Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Oklahoman (1957)

It was a looooong day today, and by the time I finally sat down to watch a movie late this evening, only the soothing voice of Joel McCrea would do. THE OKLAHOMAN (1957) proved to be very satisfying Western entertainment.

THE OKLAHOMAN is an Allied Artists film which has overtones of McCrea's earlier classic STARS IN MY CROWN (1950). Whereas in STARS IN MY CROWN McCrea played a small-town parson raising his orphaned nephew, in THE OKLAHOMAN he's a widowed doctor raising his little girl, Louise (Mimi Gibson of HOUSEBOAT).

Like the STARS IN MY CROWN minister, McCrea's Dr. John Brighton is a force for good in his community. Just as the minister prevented a black man from being forced to sell his land in STARS IN MY CROWN, "Dr. John" comes to the aid of Charlie (Michael Pate), an Indian, when Cass Dobie (Brad Dexter) tries to force Charlie to sell -- it seems that Charlie has a fortune in oil on his land.

Although there are thematic similarities with McCrea's earlier film, depicting both the blessings and the problems of rural small-town life, THE OKLAHOMAN stands on its own as quite a well-done movie. It's a character-driven relationship film with good performances, starting with McCrea's upright, thoughtful doctor who's not afraid to back down from a battle.

Esther Dale gives a lovely performance as Mrs. Fitzgerald, an elderly widow who offers the doctor and his baby girl a home; she provides office space for the doctor and mothering for the baby, and in return she gains a family. The peppery Dale was a winning presence in movies for over a quarter of a century, with notable roles including Edward Arnold's secretary in EASY LIVING (1937) and the grandmother raising MARGIE (1946).

Barbara Hale, with her long dark hair and confident, mature persona, is appealing as a widow with her eye on the doctor. Gloria Talbott plays Maria, Charlie's pretty daughter, who helps Mrs. Fitzgerald care for Louise but whose presence in the doctor's home causes "talk" after Mrs. Fitzgerald passes on.

The cast is filled with familiar faces, including Verna Felton, Ray Teal, Anthony Caruso, and I. Stanford Jolley. Look for Diane Brewster (Samantha Crawford on MAVERICK) as the friend who helps deliver McCrea's baby at the start of the film.

One of the movie's only flaws is a fistfight sequence where McCrea's stuntman faces the camera and is very clearly not Joel McCrea! It's always a little confusing when that happens in a movie. MONTANA (1950) with Errol Flynn is another film seen in recent months where that was an issue.

The film has a nice outdoorsy look, filmed on Southern California movie backlots and ranches. It was shot in widescreen by Carl E. Guthrie.

THE OKLAHOMAN was directed by Francis D. Lyon. Like so many other '50s Westerns, including McCrea's excellent WICHITA (1955), the movie was written by Daniel B. Ullman. It runs 80 minutes.

THE OKLAHOMAN is available in a really lovely widescreen DVD from the Warner Archive.

It also had a release on VHS in 1993.

A final note, the foreign posters for this film, with McCrea carrying Talbott, are unintentionally amusing as there is no such scene in the finished movie!

Joel McCrea fans will especially like this one. Recommended.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Really nice review, Laura, of a film that regrettably is often dismissed as minor fare. Since "minor" fare is often to my personal taste, I really like the film.

I remember buying the Dell comic of the movie on its release in 1957 (because I already really liked McCrea). It was then quite a few years before I got to see the movie itself, and that on TV, which means I have yet to see it in its proper widescreen form. This needs to be remedied and I thank you for highlighting the film and reminding me I need to get this pronto!

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always liked this one. Barbara Hale worked well with Joel McCrea as she had done with Randolph Scott in Seventh Cavalry.

11:31 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Lovely review Laura,and as usual I love the way that you give details of the actors
who play minor roles in the film.
Oh dear,I do wish that I could be kinder about this film but the thing that sinks it for
me is Francis D Lyon's flat direction. I never understood why Joel teamed up with
Lyon and another un-favourite director of mine Charles Marquis Warren to make two
career killers for both of them.
Certainly a come-down for a star who had previously worked for the likes of Hawks,
Hitchcock,Wyler,Wellman and Preston Sturges.
Cannot help thinking how great THE OKLAHOMAN would have been had Tourneur directed and the
same goes for Warren's TROOPER HOOK as well.
Never liked Lyon's films,the dullest of directors.
Warren I must say did some outstanding TV work including my all time fave RAWHIDE
episode INCIDENT WITH AN EXECUTIONER starring the great Dan Duryea.
More to my taste is McCrea's next film for Allied Artists/Mirisch Thomas Carr's
energetic THE TALL STRANGER which ups the sex and violence quota.
When Mirisch moved to United Artists the final two films he made with McCrea were
directed by Joseph M Newman a really good director and it certainly shows in the quality
Despite my mis-givings about Marquis Warren at least Quentin Tarantino likes him.
In his forthcoming Western THE HATEFUL EIGHT Samuel L Jackson plays a character called
Major Marquis Warren. Furthermore Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a character called Daisy
THE HATEFUL EIGHT is shot in some ultra widescreen process or as listed on the poster
"Super" CinemaScope with a ratio of 2.76...WOW!
That's one sure-fire way to entice people back into the cinema!

6:12 AM  
Blogger E said...

Lovely review and wonderful blog. I'm so glad I discovered it most serendipitously by following the internet trail to learn more of Dorothy Malone's 90th birthday...

7:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all so much for your comments on THE OKLAHOMAN!

Jerry, I love that -- "minor fare" is often what I like as well! What a fun memory about the comic.

Vienna, the Randolph Scott blogathon really made me realize just how many of his films I need to see -- I made a list of titles I'm especially interested to see soon. I just added SEVENTH CAVALRY, thanks to you -- I have the TCM DVD set but haven't cracked it open yet. More Barbara Hale sounds good!

John, thanks so much for your feedback! I'm sorry this is one you don't like as well, given how many films we enjoy in common, but I enjoyed your detailed thoughts. I'm not very familiar with Lyon's work although I am very fond of his ESCORT WEST (1958) with Victor Mature and a marvelous supporting cast, made for Batjac.

I liked THE TALL STRANGER but not as much as the more "mellow" THE OKLAHOMAN. :) Thanks for the fun tidbits about the character names in the coming Tarantino film.

E, welcome, and thank you so much! If you enjoy classic films I hope you will visit often and join in the conversations.

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  

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