An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Sunday, January 25, 2009


This isn't a political blog, but I absolutely could not let this item pass without comment. Don't worry, it's movie-related.

As part of Rod's recent and ongoing media blitz, he compared his situation to the lynch-mob persecution of horse rustlers in the Old West. Now, Blago doesn't get specific (although he claims to be a great fan of Westerns), but I happen to know that he is in fact referring to William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident, based on the famous novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The film, which stars Henry Fonda in a role that prefigures his conscientious juror in 12 Angry Men, is a rather preachy if effective message picture about the dangers of mob action.

Now, you can probably guess the basic story: several men from an Old West town plagued by cattle-rustling form a posse and accuse three people of stealing the livestock. The townspeople have no proof to back up this accusation, and their blind stubborn certainty leads them to hang the strangers, despite the protests of a small minority of doubters led by Henry Fonda. The movie's final scene is actually quite powerful and non-hokey, as Fonda—framed by director Wellman such that the brim of another man's hat obscures Fonda's eyes the entire time—recites a letter written by one of the condemned men to his wife. The content of the letter shames all the men into silence, but the deed has already been done. The whole scene is up on YouTube, and can be viewed here:

It doesn't take a genius to see that this bears no resemblance whatsoever to Blagojevich's case; if the posse'd had the condemned men ON TAPE TALKING ABOUT STEALING THE CATTLE and about how dumb it would be NOT to steal the cattle—"it's a fuckin' valuable thing!"—then maybe he'd have a point. But it does reveal something kind of fascinating about how Blagojevich sees himself, as a victimized martyr for justice. In Blago's fantasy world, a gentle-voiced Henry Fonda will absolve him with homilies about justice and conscience—but if he had any conscience to begin with ("a piece of the conscience of all the men who ever lived"), he wouldn't be facing impeachment and possible jailtime right now.

If we're talking Westerns, our governor has more in common with the greedy bastards in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or the weaselly hotelier E.B. Farnum on HBO's Deadwood. Or, given Blago's apparently off-the-charts level of self-delusion, we might compare him to the most tragically deluded character in all Westerns: John McCabe (as played by Warren Beatty) in Robert Altman's staggering masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller. There's also a whole subset of Westerns about corrupt town bosses that Blagojevich might want to take a look at. What I'm saying is, he picked the wrong one. If Blago were a character in an old white-hat/black-hat cowboy movie, it's pretty clear what color hat he'd be wearing.

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