OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MOVIE…
wrdiggs28 January 2001
After seeing OKLAHOMA! on the screen in Todd-AO for the first time 44 years ago, it immediately became my all-time favorite film. Today, it still holds that lofty ranking.
The beautiful Rodgers & Hammerstein score includes some of the greatest music ever written. The two collaborated on nine broadway musicals, many of which were adapted to the screen, notably CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but OKLAHOMA! tops them all.
Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones are perfectly cast as the young couple experiencing the magic of first love, and their singing of some of the show’s classic tunes, such as “Surry With the Fringe On Top” and “People Will Say We’re In Love” is a pleasure to listen to.
Miss Jones, making her screen debut as Laurie Williams, instantly establishes her image of the “girl next door”–did I grow up in the wrong neighborhood? She is captivatingly charming as she tries to make Curly (MacRae) jealous by accepting a date to the box social with her Aunt Eller’s hired farmhand, Jud Fry, played menacingly by Rod Steiger.
It is the supporting cast of characters that really bring this musical to life–particularly Aunt Eller, played by Charlotte Greenwood. Doesn’t everyone have an Aunt Eller in their life? Then there’s Ado Annie Carnes (Gloria Grahame) and her longsuffering boyfriend Will Parker (Gene Nelson), who lights up the screen with a great dance number. Throw in a travelling salesman, Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert); Gertie Cummings (Barbara Lawrence), who tries to steal Curly away from Laurie; and Mr. Carnes (James Whitmore), who insists on a shotgun wedding for his daughter, Ado Annie, rather than see her marry Will; and you have some unforgettable characters indeed.
The film’s one dissenting note was the class distinction warfare between the handsome, clean-cut Curly, who everyone knows “Laurie has her cap set fer” and the rough and dirty, working-class Jud. Jud meets his untimely end, but, after all, he is the villain.
Not to fear, it’s a happy ending for all. Curly gets Laurie, Will gets Ado Annie, and Ali Hakim gets….Gertie? When Ado Annie and Gertie get into a jealous fight which Will attempts to break up, explaining “I’m trying to keep Ado Annie from killing your wife”, Ali Hakim responds, “Why don’t you mind your own business?” In the end, the farmer and the cowman do learn to get along and become friends, the new schoolhouse gets built, and the Oklahoma territory is about to become a state.
OKLAHOMA! won two Oscars, for Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. How could they go wrong with great orchestral direction by Robert Russell Bennett and the musical score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II? The American theatre will never see their equal again.