Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962)

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Director: Robert Enrico
USA 1964
25 min
The Twilight Zone, Season 5, Episode 22
See it on YouTube

Isn't The Twilight Zone a wonderful series?

This episode is a special one, considering it was shot in France and had little to do with the actual Twilight Zone series. It was released in 1962 as La rivière du hibou ("Owl River"), ran for 28 minutes and was based on a story by Ambrose Bierce. I actually came to watch this episode on YouTube after searching in vain for an earlier film adaption by Charles Vidor called simply The Bridge (1929). Although I didn't find what I was looking for, I instead found this fascinating little piece of film.

It's the Civil War era and a man is about to be hanged from Owl Creek Bridge for attempting to sabotage the railroads. This information is delivered by a warning sign and the images of the film themselves - apart from the Twilight Zone narrator and some commands by the firing squad there is no dialog at all.

The man's tie is removed and a noose is tightened around his neck. The executioners tap their heels together in some strange army rituals. The man closes his eyes and recalls his wife and children playing in the garden to the sound of a clock ticking. The ticking escalates, and suddenly we cut back to the soldiers taking his pocket watch as a last little detail before letting the man fall to his cruel fate.

Who could anticipate that the rope would break, giving the man a chance to escape? This is beautifully captured through slow-motion, under-water shooting and cutting back and forth between close-ups and long shots. When the man reaches the surface a sweet song about being a free man and loving the nature starts to play. Utopian close-ups of leaves and spider webs are interrupted as the music starts to slow down to a growling, menacing sounding noise. The man suddenly realizes that the firing squad stands ready to finish their work with gunpowder. An intense exchange of more and more extreme close-ups of the horrified man, so close to freedom, and the firing squad preparing their guns follows.

Then what happens? I will tease you with screenshots from the first 10 minutes of the film, and then leave you to spend 25 minutes on YouTube to enjoy. This short masterpiece is something I won't allow you not to watch, so here is the link again. Now - recall the story and watch the screen caps!

Oh, and C. K. Dexter Haven: Here is a YouTube link for the animated communist propaganda short Black and White (1932). I recommend that you download a neat little program called DVDVideoSoft - Free YouTube Download (here) and save it! And Paul Robeson rocks.

The man is hanged, but the rope breaks. When the man instinctively has reached the surface he has a minor revelation of having survived. The beauty of the vital nature is however interrupted by the realization of still being in danger of his life.

What an evil stare. For Pete's sake, just watch it already!


Millie said...

Oh my goodness! I totally have not seen this in a bazillion years! Watching again now!

Great post, Lolita!

I ADORE The Twilight Zone!

Kate Gabrielle said...

wow this sounds great! I love Twilight Zone but I haven't seen this one yet, I'll definitely watch it on youtube!

Great post! :)

Lolita said...

Thank you, honey!

Kate G:
I think you will love it ;) Thanks, sweetie!

Rick29 said...

Great post on a fine short film, Lolita! Serling showed it as part of THE TWILIGHT ZONE because he came up one episode short for the season. But since it wasn't made for the series, it can't be shown in the syndicated and cable broadcasts.

Miss CherryBubbles said...

Great post! I actually saw this in a history class when I was in elementary school (a million years ago)! Think I'll go watch it again ;)

Thank you for sharing!

Christopher said...

A true southern gothic..Like alot of folks ,I saw this in high school too.I prefer this french film version to the other regular american Twilight Zone version.

David C. said...

Addressing an audience at the University of Wisconsin in 2003, Kurt Vonnegut said:

Do you know what a Twerp is? When I was in high school in Indianapolis 65 years ago, a Twerp was a guy who stuck a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs. (And a Snarf was a guy who sniffed the seats of girls’ bicycles.)

And I consider anybody a Twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is ''Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,'' by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like ''Sophisticated Lady'' by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove. ''Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,'' by Ambrose Bierce.

You can read the whole speech here.

BTW, Bierce grew up in Indiana, as did Vonnegut and I.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

Thanks for the links and subversive advice, comrade! :D

Alex DeLarge said...

Another great review! I just finished a collection of Ambrose Bierce's Civil War stories which detonate with ironic shrapnel.

OCCURRANCE is a great short film that you have inspired me to see again! Thanks:)

Hines said...

Thanks for the review, The Twilight Zone is an amazing seires! I enjoy every single episode of it:)
I sometimes watch them online using Free online TV .