50th Anniversary DVD

Remastered DVD Set

VHS

Oklahoma! (1955)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Oklahoma is one of the most distinctly American movies ever made. It is also one of the best musicals. From the opening scene of Curly (Gordon MacRae) serenading a field of corn with the optimistic “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” to the finale in which Curly and Laurey (Shirley Jones) ride off on their honeymoon in the “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” with a chorus singing “Beautiful Morning,” the music always fits neatly into the story. With this technique, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II revolutionized the musical. Although, Carousel is my favorite musical (and one of my favorite movies) and The Sound of Music is probably Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most popular musical, Oklahoma was their first success, both on stage and screen.

Like most musicals, Oklahoma is a love story. There are several love triangles in the plot.  However, it is also a story of the love of the people of America for their land. An example from “Beautiful Morning” is this phrase: “All the sounds of the earth are like music.” This sentiment may be best stated in the title song with the lines: “We know we belong to the land, And the land we belong to is grand!”

This movie was Shirley Jones' first film effort. She attained early one of her personal ambitions by playing opposite Gordon MacRae. Completing the love triangle containing Curly (MacRae) and Laurey (Jones) is Jud (Rod Steiger, in a musical!). There are other movies that have Gordon MacRae singing a duet (“People Will Say We’re In Love” with Jones in this film), even others in which he sings with Shirley Jones (Carousel), but are there other films in which he sings with Rod Steiger ? The song “Pore Jud Is Daid” and the scene in the smokehouse in which it occurs are some of the most amusing moments from the movie.

The other “love story” most important to the storyline of the movie is that of Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) and Will Parker (Gene Nelson), with Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) completing the triangle. Ado Annie is the “girl who cain't say no,” which actually causes more trouble for Ali Hakim the peddler than anyone else. Ado Annie’s father (James Whitmore) has a fine shotgun which he always seems to have near. This triangle provides most of the amusement as a counterpoint to the usually more serious situations involving Curly, Laurey and Jud.

In addition to being a late-era (end of 19th to start of 20th century) American pioneer story and a great musical comedy, Oklahoma has extensive choreography. From Will Parker (Gene Nelson) demonstrating with dance how “everything’s up to date in Kansas City” to the dream sequence which follows Laurey inhaling some “elixir of Egypt,” dance is almost as prevalent as music in this movie, although different cast members are the lead dancers than the lead singers.

Oklahoma captures, on film and in song and dance, what America once was. It shows the exuberance of a free people. From the ubiquitous open carry of firearms by almost all the male characters (which goes almost unnoticed most of the time without massive bloodshed), to Laurey’s purchase of some very interesting inhalant (“elixir of Egypt”) from Ali the peddler without any physician’s advice, to the almost complete disregard – if not open contempt – for the Federal Marshal Cord Elam, the characters in this movie run their own lives free of the meddling of any “enlightened class” (politicians) who know what’s best for them.

Oklahoma was made in 1955 about a period that was about fifty years yet further in the past. Not only are the people in the movie mainly free, but the people of 1955 did not find this unusual. In the movie at the big dance they auctioned picnic lunches to raise money for materials to make the new school which was to be constructed on donated land. My guess is that school would have been built with volunteer labor. In 1955 these ideas were still familiar. Perhaps through watching films like Oklahoma, the spark of liberty can be reignited in enough people that society can find its way back to the wisdom of that era.

VHS Set

Older DVD Set

Soundtrack CD