Oklahoma Blues (1948)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
By 1948, the singing cowboy genre was starting to get a little long in the tooth. Television would soon provide a home for a few popular crooning cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry — as well as countless reruns of B westerns from the ’30s and ’40s — and at this point, a Poverty Row western like Oklahoma Blues feels more clichéd and predictable than ever.
In this 56-minute programmer, directed for Monogram Pictures by dependable workhorse Lambert Hillyer, Jimmy Wakely plays a singing cowboy named “Jimmy Wakely” who ends up posing as an outlaw called “the Melody Kid” after his big-mouthed friend Cannonball Taylor spreads tall tales. (Cannonball Taylor, incidentally, is played by Dub “Cannonball” Taylor.)
Like most singing cowboy flicks, the plot of Oklahoma Blues is nothing you haven’t seen before, and is mostly a framework for a little comedy, a few fistfights, some shootouts, and — most importantly — a bunch of songs sung by Jimmy Wakely.
Oklahoma Blues mostly takes place in a little town called Rainbow’s End. The town fathers are pushing State Commissioner Walton (J.C. Lytton) to make Rainbow’s End the county seat, but there’s stiff competition from Yuba Junction. Their chances look especially grim after a series of holdups perpetrated by the Drago brothers, Matt (Zon Murray) and Slip (George J. Lewis). Commissioner Walton vows not to make Rainbow’s End the county seat unless someone can roust the outlaws and clean the place up, so Sheriff Sam Oldring (Steve Clark), undertaker Beasley (I. Stanford Jolley), and Judge Emerson (Frank LaRue) hire Jimmy Wakely, whom they think is the singing killer called the Melody Kid.
Wakely takes a shine to local restaurant proprietor Judy Joyce (Virginia Belmont), but she bristles at the reputation of the Melody Kid and vows to leave town and close her restaurant if Wakely is hired in an official capacity. Naturally he makes it a condition of his being hired as sheriff that she stay and keep cooking for him.
If you’re a fan of B westerns, this picture delivers exactly what you expect and not much more. As funny sidekicks go, Cannonball Taylor isn’t very funny, and Judy Joyce is a pretty terrible actress, but Oklahoma Blues delivers where it counts — the music. The film features “Oklahoma Blues,” by Jimmy Wakely, “Judy,” by Tiny Stokes, and “On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar,” by Smiley Burnett and Jimmy Wakely, as well as snippets of other country & western tunes, all sung by Jimmy Wakely.
Incidentally, I recently bought the Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 1 DVD set, so I’ll be reviewing more of these pictures as they come up in the rotation.