30 January 2010 | BrianDanaCamp
Satisfying western action with some well-known outlaw figures
Bill Doolin was an outlaw operating in Oklahoma territory in the 1890s who was captured in 1896 by a devoted lawman named Bill Tilghman who had spent four years doggedly pursuing him. Doolin escaped from prison but was eventually shot down by a U.S. Marshal named Heck Thomas. In THE DOOLINS OF OKLAHOMA (1949), Doolin is played as something of a "good" outlaw by Randolph Scott. He's tall, handsome, polite to civilians, and blessed with a remarkable degree of self-control. He even goes straight at one point and marries a pretty, loving farm girl (Virginia Huston) and starts up a working farm. But, unfortunately, he gets pulled back into the outlaw life. As directed by Gordon Douglas, the film offers several bursts of exciting, well-staged western action, including lots of chases on horseback and some amazing feats of horsemanship. Scott is doubled in the long shots, but he does his own furious riding in medium-shot. Most of the chase scenes appear to have been shot in the familiar rocky terrain around Lone Pine, California, at the foot of the Sierras, a dramatic landscape perfect for such scenes, even if it looks nothing like Oklahoma.
Western buffs will enjoy the way the film incorporates other historical western figures, including a couple who had later movies of their own. At the beginning we see the Dalton gang carry out the famed disastrous raid on Coffeyville, Kansas, a fiasco that only Doolin survives because his horse went lame at the last minute (which matches the account of the raid supplied in the book, "Bill Tilghman, Marshal of the Last Frontier," by Floyd Miller). The Dalton gang, of course, has been the subject of many westerns. Later in the film, after Doolin has recruited various gang members, they all adopt the habit of hiding out between jobs in the wide open town of Ingalls, where one of the gang, Bitter Creek (John Ireland), has a girlfriend. She is called Rose of Cimarron and is played in a mature, elegant fashion by Louise Allbritton (SON OF Dracula). One of the characters we meet in Ingalls is a spunky little two-fisted, sharp-shootin' teenage cowgirl named Cattle Annie who wants to join the gang and is well-played by Dona Drake (who was 35 at the time!). A later western, ROSE OF CIMARRON (1952), starred Mala Powers in the title role and I remember her as quite a fiery display of dark-eyed female outlawry. In 1980, there was a film called CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES, which starred Amanda Plummer as Cattle Annie, Burt Lancaster as Bill Doolin, and Rod Steiger as Bill Tilghman.
There's a U.S. Marshal in this film named Sam Hughes who pursues Doolin for nearly all of the film's 90 minutes. He appears to be based on Tilghman. Why the name change when Marshal Heck Thomas is left intact, I can't say. Hughes is played by George Macready and Thomas is played by Robert Barrat. Tilghman, one of the most daring of western lawmen, was played by name in only two films I know of, the aforementioned CATTLE ANNIE and the TV movie, YOU KNOW MY NAME (1999), which starred Sam Elliott. The book I mentioned, "Bill Tilghman, Marshal of the Last Frontier," by Floyd Miller (Doubleday, 1968), is highly recommended if you want to read a vivid account of a real western lawman's exciting career. As for this movie, I would urge you not to expect the most accurate portrayal of events, but to take it as a piece of solid, well-crafted western entertainment, with an above-average cast and an attention to details normally left out of studio westerns.