Oklahoma!: 50th Anniversary Edition
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! revolutionized the Broadway musical in 1943, when for their first creation they chose to break the musical mold and feature only songs that strictly sprang organically from the plot and characters. Audiences responded to this fine-tuning of format (and, naturally, the extraordinary style in which the brand-new songwriting team executed their vision) by showing up for 2,212 performances in the show's original run. Hollywood at the time was mad for musicals, but Rodgers and Hammerstein held out for 12 years before handing the project to Oscar-winning drama director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity) for his first stab at a song-and-dance show. Just as the original stage production did for Broadway, the 1955 movie version of Oklahoma! came to represent the pinnacle of Hollywood's "Golden Age" of musicals, with its nearly perfect realization sweeping in scope, lushly romantic, and overflowing with a rich vein of distinctly American optimism. Gordon MacRae stars as Curly, a young, confident and wholesome cowboy with a fancy for Laurey (Shirley Jones), a pretty, headstrong farm girl. Curly playfully invites her to a town dance, but Laurey is put off by the teasing nature of his courtship despite her attraction to Curly, and she spitefully accepts the next man to ask her, obsessive and unhinged farmhand Jud (Rod Steiger). The plot is simple and sweet (but with a surprisingly dark undercurrent) and segues naturally into a series of excellent numbers that have become staple showtunes: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're in Love," and the rousing title anthem. But underneath the sweetness is a profound conflict between Jud's brooding fatalism and Curly's positive enthusiasm, embodying the surge of expectant hope in the face of hardship infused in the film's period setting as the Oklahoma Territory nears statehood in 1851 and resonating in the post-war boom of the 1950s. While the musicals that followed became darker and more intellectually challenging, very few managed to impact the culture with anywhere near the ebullient power and relevance of Oklahoma!. MacRae is charming and in beautiful voice, and Jones, in her movie debut, is a perfect confection of pure beauty and heart. Steiger is menacing without the overbearing histrionics that would mar his later performances. The film falters in the casting of Eddie Albert as a Turkish peddler (the very un-Turkish Albert's accent sounds closer to weak Irish), and the prolonged, impressionistic dance sequence, "Laurey's Dream Ballet," is beautiful but mostly redundant and bit too much for a film already running two-and-a-half hours. Also with Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, and Charlotte Greenwood.
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Fox's two-disc Oklahoma!: 50th Anniversary Edition features the movie in both its widely seen CinemaScope and more rare Todd AO versions (each scene was shot at least twice, once for each film format; only the opening titles are substantively different between the two versions, although the Todd AO version also includes an intermission). Disc One includes the CinemaScope version in a great anamorphic transfer (2.55:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.0 or Dolby Digital 2.0 and a commentary by Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization president Ted Chapin and film historian Hugh Fordin. Also on Disc One is a theatrical teaser, a sing-along subtitle track, and a separate chapter list for songs only with "Play All" feature. Disc Two features the Todd AO Version of the movie in an anamorphic transfer (2.20:1) from a so-so source-print that shows noticeable source wear and some flickering. Audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0, and includes a terrific commentary by Shirley Jones and film historian Nick Redman. This version also includes sing-along subtitles and a separate chapter list for songs only with "Play All" feature. Featurettes on this disc include "CinemaScope vs. Todd AO," which explains the competing technical processes and Oklahoma!'s significance as the first Todd AO feature; "The Miracle of Todd-AO," which accompanied the theatrical tour of this version of Oklahoma!; and "The March of Todd-AO," which further promotes the film format. This disc also includes TV performances of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" by Gordon MacRae and "People Will Say We're in Love" by MacRae and Florence Henderson from a 1954 tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein, plus a teaser, a trailer, behind-the-scenes stills galleries, lobby cards, and one-sheets. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
Gregory P. Dorr
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