Years before Michael Cimino released his Socialist-themed Western Heaven's Gate, director Stanely Kramer took a less heavy-handed approach with his 1973 film Oklahoma Crude. Unlike Cimino's dark and message-laden epic, however, Kramer made the political aspects of his film secondary to the lighthearted tone of the story. Faye Dunaway, seen here in the least glamorous role of her career, plays Lena Doyle, a bitter, man-hating independent woman who is determined to make a success of her wildcat oil drilling venture on the plains of Oklahoma during the early 1900s. Beset by the frustration of consistently having her rig dig up dirt instead of oil, she also has to contend with a bigger threat: a major oil company is determined to seize her land by hook or by crook. When she turns down the offer of a buyout from their cut throat representative (Jack Palance), the oil company moves a virtual army on to Lena's land with the intention of taking her rig by force. Although a crack shot, Lena concedes she can use help and reluctantly hires a down-and-out drifter, 'Mase' Mason (George C. Scott) to help her keep her the assailants at bay. The two have an abrasive relationship, with Lena never smiling or showing an interest in anything other than drawing oil from her rig. They are also assisted by Lena's father Cleon Doyle (John Mills), a charismatic Englishman who is trying to win Lena's love and respect after having deserted her many years ago. Lena can barely stand the sight of him, but faced with the thugs are her doorstep, she has to accept his help.The story mostly takes place on the hillside where Lena's cabin is situated. 'Mase' proves to be a courageous and innovative ally, acquiring U.S. Army hand grenades and using them with devastating effect against the heavily armed gangs from the oil company who try repeatedly to take Lena's hilltop rig and cabin by force.
Oklahoma Crude was a late career project for Kramer (he would only make two more films). Dismissed at the time as a routine Western comedy, the film comes across as a sheer delight when viewing it today. The thin storyline isn't the main attraction. Rather, it's the combined talents of four Oscar winners- Scott, Dunaway, Mills and Palance- that add so much zest to what could have otherwise have been a routine experience. They are all delightful to watch, with Scott at his best and Mills in a scene-stealing, wonderful performance as a flawed but charming tenderfoot who summons incredible courage when it is needed most. Kramer hired the best of the best for his crew including cinematographer Robert Surtees, who makes every other frame look like an Andrew Wyeth painting. There is also a fine musical score by Henry Mancini which perfectly fits the "never a dull moment" mood of the movie.
Sony has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. Transfer quality is excellent. The film is a sheer delight from beginning to its finale, which features a refreshing plot twist.