The Ox-Bow Incident appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its advanced age, Incident provided a consistently positive presentation.
Sharpness seemed very good. Almost no intrusive softness appeared at any time during the movie. Instead, it looked nicely detailed and well defined. I witnessed no concerns related to jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of moiré effects occurred.
As for print flaws, they were very minor. Occasional marks, spots, or smudges showed up, but these occurred infrequently. Overall, the image remained quite clean and fresh. A few frame jumps popped up as well. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dense, and shadows mostly appeared distinctive. A few nighttime shots were slightly opaque, but those instances seemed rare. Instead, most of the dark shots – of which the flick employed more than a few – looked clear and appropriately defined. I’ve seen better transfers for movies as old as Incident, but not many; the flick looked very good.
As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, The Ox-Bow Incident presented both a remixed stereo and the original monaural soundtracks. As with most of the releases in the Fox Studio Classics series, the mono mix seemed noticeably stronger than the stereo one did. The soundfield heard in the stereo version lacked much definition. Essentially the domain displayed broad mono; it spread the audio in a vague manner across the forward channels, but it failed to substantial accuracy or delineation. No really well delineated stereo elements showed up, as the whole thing seemed blandly developed.
Mostly the stereo track just offered a vague echo, though this didn’t seem as obnoxiously enforced as in some prior Studio Classics releases. Audio quality appeared fairly decent, at least. Speech demonstrated some edginess but generally remained acceptably distinct and intelligible. Effects were somewhat thin and tinny, but they sounded reasonably clean and accurate, and they different suffer from notable distortion. The music seemed fairly rich given the age of the material, though it was a bit loose and boomy at times.
The problematic delineation of the stereo spectrum and the somewhat excessive reverberation caused most of the problems related to this mix. Due to those reasons, I preferred the mono track. Speech still showed a little edginess, but it seemed a little warmer and more natural since it lacked the echo. Effects and music also displayed similar dynamics for both tracks, but the greater focus on the single-channel presentation and the absence of reverberation made the elements sound clearer and tighter. The music was a little thinner than in the stereo track but still seemed more accurate. Some light distortion popped up for louder elements like gunfire, but given the generally subdued nature of the mix, this wasn’t a real concern. Ultimately, the mono track for Incident seemed like the more satisfying one.
This “Fox Studio Classics” edition of The Ox-Bow Incident includes a smattering of supplements. We open with an audio commentary from western scholar Dick Eulain and director’s son William Wellman Jr. Both sat separately for their sessions, and the results were combined for this track. Overall, the discussion offers a nice look at the subject. Wellman mostly tells us about his father’s life and career, with a moderate emphasis on his involvement with Incident. Eulain dominates the track as he goes into comparisons between the movie and the novel on which it was based, the evolution of the western, interpretation of the film, and production topics. Both men prove to be informative and entertaining. The commentary suffers from more empty spaces than I’d like, especially during the flick’s second half, but as a whole, the track gives us a fine examination of Incident.
Next we find an episode of A&E Biography called Henry Fonda: Hollywood’s Quiet Hero. This 44-minute and 59-second program mixes archival materials, film clips, and interviews with daughter/actor Jane Fonda, biographer Kevin Sweeney, son/actor Peter Fonda, actors Anthony Quinn and Richard Dreyfuss, director/actor Ron Howard, director Mark Rydell, and wife Shirlee Fonda. In keeping with other entries in the Biography series, this one follows Henry Fonda from childhood through death. It alternates between discussions of his career and his personal life. We get a decent feel for Fonda’s life, though I continue to dislike the somewhat superficial way in which the Biography shows tend to emphasize the negative. They don’t reach Behind the Music levels of dirt, but they push those parts, whereas I’d rather learn more intricacies about the actor’s career. Nonetheless, “Hero” gives us a reasonably good examination of Fonda’s life and work.
A few minor components round out the DVD. In the Still Gallery, we find 17 photos, most of which offer publicity images. We also get the film’s Theatrical Trailer and a Restoration Demonstration. The latter provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film.
A pioneering western, The Ox-Bow Incident offers a rich and dark examination of frontier “justice”. It gives us a good psychological portrait of the mob mentality and comes across as taut and compelling. The DVD presents surprisingly positive picture quality along with fairly average audio, especially if you listen to the flawed stereo mix; the original monaural tracks fares much better. Add to that a good audio commentary along with some other supplements and Incident earns my recommendation.