Thursday, June 26, 2014

DVD Review: The Oklahoma Kid (1939)

The Oklahoma Kid (1939)

(Released: February 25, 2014 by the Warner Archive Collection)  
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary:  Cagney and Bogart in a western?  You must be (Oklahoma) Kidding!  

1939 is considered by certain film aficionados as the single greatest year in the history of the medium.  It’s kinda hard to argue, considering the likes of “Gone With the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Stagecoach”, “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Beau Geste”, and “Gunga Din”. 

Master detectives were out in force, with two Sherlock Holmes pictures, three for Charlie Chan, one Mister Moto, and two for Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong.  Even Nancy Drew got into the act three times.

Other personal favorites included “Son of Frankenstein”, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” (Supposedly the first Hollywood film to address the existence of Nazis!), W.C. Fields vs. Charlie McCarthy in “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”, and a bunch of shorts starring The Three Stooges. 

Why, even Laurel and Hardy got into the act with the great “Flying Deuces” and the early directorial efforts of Chuck Jones gave us one of my most favorite cartoons: “Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur”.   To digress, “Flying Deuces” and Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur” get their own separate paragraph because both wind up with two of my all-time favorite endings of film comedy!
Skip the next five illustrations to avoid SPOILERS!
Ollie, the Angel!

"Life sucks, and then you become a horse!"
"If we HAD to DIE, at least WE died in COLOR!"

James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart also shared in the success and legend of 1939, together in “The Roaring Twenties”, and separately in “Each Dawn I Die” for Cagney, and “Dark Victory”, “King of the Underworld”, and “You Can’t Get Away with Murder” for Bogart. 

Chances are good I left out some great film of 1939, so please don’t kill me.  There were just too many to remember! 

Yet, amid all this, someone had the notion of casting James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in a western… and made it a reality.  Though, at times it seemed more of a surreal-ity.   

We open on President Grover Cleveland signing into law “The Indian Appropriations Act”, opening up the “Cherokee Strip”, land measuring 180 miles long and 50 miles wide, to anxious settlers.  The Native Americans, presently on the land, are to be monetarily compensated, and resettled westward. 

A train arrives, carrying the funds intended as payment for the Native Americans, which is transferred to a stagecoach for the final leg of the journey.  The coach is immediately robbed by Bogart (as “Whip McCord”), fittingly attired head-to-toe in black, and his gang. 

But, before the Bogie-Bunch can break-away with their booty, in rides James Cagney, pausing momentarily for a close-up against an expansive Western sky – with the camera lens almost “irising-in” on him to catch the heroic glint in his eye!  His name is “Jim Kincaid”, though WE (the viewers) don’t know that.  To us he is “The Oklahoma Kid”, known as a bad guy but, in actuality, the hero of the picture. 

Observing the hold-up, he rides ahead of the bandits, via one of those convenient ‘round-the-rocks shortcuts, and lassos the horse carrying the bag of loot – recovering it to an appropriately heroic musical crescendo!  ...Surprisingly, however, he keeps it for himself, the rascal! 

"Ya just can't trust ANYONE these days!"

BIG ON-SCREEN TEXT: Cherokee City – Springboard to a new territory.  Boomers [JOE’S NOTE: You mean my “very special, postwar generation” was around back then?  If so, what “war” did they “post”?], eager to drive their stakes into fresh rich earth, are held by ‘The Sooner Law’ until the starting gun the following day…” 

"Hey!  Is that ME on a MOVIE POSTER, up there?"

Apparently, a land rush is on, kicked off by a ceremonial starting gun.  “John Kincaid” (father of Jim, from whom he is estranged) and his group intends to move out first and stake a claim for a town – that would, one day, become Tulsa, Oklahoma. 
A sign warns: Don’t be a SOONER!  Persons caught entering the Cherokee Strip before 12:00 Noon forever forfeit their rights to claim any land!  THIS MEANS YOU!” 

So, a “SOONER” means a CHEATER?  I’ll never be able to watch Oklahoma college football again!  Unaffected by it all, Cagney’s Jim Kincaid just hangs back and smiles, as if contemplating his bets on the “Oklahoma Sooners” football game. 

Soon (but not “sooner”), the race is on – and in 1939 cinematic semi-spectacle.  Some if it looks new, while some of it looks more like older stock footage of horses, riders, and wagons. 

Cagney’s Kincaid offers an interesting take on why he, despite being a good guy, believing in “fair-play” and all that, has no interest in the land rush:
Philosophical Discussion Alert!

KINCAID:  “The white people steal the land from the Indians, right?

JUDGE HARDWICK:  “But, they got paid for it, didn’t they?”

KINCAID:  “Yeah!  A measly dollar and forty cents an acre – price agreed-to at the point of a gun!  Then, the immigrants sweat, and strain, and break their hearts carving out a civilization!  Fine!  Great!  Then, when they get all pretty and prosperous, along come the grafters, and land-grabbers, and politicians – and, with one hand, skim off the cream and, with the other, scoop up the gravy!  Not for me!

Meanwhile, Bogart’s Whip McCord – being the Sooner, we all expected him to be – HAS ALREADY STAKED the claim John Kincaid desired for his band of settlers.  Boo!  Hiss! 
"Sure, go ahead and Boo!  See if I care!"
McCord, however, has no interest in the land itself but wants exclusive rights to all saloons and gambling houses in the new settlement.  Rather than press further on into less desirable territory, John Kincaid reluctantly agrees – and Tulsa, Oklahoma is born. 

Tulsa takes shape over a nice montage of the land being cleared, staked, and growing from a humble “tent-city” to an actual western town.    

"Didn't you always want to be part of a montage, Kid?"

The elder Kincaid opens an honest bank, while McCord opens a saloon and gambling hall.  Who gains the upper hand in the battle for the hearts and minds of the settlers?  Let the on-screen text tell you:

But, with new growth – old evils.  Vice, crime, gambling, murder…”

"Vice, Gambling, and Murder... The Stuff that DREAMS are made ofOh, wait... That's ANOTHER film entirely!"

Banker John Kincaid runs for mayor as a reformer – but he is framed for murder by Whip McCord.   Can his son, Jim Kincaid aka The Oklahoma Kid, come to dear old dad’s rescue?  And, can we look forward to another great Cagney vs. Bogart cinematic climax?  Watch the film and find out, ‘cause we don’t do spoilers!   

"We'd LIKE to tell you how this comes out, folks, but we don't do SPOILERS! 
But, we will offer up one more highlight: 

On the night before the Land Rush, with nowhere in town for the Oklahoma Kid, Judge Hardwick, and his daughter Jane to lodge for the evening, Cagney’s “Kid” clears out a hotel room, occupied by about 16 sleeping “boomers” waiting for the morning’s rush to come, using a marvelously humorous tactic that we would come to associate with another Warner Bros. star, by the name of Bugs Bunny! 
"Eeeh, Someone mention ME, Doc?"

The Kid bursts into the room, in the middle of the night, and starts yelling:

“C’mon, you mavericks!  On your feet!  The land rush is on!  C’mon, they’re firing the starting gun!  C’mon!” 

And, as if occupied by an army of “Yosemite Sams”, the room frantically clears out – leaving it for Cagney to turn over to the Judge and Jane.  Gotta love that!  

"That RABBIT'S got nuthin' on ME!"

Finally, for the animation enthusiasts out there:  We have more SOUND EFFECTS in this film that were later “ported-over” to various Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.  Of course, the various “gunshots” were reused, but also the distinctive PUFFING and WHISTLE of the TRAIN, carrying the funds for the Oklahoma land payments, was featured throughout the Tweety and Sylvester cartoon "All A-Bir-r-rd"  (1949) You can just hear it now, can’t you?  

"I tawt I heard that TWAIN before - and taw a puddy tat, too!"

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  

By now, we’ve gone over the general debits and credits of The Warner Archive Collection in great length in other such posts.  Suffice it to say these are general “No-Frills” releases, pressed in the DVD-R format, which will not play on a computer. 

No Extra Features, save a Theatrical Trailer – and even that is not always guaranteed.  No subtitles, alternate language tracks, or other expected amenities of the DVD viewing experience.

Read the back of the package!  It's as close as we get to an "Extra Feature".  Click to enlarge.


All the expected stuff outlined above.     


Logical Chapter Skips:  This category is a literal “toss up”, when it comes to Warner Archive Collection product.  The earliest WAC DVDs (and occasionally those released thereafter) came with fixed 10-minute interval Chapter Skips – regardless of where that put viewers logically within the film.  Later WAC releases, (though, inexplicably, not all) offer Chapter Skips that work more logically with the film. “The Oklahoma Kid” offers Logical Chapter Skips.  I’ll take that as a “PRO” and run!   

Theatrical Trailer:  Runs 02:45.

LARGE ON-SCREEN TEXT:  “A shot is fired!  A state is born!” 

Narration from Robert C. Bruce (The Voice of Warner Bros.): OklahomaIts forbidden frontiers at last flung open to a nation’s land-rushing pioneers!   A virgin empire to be claimed by the swiftest, and held by the strongest!

Overnight, in the raw wilderness, spring up sprawling, gun-ruled outposts torn by bitter strife as Oklahoma becomes the storm center of America’s onward march!

Into this turbulent battleground, rides a mysterious figure [ JOE’S NOTE: We see an image of Cagney, on his horse, rearing-up against an expansive sky. ], destined to carve a glorious place among the conquerors of the West

“A reckless adventurer, whose single-handed fight against injustice makes him a hunted outlawHis daring, the driving force behind the creation of an empireHis gun, the only law feared by its plunderersAn avenging terror – wanted dead or alive – THE OKLAHOMA KID!” 
LARGE ON-SCREEN TEXT:James Cagney – Blazing into action in the screen’s mightiest epic of the West[ JOE’S NOTE: …Um, ya think John Ford and John Wayne MIGHT hold a differing opinion?  Just sayin’!]
Maybe this one could be a contender?  Ya think?

HUMPHREY BOGART (as Whip McCord):  “This is MY TOWN, and nobody’s gonna run me out of itIf The Kid wants to shoot it out with me, I’ll be here!”
Like the man said: "I'll be here!"
CAGNEY:  “Listen, I learned this about human nature when I was about so-high… and that is the strong take away from the weak – and the SMART take away from the strong!” 

JUDGE HARDWICK:  “ I suppose you’ve never heard of law!”

CAGNEY (pats his gun): “THIS is the only law that I know is worth a hoot in this part of the country!”   

LARGE ON-SCREEN TEXT:Thrill to the SURGING DRAMA of an empire in creationJames Cagney as the pioneer hero of America’s westward marchHumphrey Bogart as the most dangerous desperado of the Bad LandsHistory is made when they fight for supremacy
"Let's make some HISTORY!"

THE OKLAHOMA KID, with Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp, Harvey Stephens, and a cast of thousands!  Warner Bros.’ glorious cavalcade of the great South-West!” 

[ JOE’S NOTE:  Yes, “South-West” is hyphenated!]

The Cast:

·         James Cagney as “The Oklahoma Kid” / Jim Kincaid.  (The Hero)
·         Humphrey Bogart as “Whip McCord”. (The Man in Black)
·         Rosemary Lane as “Jane Hardwick”.  (The Romantic Interest)
·         Donald Crisp as “Judge Hardwick”.  (The Judge, natch!)
·         Hugh Southern as John Kincaid.  (The Father)
·         Harvey Stephens as Ned Kincaid.  (The Good Son)
·         Ward Bond as Wes Handley.  (The Future Star of WAGON TRAIN, and Frequent John Wayne Co-Star). 
Bogart with Ward Bond!


It’s Cagney.  It’s Bogart!  It’s a somewhat campy western!  Two great screen stars in uncharacteristic roles!  And, it’s 1939, regarded as the greatest year Hollywood would ever see! 

One could even say it was "camp", before there WAS "camp"!  …What’s not to love!

The Oklahoma Kid” is highly recommended for all those reasons – and the unforgettable image of Cagney’s “Kid” blowing the (gun) smoke from the barrel of his gun, each time he takes revenge on a member of Bogart’s gang!  


Anonymous said...

The land rush sequence was presumably stock footage blended with some new scenes, although I don't know offhand the movie in which it originally appeared. Maybe one of the Ken Maynard westerns made by First National Pictures in the late 1920's; those were noted for their spectacular action scenes and stunts. First National was acquired by Warners, and they used footage from the Maynard movies in a couple of "B" westerns starring John Wayne in the 1930's.

Of course, the Oklahoma land rush was the major set piece in RKO's Cimarron (1931), one of the relatively few big budget "A" Westerns made between 1930 and 1939. In The Oklahoma Kid, the land rush is treated almost as a throwaway.

This is also one of the few westerns where you can see the supposed cliche of a cowboy or gunfighter blowing smoke from a gun barrel after firing it.

A reviewer at Rotten Tomatoes said that this movie was still just a "B" western, despite its "A" cast. But that's what I liked about it. It is not pretentious, and not overly impressed by itself. And it has the fast pace and action of a Saturday matinee "B" movie.


Joe Torcivia said...


Ken Maynard is probably a good guess on the source of the stock footage; just as in those very John Wayne B pictures you mention, which were produced by LOONEY TUNES producer Leon Schlesinger.

Maybe the “blowing the smoke from a gun barrel” bit BECAME a cliché from its exaggerated and repeated use in “The Oklahoma Kid”!

Regardless, this is a wonderful, though severely underrated, film! I enjoyed it immensely because it defied all expectations – and was a lot of fun! Not “Stagecoach” by any stretch, but it should at least be a considered more of a “comedic western classic”.

Anonymous said...

With the "blowing smoke from the gun barrel" bit, The Oklahoma Kid may rival Cagney's "Taxi" as "the most iconic movie that you never heard of."


Joe Torcivia said...

Hmmm… That’s funny, TC.

Seems I’ve read those words somewhere before

scarecrow33 said...

How about that? A film with both Cagney and Bogey done on a budget. Two of the most iconic stars of all time paired in a low-budget western. It's amazing all of the talent that the studios could just take for granted. I can see that as both a plus and a minus for the studio system--a plus because you could have top talent in less than career-defining roles, but a minus because stars sometimes had to play roles that were below par and in films that did not do them justice.

I've never seen "The Oklahoma Kid," but your review makes me want to remedy that right away. It's a film I've heard of before, but now I'm interested in seeing it--if for nothing more than the satisfaction of watching Cagney blow on his gun after shooting.

1939 was indeed a banner year for films. In 1989, Life magazine did a tribute to the great films of that year, giving a two-page spread to each. The issue was a real treat for any fan of classic films. It's about time to revisit the films made that year and re-evaluate. Maybe "The Oklahoma Kid" should be added to some official (or unofficial) list to rank it among the classics for that year.

Chris Barat said...


You had it pretty much right when you equated Sooner with cheater. Those were the folks who wanted to stake their claims "sooner" than allowed. The Oklahoma Sooners still haul out a covered wagon, the Sooner Schooner ( sounds like a SCOOBY-DOO villain), to ride around the field before the football games.


Joe Torcivia said...


Yeah! A SCOOBY-DOO villain! …I like that!

“Oklahoma Sooner” (riding around in his ghostly Sooner Schooner), meet the “Miner Forty-Niner”! Ruh-Roh!

Joe Torcivia said...


I might actually count that “minus” of yours as a sort-of “quasi-plus”, precisely because you got to see stars in sometimes odd or incongruous roles. Such as TC’s example (in the previous post’s comments) of John Wayne as Genghis Khan, or Humphrey Bogart, looking almost vampire-like, as “Doctor X”, in “The Return of Doctor X” (1939)! There’s that year again… But nobody’s going to include “The Return of Doctor X” in any 1939 list… unless it’s a list of curiosities.

Oddly, Bogie didn’t really “return”, because the great Lionel Atwill originally starred in 1932’s “Doctor X”. (The two films are actually PAIRED on the same DVD!) And Bogart’s wasn’t even the same “Doctor X” character, anyway, despite these films being forever linked by title! Coincidently, Rosemary Lane (seen here in “The Oklahoma Kid”) was also in “The Return of Doctor X” with Bogart!

No matter, you should get a gander at “The Oklahoma Kid”. Then we can lobby to add it to the ranks of 1939 classics!

…Just one question, whom should we lobby?

scarecrow33 said...

I'm also intrigued by your comments on "Flying Deuces" and "DD & the Dinosaur". I, too, find a bizarre fascination with some of the endings the writers and artists could get away with in those days.

Further proof that some of these films now regarded as "kiddie fare" and presented as such on bargain DVDs, were originally intended for adults--although there are some kids who can handle it better than some adults. Personally, one similar demise I found almost unbearably sad was at the end of Disney's "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met," despite the narrator's reassurance that Willie's death was all for the best. Willie seems like he should have been granted his dream--whereas Daffy Duck was asking for trouble and ended up getting it worse than he planned. Stan and Ollie, of course, were almost doomed to disaster from the start, no matter what they did. Similarly with the Three Stooges--you never knew how they would end up.

Joe Torcivia said...


I always figured they “got away with it” (death endings), because their intended audience was an adult one. And that, once cartoons, short comedies, etc. came to be regarded more as “kiddie fare”, they could no longer. Sure was great while they could, wasn’t it?


Willie should have had a more satisfying conclusion, while Daffy deservedly died at the end of his cartoons at least THREE TIMES by my count (“Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur”, “Draftee Daffy”, and (of course) “Show-Biz Bugs” (…where he could “only do it once”). And, Stan and Ollie were such bumbling idiots it’s surprising that Stan (by his sheer dumb luck?) survived the conclusion… but what a great ending gag!


In contrast, tonight I just happened to see a repeat of a 2014 episode of THE SIMPSONS, “Days of Future Future” - episode # 548 (!!!) according to IMDB, where Homer “died” about 77 times (each time by doing increasingly stupid things), until Professor Frink could no longer resurrect him by cloning his body. There’s probably a worthy commentary somewhere within that contrast, but it seems like too much work to search for it! …Homer would probably agree.

top_cat_james said...

DVR alert!-

TCM is running Flying Deuces tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10:00 AM, as well as Taxi! on the 17th at 6:00 AM.

And The Oklahoma Kid is airing on September 15th at 4:00 am.

You can click on the links and have them send you an Email reminder beforehand.

Joe Torcivia said...

Nice, TCJ!

Everyone, here’s your chance to see “Taxi” and “The Oklahoma Kid” without going to Warner Archives (…not that we don’t LOVE Warner Archives around here!), and “Flying Deuces” not on a public domain DVD.

Anonymous said...

Daffy also "died" at the end of "The Scarlet Pumpernickel" (1949), shooting himself after his screenplay fails to sell. ("It's getting so you have to KILL YOURSELF to sell a script around here!") But the scene has often been heavily edited or even eliminated when the cartoon is shown on TV.


Joe Torcivia said...

EGAD! Having forgotten this additional Daffy death is enough to make me want to “KILL MYSELF” too, TC!


“Luckee for you, I meeesed!”