Ah, oil, wonder of the modern age. Just waiting in the ground for thousands of years for Americans to take it, to quit wasting precious land on grazing cattle and drill, giving us, as Chill Wills kindly explains at the beginning of 1949's Tulsa, all the wonderful cars and industry we take for granted. And transforming Tulsa, Oklahoma into the paradise shown during the opening credits without a trace of irony.
Shot in colour with the feeling that its makers intended to create something with epic scope, the movie fails not merely for its simplistic point of view on the oil industry but because the filmmakers didn't understand what makes for a good movie at a pretty basic level.
Susan Hayward plays Cherokee Lansing, so named because of a small amount of Cherokee blood in her ancestry. She's introduced at the beginning of the film along with a Native American suitor, Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendariz), a cattle man, like Cherokee's father. The three are out riding when they find some of Cherokee's father's cattle dead in the river which is polluted with oil. Cherokee's father goes to complain at the nearby oil well which explodes with gushing oil, killing him. Cherokee vows revenge on the wealthy oil baron who owns the well, Bruce Tanner (Lloyd Gough).
The movie seems like it might be setting up an argument as to why oil drilling is a bad thing but it's not long before Cherokee figures out the oil business can make you rich, which makes it seem a lot more virtuous. She also meets a new boyfriend, a geologist named Brad (Robert Preston) who helps her find oil.
He's passionate about some vague ideal of conservation, the practical points of which are never explained, but which Chill Wills assures us in the narration that oil drillers practice to this day because everything worked out okay for the old U.S. of A.
Susan Hayward is good as always but she seems a little disconnected as the love triangle between her, Jim, and Brad is pretty shallow and it's really the only motivation she has to emote after she quickly forgets about her vendetta from the beginning of the film. She has some nice dresses, though. I think this green one was my favourite.
The supporting performances are generally lame, though Chill Wills is good despite the fact that he's extolling a reprehensible philosophy. Well, maybe because he's extolling that philosophy and he makes it all seem so reasonable and just good old common sense. He has a couple musical numbers, including one at a fancy party at Cherokee's house where he's first made to suffer through an opera singer performing off key in the way demonstrated by movies and television to prove that all opera is terrible.