Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Warren Duff and Robert Bucker and Edward E. Paramore from an original story by Edward E. Paramore and Wally Klein
Starring James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp
In the days of the studio systems, actors had very little say in what they did. Until they became major stars – and often after --- they were treated like interchangeable parts, given roles at the behest of studio executives, who decided how to typecast them. Sometimes, thought, the executives came up with something completely incongruous, and one example of this is The Oklahoma Kid.
The movie is set in 1889, at the start of the Oklahoma land rush. Whit McCord (Humphrey Bogart) has just robbed a stage filled with newly minted money, but is confronted by Jim Kincade, the Oklahoma Kid (James Cagney). Kincade goes into town, flush with cash and immediately sets his eye on Jane Hardwick (Rosemary Lane), who is there with her father, Judge Hardwick (Donald Crisp). McCord is suspicious of the new man in town with the new money, but has bigger plans: he sneaks into the territory early and stakes a claim, which he uses to get concessions, including running the town. Of course, he and Kinkade end up clashing.
The most obvious thing about the movie is that Bogart and Cagney are not really believable as cowboys. The movie could easily have been set in a city. But it must have been in their contracts.
Cagney is his usual self as Kincade – brash, charming, funny – and Bogart’s McCord* is the type of gangster role he usually played against Cagney. Both give star turns in a slightly silly setting for them.
What I remember most from the film is a line spoken to Cagney. Kincade doesn’t want to take place in the land rush (which is, after all, taking land that had been promised to native Americans) and a man is mystified by it, and speaks the immortal lines. “You mean to say you got no feeling for the country? No pride in seeing a civilization carved out of the wilderness? What kind of American are you?” Cagney then talks about how wrong it is to take the land like that. All a surprising sentiment given the time.
The movie, like most studio films, did well and has been forgotten. But it’s worth seeking out to see two of the most urbanized actors of the 30s were made to play out west.
*Dressed in black, of course.