Tonight's Movie: The Oklahoman (1957)
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).
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.
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.