Tulsa (1949): Romantic Melodrama, Starring Susan Hayward, With Oscar Winning Special Effects

By standards of the 1940s, Tulsa was considered to be an epic romance due to its historical setting.  It was a crucial time in the annals of Oklahoma as the site of oil and all the adventure and excitement that goes with it.

The narrative, however, is extremely conventional, sort of a triangle with Susan Hayward at the center, in romantic love with Robert Preston, as an outsider geologist hoping to rescue his beloved Oklahoma from being devastated by drilling and derricks, and in friendship with Pedro Armendariz, a native propagating the old lifestyle.

Tough as nails, Hayward stars as an ambitious career woman, the daughter of a cattleman who had been killed. At first, she is driven by revenge, wishing to wreak havoc on the greedy men, who represent the new, soon-to-be-booming oil industry.

Periodically narrated, the tale, scripted by Frank Nugent and Curtis Kenyon, offers up a chronicle of Tulsa as it evolved from a sleepy, remote country to the oil land of the future.

But “Tulsa” is also a woman’s picture, and thus Hayward’s femme has to go through the motions of suffering, manifest in some sexism and oppression, until she claims her own rights as a oil mogul.

Walter Wanger, the powerful producer who was instrumental in Susan Hayward’s career, made the film at Eagle Lions company, and Universal released it with amazing success.

As a result of this picture and “Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman,” made in the same year and for which she had received her first of five Best Actress nominations, Susan Hayward became a star.  Both films, by the way, were directed by Stuart Heisler.

Shot in Technicolor by the talented cinematographer Winton Hoch, “Tulsa” boasts other impressive production values, specifically in depicting fires.

The film was nominated for the Special effects Oscar, but it did not win.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Special Effects

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Special Effects Oscar was RKO’s Mighty Joe Young,” in a category that had only two contenders.