Memo To: April 8, 1998
Memo To: Website browsers, fans & clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Ten movies that helped shape my life
In the next ten weeks or so, one at a time, I’ll list here the ten films that most shaped my life. These are not my favorite films. They are the movies I’ve seen that have had the greatest influence on my thinking, my character, my life. Some are favorites that I enjoy watching over and over again, which you can tell as you read each entry. Try to think of your own experiences with films and how they influenced the course of your life. It makes life more interesting to be aware, as you live it, to know how things such as books and films and magazine articles alter your path in significant ways. Sometime last year the Sunday NYTimes “Arts and Leisure” section had a piece on how difficult it is to think of a movie that may have changed history. The only movie they could think of was a silent film by D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation, which had a scene about the KuKluxKlan which the author believes changed national thinking about the KKK. How silly. Each of the ten films listed here changed my history, and if I had not seen them, I would not have helped change history in the ways that I have. Films don’t move masses. They move individuals who move masses.
1. “The Ox-Bow Incident.” (1943) This is the movie that most changed my life, instilling in me a fear of injustice that is produced by lynch mobs. That came to be one of my distinguishing political characteristics. As you will notice I am attracted to the defense of those who nobody else will defend. My mother took me to see this when I was seven years old and I even remember sitting near the rear of the Borough Park Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y. Henry Fonda is part of a posse chasing men who killed a rancher in the course of stealing some of his cattle. The thieves, including Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and an old man, insist they did nothing wrong, but after a quick tree-stump trial in the woods, they are pronounced guilty -- with Henry Fonda voting “not guilty” -- and hung. On the way back to town, the posse meets a man who tells them the rancher was not killed at all, but was alive and well. The men who had been hung were innocent after all. I cried bitterly, not only in the theater, but for many nights thereafter. For years it came back to me in dreams. I can’t watch it when it shows up on late-night television. I hate lynch mobs.