What was on the mind of “issues movie man” Stanley Kramer when he took on a rambunctious period frontier tale of oil wildcatting with the somewhat familiar and reliably intriguing premise of a sturdy, no-nonsense woman standing up to the crushing forces of rapaciously greedy interests arrayed against her? As one might suspect, much more, according to veteran biographer Donald Spoto in his 1978 career survey Stanley Kramer: Film Maker.The author first gives Kramer his say: “We wanted it authentic. The film’s title was Oklahoma Crude , a story of wildcatters in the oil industry in Oklahoma, 1913. It was a rough place at a rough time, and if it was rough for men, it was even rougher for women. In recreating that gritty, inhospitable place and time, Oklahoma Crude put our representatives of what we used to condescendingly describe in pre-women’s lib days as the ‘weaker sex’ through an endurance test of sorts. But the women of our cast and crew made it almost seem like a woman’s picture – in more ways than one!”
With captivating Bonnie and Clyde (1967) icon Faye Dunaway cast as Lena Doyle, the spirited loner defending her property from corporate interlopers, joined by two recent Academy Award® winners, George C. Scott (Patton) as a rascally itinerant yet slyly opportunistic hobo and John Mills (Ryan’s Daughter) as Lena’s loving if often irresponsible dad Cleon, the stage was set for intriguing gender politics as well as big business bashing. Spoto observes that “Although the film is rigorously faithful to place and period, Oklahoma Crude really seems to be about the unfreezing of a woman’s soul, not primarily about oilmen and women. If Dunaway is comparable to Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns , or to Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious , or to Joan Crawford in the more consciously psychological Johnny Guitar , she’s more modern and therefore less easy for some to accept in this period piece. But her beauty, her almost glassy cheeks and intelligent, high forehead suggest a woman with more aspects to her personality than a kaleidoscope’s patterns. Oklahoma Crude may lack some of the entertaining polish of a picture like Boom Town , which had Claudette Colbert, Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable in interestingly analogous roles. But it has all the energy and a lot more wonderful photography [in glorious widescreen Panavision courtesy of three-time Oscar® winner Robert Surtees], which seems to be nature’s corrective, here, to their seamy life. Newsweek saw a similarity to the classic Western Shane , and this may not be farfetched: Scott, an enigmatic drifter, is hired by Cleon to be a kind of down-at-the-heels Shane, in order to rid them all of the fear of Jack Palance (who in fact played the villain in Shane!).Here, he’s grimmer and slicker and viler than ever. Shane has more provocative mystery, but Oklahoma Crude is more adventurous.”
As for any hint of a conventional romance, Spoto observes: “The neat twist in these character studies is that Scott’s moral torpor and Dunaway’s emotional stasis are complementary – and soon they realize, in a memorable eating scene, that they’re doomed apart, even if they haven’t all that much together.” It would prove atypical as a popular entertainment, a Western, a romance and an action opus; Spoto adds: “British, French and Russian cineastes seemed more enthusiastic about the final results than critics at home, and the Eighth Moscow Film Festival gave it first prize in 1973. Kramer was cited ‘for his humanist contribution to the development of the world cinema, and for his new film, which shows how two persons win a moral victory over the despotism of business and force,’” concluding that “the characters, their hauntingly antique setting and the natural splendor of the terrain for their violence and perfidy encourage the mind to wander off in all sorts of reflective directions once the movie is over. No more could be asked of any filmmaker.” Send a Little Love My Way bids the Golden Globe Best Song nominee performed by storied singer/actress Anne Murray and penned by score composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Hal David. Love and a whole lot more comprise the well-oiled filmmaking craft and complexity of thought that went into the making of Oklahoma Crude, coming in November 20 on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Preorders open November 7.