Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen



For, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the great things about the classic 1956 Western musical ‘Oklahoma!’ is that it was really opened up for the big screen, a true outdoor Western as well as a vibrant Broadway musical. And now’s your opportunity to experience the film the way it was intended to be seen, on the big screen. It will be in several local Cinemark Theaters on Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m., and on Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review that ran in the Deseret News on March 2, 1984, when the film was reissued that year (and the "carping" I mention in the text I would tone down today, as I now love this film unequivacally, primarily because very few films today are as upbeat and jubiliant, and hardly any send you out of the theater so happy).

“Oklahoma!” which is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musicals, hasn’t played theaters for many years, and has only been available in 35mm since its initial release in 1956. But now you can experience the joy of Dolby Stereo sound and the benefit of a 70mm, widescreen presentation that’ll knock your socks off.

Though not a perfect film – and just a little editing to cut down its enormous length would make it much better – “Oklahoma!” is still a prime example of the Broadway musical transferred to the screen, and that fabulous music hasn’t aged a bit.

The story is familiar, of course, with Gordon MacRae as Curly, a down-to-earth cowboy who loves the lovely Laurey (Shirley Jones), but is too shy to tell her so. (She loves him too, natch.)

MacRae and Jones (in her first film) are a wonderful match, both lending fine voices to the songs, and more than a little old-fashioned sex appeal.


        Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, 'Oklahoma!'

But the supporting cast often runs away with the picture.

Gloria Grahame, in an odd bit of offbeat casting, is very good as the promiscuous Ado Annie, and Gene Nelson is terrific as her beau, the naïve Will Parker. Rod Steiger is properly menacing as the evil Jud Fry, while Eddie Albert as a Persian peddler, Charlotte Greenwood as Laurey’s Aunt Eller, and James Whitmore as Annie’s outraged father are terrific at providing the laughs.

Certainly one of the most popular and frequently produced of R&H’s plays, the film version suffers from being a bit overblown (and at nearly 2 ½ hours, it’s just too long – and the Agnes DeMille ballet sequence illustrating Laurey’s nightmare about Jud and Curly seems overlong as well). And director Fred Zinneman has his scenes oddly jump from gorgeous outdoor photography to cramped, stagy sets.

Admittedly, however, these complaints are, for the most part, carping.


       Gene Nelson, Gloria Grahame, 'Oklahoma!'

“Carousel,” the MacRae/Jones/Rodgers/Hammerstein followup to this one is a better-made film, but “Oklahoma!” is more upbeat and the perfect example of bright, toe-tapping, show-stopping music and dance that made this show such a long-running stage hit.

Today’s “Footloose/“Flashdance”-oriented youth audiences ought to take a look. They just might find themselves tapping their toes to a different beat in spite of themselves.