Ambrose Bierce's classic hallucinatory short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge has been adapted to film at least three times. The first version was a 1932 short subject directed by Charles Vidor; the second was a two-part 1959 installment of TV's Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and the third was this award-winning French short, adapted and directed by Robert Enrico. The time is the American Civil War: Southern plantation-owner Peyton Farquahr (Roger Jacquet) has been condemned to death for spying against the Union cause. As he prepares to be hanged from the Owl Creek bridge, Farquahr morosely contemplates his fate and fondly recalls his loving wife (Anne Cornaly). The commanding officer gives the signal, Farquahr is dropped off the side of the bridge -- and suddenly the rope breaks. Farquahr breaks loose of his bonds, remains submerged in the creek as the soldiers' bullets whiz all about him, breathlessly reaches dry land, and painstakingly makes his way home to the arms of his wife. As he rushes towards her and.......ah -- to say more would be to ruin the surprise. The music by Henri Lanoe includes an original ballad, "Live Livin' Man", sung spiritual-style in English. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge made its American TV premiere as the February 28, 1964 installment of the anthology series The Twilight Zone. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
GreenCine Staff Review, August 19, 2004: "A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck." That's how Ambrose Bierce's short story, "Occurrence at Owl Creek," begins, and by the time it ends, shivers will have reverberated up and down your spine. But even more effective is Frenchman Robert Enrico's chilling 1962 film version. Thanks to the foresight of Rod Serling, I first saw Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge as a child when it screened as a Twilight Zone episode, unaware that the film had already nabbed an Oscar for best short film (not to mention a prize at Cannes as well).
The story recounts the final moments of a man about to be hung for sabotage who is saved when the rope miraculously breaks. Or does it? Occurrence's nature surrounding the condemned man as he wanders through the countryside is depicted with intimate cinematography - one is reminded a bit of the work of Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) - but most importantly, as it relies on only a minimum of dialogue, Enrico's film remains a superb example of tight, taut filmic storytelling. And the end will shock you; to comment any further would do it, and you, an injustice. See the chilling film, then read the original story, for an interesting comparison. -- Craig Phillips