TULSA. Eagle-Lion Films, 1949. Susan Hayward, Robert Preston, Pedro Armendáriz, Lloyd Gough, Chill Wills, Ed Begley, Harry Shannon, Lola Albright. Suggested by a story by Richard Wormser. Director: Stuart Heisler

   I’m going to be honest with you. I enjoyed watching Tulsa way more than I ever expected to. And really, this surprised me. For at the end of the day, there’s nothing all that special about this Technicolor melodrama/modern Western hybrid. Directed by Stuart Heisler, who directed Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949) the very same year, the film stars future Academy Award winner Susan Hayward as Cherokee Lansing, an Oklahoman rancher of mixed heritage who hits it big in the eponymous city’s 1920s oil boom.

   When Cherokee’s rancher father gets killed in an accidental oil rig blowout, she decides that the best way to get even with Bruce Tanner (Lloyd Gough), the oilman she holds responsible is for her to join the business herself. Joining her on her ambitious quest to make a name for herself in the oil industry is geologist Brad Brady (Robert Preston) who, to no one’s surprise, ends up falling for the headstrong redheaded beauty. Complicating matters for Cherokee is her longstanding friendship with local rancher Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendáriz), a man who wants no part in Cherokee’s increasingly ruthless and ambitious plans to become an oil tycoon.

   What makes Tulsa worth watching, however, is not the rather mediocre and predictable plot. No. It’s that, for a low budget western from the late 1940s, Tulsa has surprisingly lots to say about both environmental conservation and race relations in Oklahoma. Some of it is heavy handed, but a lot of it was perhaps just subtle enough to make an impact on some moviegoers when the film first opened.

   Still, if message films aren’t your cup of tea, there’s always Susan Hayward, who is a joy to watch. And there’s a rather spectacular fire sequence at the end of the film, with images of rows of oil derricks up in flames. People must have noticed that intense finale, for it was enough to earn the movie an Oscar nomination for special effects in 1950.