Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater.
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.
In addition to the usual heap of extras, the new 50th anniversary DVD edition includes two different versions of the film, shot simultaneously but in different takes with different equipment: Disc 1 features the ultra-widescreen Cinemascope version of the film (previously unavailable on DVD), while Disc 2 features the widescreen Todd-AO version featured on the previous DVD edition I haven't compared the two versions, but there are indications that the Disc 2 transfer may be inferior to the earlier DVD.
Those who care about such things (you know who you are) may want the earlier edition for the Todd-AO version even if you get the anniversary edition for the Cinemascope version. Or you could wait for yet another DVD special edition with good transfers of both versions. Others will happily make do with one or the other.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.