Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Boy From Oklahoma (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

For every movie I see that's the occasional disappointment, such as last weekend's RIDE, VAQUERO! (1953), there are plenty more discoveries of previously unseen gems. THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA (1954) is one such film, a Western available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz with his usual energy and polish.

In his book on Curtiz, biographer Alan K. Rode notes that the film was made at the end of Curtiz's Warner Bros. career, and he and star Will Rogers Jr. unsuccessfully lobbied to change the title to something more appropriate and exciting, especially given that Rogers was no "boy." There were other issues, such as a tight budget and leading lady Nancy Olson's fear of horses.

At the time the film was perhaps seen as a not-very-impressive end to Curtiz's storied career at the studio, but despite its production issues, viewed today it's a real charmer, with appealing leads supported by a terrific cast of character actors. Within the framework of a standard Western plot, screenwriters Frank Davis and Winston Miller created something a little more unusual, based on a story by Michael Fessier titled "The Sheriff Was Scared."

The movie's tale of a quirky law student turned lawman somewhat echoes James Stewart's DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) and strongly plays like a forerunner of James Garner's SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), what with a man (Rogers) on his way somewhere else becoming sheriff of a wild town, maintaining order with unusual methods while also courting a tomboy (Olson).

I also read today that THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA inspired the TV Western series SUGARFOOT, which like this film featured a lawyer named Tom Brewster. Will Hutchins played Tom in SUGARFOOT, and three of the supporting cast members of this film also appeared in the SUGARFOOT pilot!

Rogers had made a few other films, including playing his father in THE STORY OF WILL ROGERS (1952), but not having seen him in a movie before I had no idea what to expect. Rogers handles the role with relaxed ease, so patient and reasonable that he talks a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) shooting up the town to walking right into the jail, where he'll have a respite from his wife and free meals. When Tom meets Billy the Kid (Tyler McDuff), who's itching for a showdown, he talks to Billy about the kind of life he wishes Billy could have, until the exasperated Billy backs down and leaves the saloon.

I've always liked Nancy Olson, so as much as I also like Janet Leigh, I'm glad the budget was such that the production couldn't afford Leigh! Olson is perfect as spunky Katie and has a nice chemistry with Rogers. According to Rode's book, she remembers Rogers as a "dear human being." (And if it's not clear by now, Rode's Curtiz bio is "must" reading! He's also got a neat photo of Olson and husband Alan Jay Lerner and their daughter on the set with Curtiz.)

The film is quite enjoyable, with great support from actors like Louis Jean Heydt (a favorite of this blog), Anthony Caruso, Wallace Ford, Clem Bevans, James Griffith, and Slim Pickens. Joan Weldon has a tiny role as a saloon girl, the very same year she starred in the sci-fi classic THEM! (1954). Also seen in a small role is future TV talk show host Merv Griffin.

This 87-minute movie was shot by Robert Burks in WarnerColor. WarnerColor doesn't always hold up well but happily this is a good-looking DVD.

There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I have not seen this one Laura, but your review & Alan K. Rode's excellent bio of Curtiz made me want to seek out more of the director's later films.
Thanks for alerting me to its charms.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Moira, what a treat to hear from you! Isn't Alan's book excellent? Definitely inspires one to look for more Curtiz films. Hope you can catch this movie soon and that you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Hope all is well with you, so glad to see your name pop up in the comments!

Best wishes,

1:23 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, as a youngster I watched Will Hutchins, as SUGARFOOT(1957-61) in syndicated re-runs on TV. The Channel 3 WREC-TV EARLY MOVIE would show SUGARFOOT(1952) starring Randolph Scott. Both were produced by Warner Bros. I could see that the TV show and movie had nothing to do with each other, except the name, and I pondered this. Then, one day, I turned on the TV(remember when you had to do this by hand) to see what was on THE EARLY MOVIE. Well, it was THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA starring Will Rogers, Jr. as Tom Brewster, which was, as you write, the inspiration for the TV show.

I really enjoyed the movie. Will Rogers, Jr. and Nancy Olson had such good chemistry together. I think Nancy is such a good actress, who has such a beautiful warm glow about her that is just wonderful. Will is so good that I wish he had made more movies and TV shows. He was good in WESTERN HERITAGE(1958), which is a movie that I recommend.

I'm glad you liked THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Walter, you make a great point I didn't mention in my post -- how strange is it that there was a Randolph Scott movie named SUGARFOOT which had nothing to do with the series, but then this movie did!

So agree with you about Nancy Olson, she's someone with a lot of warmth. And I was so pleasantly surprised by Rogers Jr. that I likewise wished he had done more than he did.

Thank you for the recommendation -- I think the title was WILD HERITAGE? -- I recorded a pan and scan from Encore Westerns so I may try that if a better copy doesn't come along in the menatime.

Thanks, as always, Walter!

Best wishes,

7:32 PM  

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