Houston Roughnecks

In Old Oklahoma (1943) – IMDb

This film is also very commonly known as “War of the Wildcats”. As you watch it, the movie sure looks like a B–but with just a bit more polish, a bit longer running time and a bit more in the way of budget. This is because the film is sort of like a transitional film for Wayne. While he played in a ton of Bs during the 1930s, around 1939 (with “Stagecoach”) he began playing in better and better films. But many of them looked a lot like Bs and felt a lot like Bs. His bigger budget studio projects were still a few years ahead.

The film begins with a feminist author (Martha Scott) leaving her tiny town. Apparently the local prudes were angry at her writing such a scandalous romance novel–and you get the impression that it really isn’t THAT bad. In fact, it really can’t be because Scott is a school teacher and never really lived a worldly life in this town. So, at the urging of the women, she is determined to see the world–and be more like one of her characters. But, she is conflicted and isn’t quite sure where to go or what to do. Her dull old aunt wants her to live with her in Kansas City–but when she meets a big-time oil man (Albert Dekker), he convinces her to follow him to the oil fields and promises her wealth and excitement. There are two problems with this. First, Dekker is a bit of a pig and an ego-maniac. Second, John Wayne pops into her life–and back then he was a major hunk. And, since he was the star, it’s not especially surprising where it all ends. In the middle portion of the film, Wayne and Dekker vie for power and fight over oil land that the Indians are willing to lease. But Dekker is determined not to play nicely–and seems willing to use some dirty tricks to make sure he alone gets these leases.

Overall, this is not an especially deep film nor is it very realistic. However, it is fun–and that is very important. Gabby Hayes and especially Marjorie Rambeau provide some fun support and color.

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