Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae in Oklahoma! (1955)


(director: Fred Zinnemann; screenwriters: Sonya Levien and William Ludwig/from the musical comedy with music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2d,/based on a play by Lynn Riggs; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editors: George Boemler/Gene Ruggiero; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Gordon MacRae (Curly McLain), Gloria Grahame (Ado Annie Carnes), Gene Nelson (Will Parker), Charlotte Greenwood (Aunt Eller Murphy), Shirley Jones (Laurey Williams), Eddie Albert (Ali Hakim), James Whitmore (Carnes), Jay C. Flippen (Skidmore), Barbara Lawrence (Gertie); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr.; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1955)
“Efficient but not exciting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon”/”From Here To Eternity”) directs this overlong at 145 minutes screen version of the 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein hit Broadway musical. It’s efficient but not exciting, as the threadbare story is a bore and a scenery stealing Method Acting Rod Steiger as the heavy was atrocious, while the stagy sets look artificial and the visuals are uninspiring (to boot it was shot in Arizona). On the positive side, the choreography by Agnes DeMille is full of verve, the leads Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae are energetic and are properly cast as the engaging lovers, and Gloria Grahame is smashing singing “I Cain’t Say No.” The other popular songs include “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We Are In Love,” “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City,” “The Surrey With The Fringe On The Top,” “Many a New Day,” “Pore Jud is Daid,” “The Farmer and the Cowman,” “All Er Nuthin’,” and the showstopping Oklahoma!” The lush film was released in Todd-AO widescreen. Rodgers and Hammerstein, after finding fault with Hollywood on their rendition of their 1944 play State Fair, retained control of this production and because of that this film achieved much greater results.

The simple story line is set in the late 1890s in the Oklahoma Territory, in a town called Claremore. Sweet farm gal Laurie (Shirley Jones, the film debut of the 19-year-old) must choose between the two suitors who want to take her to a social. The fun-loving charming cowboy Curley (Gordon MacRae) or her sinister, obsessed farm hand Jud Frye (Rod Steiger). Alarmed that Jud will harm Curley, Laurie accepts Jud’s invitation to the box social. But when Jud wants some action from the reluctant lady, it’s Curley who rescues Laurie from his advances and thereby wins her hand in marriage.

The corny, sentimental film has become an influential pop culture American musical legend for several reasons: it was the first collaboration between the great team of Richard Rodgers (wrote the music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (wrote the book and lyrics); the catchy songs caught on with the public; the play became known as the first modern musical play and the film is credited with being the first musical to have all of the songs and dances be a part of the narrative; and its simple familiar love story wasn’t taxing to the ‘make no waves’ 1950s American audience, who were attracted by the film’s call for solid family and provincial values.

The supporting players include: Charlotte Greenwood playing with much enthusiasm the joyous but manipulative Aunt Eller; Gene Nelson as Will Parker, the dim suitor who pursues the naive but promiscuous farm gal Ado Annie Carnes as played by Gloria Grahame (known for her film noir roles); Eddie Albert is unconvincing as the sly and lascivious Persian peddler Ali Hakim who comes between Ado and Will; and James Whitmore as Ado’s gruff father farmer gives a fine but conventional performance.