Oklahoma Kid, The (1939): Western Starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart

Lloyd Bacon directed The Oklahoma Kid, a Western starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Cagney plays an adventurous gunslinger in a broad-brimmed cowboy hat while Bogart portrays his black-clad and viciously villainous nemesis. The film is often remembered for Cagney’s character rubbing the thumb and forefinger of his hand together and exulting, “Feel that air!”

The supporting cast features Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp, and Ward Bond.

Rosemary Lane’s sister Priscilla Lane also starred with Cagney and Bogart in The Roaring Twenties that same year.

President Cleveland signs the bill allowing the sale of Cherokee Strip (Cherokee Outlet) in the Oklahoma Territory. After the money arrives by train, it is loaded onto a stagecoach which then gets robbed by Whip McCord (Bogart) and his gang. Jim Kincaid, known as “The Oklahoma Kid,” witnesses the robbery, ambushes the gang and makes off with the money.

Settlers arrive to stake their property claims in what would be the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893. At a dance, the Kid meets Jane Hardwick, daughter of Judge Hardwick, dances with her, and asks if she can “feel the air.”

Before the new territory is opened, McCord sneaks in with his cronies and stakes a “sooner” claim. When John Kincaid and his son Ned Kincaid arrive, McCord blackmails them into granting him the saloon and gambling concessions in exchange for the site they had planned to develop. The area is built, becoming the city of Tulsa. Soon it is overcome by crime and unlawful killings under McCord’s influence.

Hoping to bring about law and order, Judge Hardwick and Ned campaign to elect John Kincaid as mayor, but when another candidate is killed, McCord frames Kincaid and has him arrested for murder.

While living with Mexicans, the Kid reads in a newspaper about the arrest of his father. Even though he was the black-sheep son because of his penchant for vigilantism, he rides into town to free his father from jail.

After the Kid raids the jail, John remains true to his belief in law and order. He refuses to escape and instead wants to fight his arrest judicially. The Kid leaves before being caught.

Upon learning that the Kid is John Kincaid’s son, McCord incites a mob at his saloon. Led by three of his own men, they break into the jail and lynch Kincaid at the outside balcony of the jailhouse.

In vengeance, the Kid tracks down those who murdered his father. Jane tries to dissuade The Kid, declaring love for him, but he says she would be better off with the more respectable and upstanding Ned, and carries on with his mission.

He kills three of the gang when they don’t surrender peacefully, but brings back Ace Doolin to testify against McCord. Ned and the Kid then seek out McCord at his saloon. While attempting an arrest, Ned is shot by McCord. The Kid and McCord engage inĀ  fist fight, and the Kid is nearly killed, but Ned shoots down McCord before dying himself.

Jane asks the Kid to stay, but he wishes to leave his unhappy memories of Oklahoma behind and head for Arizona. Jane notes that if he plans to do any “empire-building” he won’t be able to do it by himself.

In the rushed happy ending, Hardwick arrives, and, despite the Kid’s mild protests, Jane arranges for her father to quickly marry them.

Bogart played the wholly evil Whip McCord completely straight, without the mordant sense of humor or irony that he brought to his other gangster roles.

James Cagney as Jim Kincaid / “The Oklahoma Kid”
Humphrey Bogart as Whip McCord
Rosemary Lane as Jane Hardwick
Donald Crisp as Judge Hardwick
Harvey Stephens as Ned Kincaid
Hugh Sothern as John Kincaid
Charles Middleton as Alec Martin
Edward Pawley as Ace Doolin
Ward Bond as Wes Handley
Lew Harvey as Ed Curley
Trevor Bardette as Indian Jack Pasco
John Miljan as Ringo (the lawyer)
Arthur Aylesworth as Judge Morgan
Irving Bacon as Hotel Clerk
Joe Devlin as Keely
Wade Boteler as Sheriff Abe Collins