Oklahoma! (1955)

A- SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater.

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1955, Sony Picture Classics. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, Charlotte Greenwood, Eddie Albert, James Whitmore, Rod Steiger.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value

+1 / -1

Age Appropriateness

Teens & Up

MPAA Rating

NR

Caveat Spectator

Romantic complications; a few suggestive lyrics and references; some menace; content relating to the antagonist’s licentiousness (references to indecent materials in his possession; a symbolic dance sequence evoking his disordered inner state).

Breaking from both traditional musical comedies and Gilbert & Sullivan style operettas — in which show-stopping production numbers and comedy came first and character and story were secondary — Oklahoma! for the first time placed lyrics and dance at the service of character and story development. With this inversion, Rodgers & Hammerstein created a distinctively modern dramatic form, the musical play.

After Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews, the Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons) Oklahoma! is the best-loved Rodgers & Hammerstein film adaptation, deservedly so. Many of the songs are worthy classics, including "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’," "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," and "Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City" (a couple of omitted songs were less savory and aren’t missed, and a few lyrics have been sanitized as well).

Leads Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones (in her first role) bring ample charm as well as strong singing to the story’s depiction of frontier romance as a battle of the sexes with plenty of fraternizing with the "enemy."

In supporting roles, Charlotte Greenwood is perfection as the irrepressible Aunt Eller, and Gloria Grahame plays Ado Annie, the girl who "cain’t say no," with comic restraint rather than licentiousness. Rod Steiger makes menacing Jud Fry more human — and therefore creepier — than he’s often portrayed; the film effectively debunks his creepy antisocial isolation and fantasy fixations, extolling instead healthy social engagement.

Comedy, Musical, Romance, Western