One significant difference between motion pictures and theater is that in movies, the drama can be free to explore the world outside the stage. Yet often filmmakers set limitations on their creative liberty by sequestering their movies to a single location — with morbid results. One has to look no further than Alfred Hitchcock: Rope uncoiled in the apartment of two dapper murderers; Lifeboat floated on the Atlantic with eight cagey castaways; and Rear Window proved how tense a camera as immobilized as Jimmy Stewart’s could be.
But it wasn’t just Hitch. From the dilapidated hideout in Reservoir Dogs to the dystopian island paradise of Lord of the Flies , too many people in one place is a recipe for disaster. Social graces disintegrate, paranoia takes hold, and murder is sure to follow.
A case in point is 1943’s The Ox-Bow Incident.
This claustrophobic Western imbeds itself with a lynch mob gathered
around three suspected murderers. Will the men be strung up? Or will
cooler heads prevail? It’s up to two drifters (Henry Fonda, Harry
Morgan) to steer the mob away from vigilante justice. In some ways, it’s
a bleaker forerunner to 12 Angry Men ,
in which Henry Fonda also stars as the “Voice of Reason.” Both films take
place over a confined period of time. And the films’ narrowed
perspectives say something about how limited viewpoints can obscure
the truth — and lead ordinary people to despicable behavior.