brush with the movie and how it affected me as a kid. I also had the video below which has a review from the NY Times with a few of the many great scenes including Tom’s farewell to his mother.

Happy 75th, Grapes of Wrath.  You haven’t lost a step.

 

Read Full Post »

The Oxbow IncidentI don’t like crowds.

Maybe it’s just some sort of neuroses like agoraphobia or maybe it’s just having developed a sense of uneasiness from seeing how individual people could react differently after becoming part of a group.  It always confounded me from an early age how the dynamics of a group could change the behavior of a person, bringing out characteristics that might be undetected in one-to-one interactions.  It’s as though the protection of the group brings out extreme attitudes that would otherwise be stifled.  The whole moral compass is pushed further  from the center and the sense of conscience that is present becomes diluted.

I was reminded of this feeling when I saw a short film about the actor Henry Fonda that talked of the parallels of his character’s experience  in the movie The Oxbow Incident , where he was the lone voice of reason against a mob that lynches three men without evidence of their guilt, with his own as a young boy in Omaha, Nebraska.  He was 14 years old in 1919 when he witnessed a mob storm the courthouse that was located across the street from his father’s printing business.  They  were inflamed by allegations made by a white woman that she had been assaulted by a black man.  A suspect had been taken into custody and was in the courthouse.  The mob, whose size was estimated to be between 5000 and 15000 people, exchanged gunfire with police in which two of the mob were killed.  The mayor of Omaha tried to intervene  and was beaten and himself lynched before being saved.  The suspect was not so lucky.  

The accounts of this mob rule are horrific.  Fonda carried this memory with him for the rest of his life and it informed many of the roles he had over his career.   In The Oxbow Incident his character confronts the mob afterward in a bar and reads them a letter written by one of the hanged men to his wife.  I could go on and on but I think the clip says it all…

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: