The 49th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1949 “epic” Tulsa!
I put epic in quotation marks because Tulsa is only 90 minutes long and I personally don’t think you can really have an epic unless you also have epic length. Giant is an epic, whereas Tulsa is an “epic.” That said, Tulsa does have a goal worthy of an epic. Tulsa is about oil and the men and women who sacrifice so much to get that oil out of the ground. Some of them lose their lives, some of them lose their happiness, and some of them make a lot of money. I know that makes this film sound a lot like There Will Be Blood but it’s really not. There Will Be Blood is an epic. Tulsa is an “epic.”
I have to admit that I was intrigued by this film, just because my family lived in Tulsa for a handful of months, way back when I was 9 years old. That said, I did groan a little bit when the film opened with a folksy guy named Pinky Jimpson (Chill Wills) standing in front of a white fence and staring straight at the camera. “Howdy, cousins,” Pinky says, before launching into a monologue about how Oklahoma is the greatest place on Earth. As a Texan, I was legally required to roll my eyes at Pinky’s claims but, to be honest, Oklahoma’s a pretty nice place. It’s certainly better than Vermont.
(Take that, Vermont!)
Anyway, once the story gets started, we discover that it’s about Cherokee Lansing (Susan Hayward). After Cherokee’s rancher father is killed when an oil derrick falls over on him, she decides to get her revenge by entering the oil business herself. At first, everyone is doubtful that a woman — especially a woman whose only apparent friend is a Native American named Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendariz) — can succeed in a man’s world. But she proves them wrong by befriending eccentric oilman John Brady (Ed Begley). After Johnny is killed in a bar fight (because Tulsa is a dangerous place), he leaves all of his land and drilling rights to Cherokee. He also leaves behind a far more sober-minded son, Brad (Robert Preston), who goes into business with Cherokee.
Soon, Cherokee and Jim Redbird are rich and powerful. But, as often happens, they are in danger of losing sight of why they wanted to become rich and powerful in the first place. Jim, in particular, turns out to be a big ol’ sellout. Brad is disgusted with all of them but then, fortunately, there’s a big oil fire which leads to a lot of stuff blowing up and everyone learning an important lesson…
Or, at the very least, Pinky assures us that they all learned a lesson. He also talks about how everything in the world now runs on oil. He mentions that you can get oil from other parts of the world but the best oil comes from Tulsa.
(And again, as a Texan, I am contractually obligated to roll my eyes while noting that people from Oklahoma are some of the nicest folks that you’ll ever meet…)
Anyway, as a film, Tulsa never quite works. 90 minutes isn’t enough time to tell the story that it’s trying to tell and some of the acting is rather inconsistent. However, the fire at the end is still impressive (Tulsa’s special effects received an Oscar nomination.) and I enjoyed watching Susan Hayward go totally over-the-top in role of Cherokee. Compared to her subtle and kind of depressing performance in Smash-Up, Hayward actually appears to be having fun in Tulsa and good for her!
Tulsa was the 2nd to last film in the Fabulous Forties box set. In my next review, I will conclude this series by taking a look at Lady of Burlesque!