Talkie of the Week: The Oklahoman
USA 1957, 80 minutes, color, Warner Bros.. Director: Francis D. Lyon, Written by Daniel B. Ullman. Cast: Joel McCrea, Barbara Hale, Brad Dexter, Gloria Talbott, Michael Pate, Verna Felton, Douglas Dick, Anthony Caruso, Esther Dale, Adam Williams, Ray Teal, Peter J. Votrian, John Pickard, Mimi Gibson
Plot summary: Dr. John Brighton is on his way to California with his wife and friends when a stroke of fate urges him to stay were it him hardest, in a small town in the Oklahoma Territory that needs a doctor as much as he needs a new home.
Review: The Oklahoman is a Western. The picture above may already have told you as much. Or the summary which basically only sums up where it all starts. If you don’t like the genre, you will probably not be eager to watch this film – which would be a pity, a real one – because The Oklahoman is a classic gem.
Starring Joel McCrea as Doc Brighton, the film is beautifully shot, cast and edited. It’s not artsy, nor dark. It’s entertainment. It’s drama. It’s romance, unpretentiously provided by the leading actor himself and the woman who would enter the supporting actresses’ hall of fame on TV, Barbara Hale. Westerns are as much her homeland as his, and they make their audience feel it. Not only do they create a chemistry that sizzles, they also make you want to grab your boots and saddle a horse to ride along with them. They build up that longing for nature and for something that is hard to describe. It is a feeling of nostalgia for something that’s long gone. A different life. A different time. Be it the 1870s of the plot or the 1950s of the production, take your pick. Watching The Oklahoman today, these two stars make you long for both.
Of course there is more to the film than “only” the congeniality of two performers, their believability and charm. There is also Doc’s friend Charlie Smith (Michael Pate) who gets in trouble when he defends his land against a crooked trio of brothers. And his young daughter Maria who combines innocence and trouble for Doc Brighton, convincingly portrayed by Gloria Talbott. And then there are Ann Barnes’ (Barbara Hale) mother and Doc’s own landlady, both hilariously brought to life by Verna Felton and Esther Dale. To cut it short, the entire ensemble is a joy to watch and the story gripping from beginning to end. It would be a shame to give too much of the plot away, to spoil the surprises and explain how the characters interact. So go get yourself a copy and watch The Oklahoman. (Re)Discover it and embrace what you see: a good movie with a decent cast and two shining leads, Joel McCrea and Barbara Hale.
Available on DVD.