The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Review

Director: Lloyd Bacon

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

While he’s most famous for playing gangsters, James Cagney dabbled in the western genre with the underrated The Oklahoma Kid. In the aftermath of a land rush in Oklahoma, the shady Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) establishes an empire of sin and vice in the newly established town of Tulsa, with the benevolent bandit only known as “the Oklahoma Kid” (James Cagney) being the only one who can take him down. It’s not a masterpiece, but this is one of my favorite westerns of the 1930s.

It’s perhaps not an epic, but this motion picture may be larger in scale than you might expect. The movie does a good job capturing the anticipation leading up to the land rush and the thrill of building a civilization out of what the film tries to persuade the audience was nothing (the concerns of the Native Americans are completely dismissed here). Action, in the forms of gunfire, charging horses and wagons, and thrown fists, is pretty common here, meaning that The Oklahoma Kid has just enough mayhem to qualify as an actioner.

It’s a decidedly old-fashioned flick, with Bogart’s character wearing all-black, because, well, he’s the bad guy. The picture almost tries to make it seem like it’s the white man’s duty to remove indigenous peoples from their lands for the sake of “empire-building.” Cagney’s character is referred to as “anti-social” by one person for his skepticism of the system of creating fancy civilizations on stolen property. In the end, though, the film’s sympathies primarily lie with the rule of law, so make of the movie’s politics what you will.

If you can get past the flick’s portrayal of Native Americans, The Oklahoma Kid is good, clean fun. The story isn’t always perfectly presented, but, if all you want to see is Cagney and Bogart duking it out in the Wild West, here’s your opportunity. Many have raised issue with those two actors starring in a western, since they’re so associated with modern, urban environments, but it’s not really something that I’m concerned with. It’s a quality action-western.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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