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The end of the 1940s saw Susan Hayward emerging as a major star and an actress known for her intense portrayals of driven, passionate women. Tulsa (1949) certainly helped to solidify this reputation. As "Cherokee Lansing," she plays a rancher's daughter motivated by revenge for his death and becomes a potent player in the early days of Oklahoma's oil boom. Her obsession with wealth and power eventually drives a wedge between her and her closest allies, an oil expert played by Robert Preston and a childhood friend, played by Mexican-born actor Pedro Armendariz.
Tulsa was put together by producer Walter Wanger and director Stuart Heisler, the team responsible for Hayward's breakthrough hit, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947). In the role of a woman sliding into alcoholism, Hayward earned her first Academy Award nomination and established herself as capable of carrying a picture on her own. Her forceful presence often overshadowed the men in her cast, as it did in Smash-Up and again in Tulsa. Even the usually dynamic Robert Preston takes a back seat to Hayward's wildcat in this production, and in a gender reversal, he is seen as the one who must wait patiently for love and marriage while she consumes herself with career ambitions. The war whoop Hayward lets out to celebrate Cherokee's success as an oil producer is just one moment that proves that both Hayward's character and her acting are forces to be reckoned with.
Hayward owed much of her early career success to independent producer Walter Wanger. Tulsa was the fifth picture he produced in three years in which she starred. Later, he produced the movie that finally won her a Best Actress Oscar®, I Want to Live! (1958).
Wanger was a very successful but frequently controversial figure in the film industry. In 1949 he turned down the Special Academy Award given to him for Joan of Arc (1948), because he was incensed over the way Howard Hughes, then the head of RKO, had marketed the film and blamed the box office failure on him. He was also reportedly angry that the film's several Oscar® nominations did not include one for Best Picture. In 1951 he was convicted for attempted murder in the shooting of agent Jennings Lang, who he believed was having an affair with his wife, actress Joan Bennett.
Tulsa received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. It was shot by Winton Hoch, best know for his Oscar®-winning color cinematography on two John Ford pictures, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Quiet Man (1952), which he shared with Archie Stout. Hoch also shared an Oscar® with two other cinematographers for Wanger's ambitious but commercially unsuccessful Joan of Arc.
Director: Stuart Heisler
Producer: Walter Wanger
Screenplay: Curtis Kenyon, Frank Nugent; story by Richard Wormser
Cinematography: Winton Hoch
Editing: Terrell Morse
Art Direction: Nathan Juran
Original Music: Frank Skinner, Allie Wrubel (title song, lyrics by Mort Greene)
Cast: Susan Hayward (Cherokee Lansing), Robert Preston (Brad Brady), Pedro Armendariz (Jim Redbird), Lloyd Gough (Bruce Tanner), Chill Wills (Pinky Jimpson).
by Rob Nixon