[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]
What I kept thinking about throughout Oklahoma Crude was: What’s George C. Scott doing in this? Why, given the stature and range of selection that (I assume) follows on a virtually one-man triumph like Patton, would he choose to lavish himself on such an unimaginative, dramatically undifferentiated project? Perhaps that categorization implies the answer. Perhaps Scott felt an inconsequential programmer might be fun, affording a different kind of pleasure, if not necessarily satisfaction, from an Uncle Vanya on Broadway or a misfired topical melodrama like Rage on the screen. The only nice things in Oklahoma Crude—and they are very limitedly nice—are Scott’s corn-fed, sappily goodnatured reactions to some stilted sexual antagonism forced on a deadpanned Faye Dunaway. She plays a humorless harridan whose gallopingly unsatisfactory experiences with society at large and men in particular have led her to mount a last stand of the free-enterprise ethic on a hill that may or may not sit over a pool of oil in Oklahoma, a little before the First World War. He’s a larcenous no-account who’ll do just about anything and cheat absolutely anybody for money, but ultimately he finds himself falling in some kind of love and acquiring enough of a set of principles that he stays to help her in her fight against the big oil companies trying to run her off her land.
Such a summary might suggest a reasonably lively, entertaining, and unpretentious picture, particularly if it had been made at Warner Brothers in 1940. Entertainments of this B-picture variety are almost unheard of in 1973, and they don’t get made by an old problem-picture hand like Stanley Kramer, whose oppressively titanic concept of action comedy was confirmed long ago by It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Kramer has always been a sucker for big shots that ache to be taken as indications of a sizable cinematic imagination. Here he tries craning and tilting around oil derricks while Henry Mancini bombards us with an uncharacteristically tympanic music score. None of this communicates what I assume was intended, a full-blooded admiration of the sort of wildcatting crazies who made and lost fortunes in black gold; it’s just eerily anachronistic and pointless. That would be bad enough, if not especially destructive. More bothersome are the picture’s extraordinarily trite and hugely unsympathetic treatment of Dunaway’s character as a woman, and its thoroughly incoherent ideas about the importance of the various deaths that take place.
Direction: Stanley Kramer. Screenplay: Marc Norman. Cinematography: Robert Surtees. Music: Henry Mancini. Production: Kramer.
The Players: George C. Scott, Faye Dunaway, John Mills, Jack Palance.
Copyright © 1973 by Richard T. Jameson