IN OLD OKLAHOMA, from 1943, was retitled War Of The Wildcats for a 1950 re-release, and that stuck with subsequent TV showings and initial video editions. Half-comedy, half actioner, directed by Albert S. Rogell, the script was done by two of the era’s rare female screenwriters, Ethel Hill and Eleanore Griffin. Entertaining escapism was a success, the $7,100,000 gross drilling 27th place for the year, and two Oscar nominations were snagged, for Sound and Music Score (Walter Scharf). *
Oklahoma, 1906. Two big, strong-willed men clash heads (and batter them) during the oil boom, and vie for the favors of a charming new arrival, a schoolteacher-author from back East. Amiable cowpoke and army vet ‘Dan Somers’ (John Wayne) is the fella to cheer for; ruthless tycoon ‘Jim Gardner’ (Albert Dekker) is his opposite; sweet and smart ‘Catherine Allen’ (Martha Scott) has a choice to make. As the saying goes, you don’t have to be a genius…
“You’re crazy about the big guy, ain’t ya?”
Beyond standard battling over a girl, the plot fits in with several themes that were current in yesteryear: bootstraps vs. power mongers, empire-building in general, and in particular our fossil fuel friend OIL!, which got audience subsidies in Flowing Gold, Tulsa, The Big Gusher, Blowing Wild, Thunder Bay and tangentially, Written On The Wind and Giant. In this one Scott gets giddy over Dekker’s drill rig (so to speak) and swoons “It smells of life and love and—freedom!” Wayne’s answer is more in line with current environmental thinking: “Well, to me it just smells.”
Wayne handles the comedy well, Dekker is big enough to make a formidable challenger, and Scott is a charmer. You have to put up with Gabby Hayes (a little goes a long way), but you get a treat from Dale Evans, who does “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey”, a delightfully rambunctious chorus girl number.
Duke and Dekker have a no-holds-barred brawl (or rather, their doubles do, it’s more obvious than usual), horses and wagons run pell mell at high speed and lots of dangerous crashes are arranged by 2nd-unit director and stuntman Yakima Canutt. Republic Pictures go-to expert for special effects, Howard Lydecker, gets plenty of expertise displayed in explosions and fireballs. Other than Bakersfield, California, location work was done in Arizona, with some also captured in Utah’s Zion Natl. Park.
With Marjorie Rambeau, Grant Withers, Paul Fix (so bad Wayne shoots him six times!), Sidney Blackmer (as Theodore Roosevelt, one of eight times he played Teddy), Byron Foulger, Stanley Andrews, Will Wright, Fred Graham. In her uncredited debut, 20-year-old Rhonda Fleming is one of Dale’s chorus girls.
* Perhaps the title change was a decision to not confuse it with another Wayne picture, 1942’s In Old California, which also featured Albert Dekker as his opponent. With no slight to Oklahoma, War Of The Wildcats has more punch.