Cast & Crew
In Claremore, Oklahoma, in the early 1900s, cowboy Curly enjoys his morning horseback ride along a corn field belonging to Aunt Eller and her niece, Laurey Williams. When Curly arrives at their farmhouse, he presumes that Laurey will accept his invitation to the box social dance that night, so he asks Aunt Eller to join them. However, Laurey pretends to be uninterested and teases Curly that he has no appropriate transportation. Curly tries to entice Laurey by describing a surrey with silk fringe and red wheels that would be pulled by a team of snow-white horses. Laurey is so enamored with Curly's imaginary surrey that she becomes frustrated when his description concludes, and instead accepts the invitation of her surly farmhand, Jud Fry. Curly is offended, but still intends to take Aunt Eller. Later, Laurey privately admits to Aunt Eller that she would prefer Curly's company, but Jud refuses to let her out of her commitment. Aunt Eller then goes to the train station to meet Will Parker, a local cowboy returning by train from Kansas City with paper lanterns for the party. Will is elated because he has earned enough money in the city to marry his sweetheart, Ado Annie Carnes, whose father insists that any suitor possess at least fifty dollars. Will displays a risqué kaleidoscope purchased as a gift for Ado Annie's father, and then regales Aunt Eller and his friends with tales of the modern conveniences he experienced in the city, including telephones, indoor privies and gas-powered buggies. Ado Annie, meanwhile, has joined traveling salesman Ali Hakim on his wagon, and they stop to visit Laurey at the bathing pond. Ado Annie confesses to being an unrepentant flirt and that she has fallen in love Ali. Ali later succeeds in selling a bottle of exotic-sounding smelling salts to Laurey with the guarantee that they will help her make decisions. When Ado Annie learns that Ali is not interested in marriage moments before Will rides up and announces his intention to marry her, she is unable to resist Will's affection. Just then, dozens of buggies arrive with partygoers who are stopping at the farm for a respite from the road. Among them are Curly and his red-haired date, Gertie Cummings. When Laurey hears Gertie's horse-like laugh, she dramatically assures her friends that she is not jealous, but she still sheds a tear. When Ado Annie tells her father, Andrew Carnes, that Will has spent his earnings on gifts for her, Andrew cancels the engagement. A traditionalist, Andrew then insists that Ali marry Ado Annie after she reveals that the salesman has made romantic overtures. However, Andrew must aim the barrel of his shotgun at Ali to convince him. Laurey is too distracted by Gertie's presence to acknowledge Ado Annie's news of her engagement. Instead, Laurey picks a fight with Gertie over the merits of their respective gooseberry tarts. After Aunt Eller breaks them up, Laurey lingers in the peach orchard with Curly. They affectionately argue about who is in love with whom, and muse that they are the subject of rumors. Their romantic idyll ends when Laurey reluctantly admits that she cannot get out of her date with Jud. Curly then goes to see Jud in the smokehouse. Having assessed Jud as self-pitying and potentially dangerous, Curly uses subtle sarcasm to prod the vulnerable farmhand by imagining aloud how townfolk might mourn Jud's death. Jud suffers from feelings of class distinction, and explains that if he is wronged, he may take the lesson of another spurned hired hand who killed his faithless lover and her family by burning down their house. Despite a further warning from Jud, Curly declares his romantic intentions toward Laurey, and urges Jud to reform his unhealthy lifestyle. After an enraged Jud fires a warning gunshot into the ceiling, Curly proves his own marksmanship by shooting out a knothole in the cabin wall. The sound of gunfire draws a crowd that is dispersed by Aunt Eller after she ensures that the men are unharmed. Afterward, Laurey hears Jud shout that she had better not change her mind. Jud then attempts to buy a kaleidoscope with a hidden switchblade from Ali, but the concerned peddler has none in stock. After everyone leaves, Laurey feels torn between the two men. She sits in a rocking chair on the porch and takes a whiff of her smelling salts, then asks the elixir to help her decide between the two men. Laurey then closes her eyes and dreams: Laurey and Curly's romance leads to a wedding, but when her veil is lifted, she is horrified to discover that she has married Jud rather than Curly. Laurey berates herself and tries to embrace Curly, but he withdraws from her. Laurey then attempts to flee from Jud, but finds only a saloon filled with menacing dancehall women. Laurey is trapped there and, after being forced into Jud's arms, is then compelled to dance with the women. She soon escapes outside into a storm where she is rescued by Curly, who shoots Jud repeatedly. Instead of dying, an unharmed and powerful Jud attacks Curly and strangles him. Curly dies as a tornado touches ground nearby, and Jud carries Laurey away. Laurey awakens and is startled to discover Jud in front of her, telling her it is time to leave. [An Intermission divides the story at this point.] As the rest of the wagons head for the party, Jud lingers behind and confesses to Laurey his obsession with her. Laurey pulls away when he tries to embrace her, then grabs the reins and incites the horses to bolt. The horses run out of control for miles until a train frightens them. Jud calms the animals, but Laurey again grabs the reins and rides away without him. Everyone else is already at the party, which is hosted by the Skidmores. A brawl breaks out between the farmers and the ranchers and cowboys, who have been battling for land in the territory, but the fight abruptly ends when Aunt Eller fires a shot into the air. After the dance, Aunt Eller begins a charity auction for dinner baskets, the proceeds of which will benefit the school. Laurey arrives and is the last person to donate her basket. Will, meanwhile, confronts Ali, who conceives of a plan to get out of his engagement to Ado Annie by buying the gifts Will bought her, thereby replenishing Will's engagement fund. An angry Jud arrives moments later on foot and adds to Will's total by buying the kaleidoscope, which, unknown to Will, contains a switchblade. The auction winds down moments later to the hampers belonging to Ado Annie and Laurey. Will heedlessly bids all he has on Ado Annie's basket, forgetting that this will again ruin his chances of marrying her, but a desperate Ali saves him by outbidding him. Laurey's basket is the final item, and Jud outbids everyone by two-bits. He and Curly then get into a fierce bidding war during which Curly sells his saddle, his horse and his gun in order to beat Jud. After several tense moments, Aunt Eller declares that Curly is the victor. Jud then draws Curly aside to show him the kaleidoscope, intending to murder him. However, Ali sees what he is doing and warns Aunt Eller, who then purposely distracts Curly. While Will and Ado Annie wrestle with the concept of fidelity, Jud confronts Laurey and accuses her of snobbery. When she fires him, he warns her that she will never be rid of him. Later, Laurey admits to Curly that Jud has frightened her, and he promises to protect her. Curly then proposes marriage and Laurey accepts. Always the dreamer, Curly envisions starting a family as the Oklahoma territory earns its statehood. Will finally convinces Ado Annie to marry him by out-kissing her in front of Ali, whose kisses before his departure very nearly stole her heart again. Curly soon herds cattle for the last time before becoming a farmer, and he and Laurey marry. While Laurey and Curly pack for their honeymoon, Ali returns with Gertie, who announces that they too are newlyweds. Ali privately admits to Ado Annie that he only married Gertie after her father threatened him. As part of the wedding party's celebratory shivaree, Curly and Laurey stand atop a haystack while their friends toss up dolls as emblems of their future family. When a vengeful Jud sets fire to the haystack, Laurey and Curly are forced to jump off to save their lives. Curly purposely lands on top of Jud, and accidentally kills him when Jud falls on his own knife. Since the entire town is present, including Cord Elam, the local federal marshal, and Andrew, who is the local judge, Aunt Eller demands an immediate trial. Andrew finds Curly not guilty by reason of self-defense. Thereby cleared, Curly and Laurey leave for their honeymoon in a beautiful fringed surrey.
Jay C. Flippen
Robert Russell Bennett
Agnes De Mille
John C. Dutton
Oscar Hammerstein Ii
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
William C. Mellor
Schuyler A. Sanford
Al St. Hilaire
The play's storyline, set in Oklahoma territory in the early 20th century, is simple: who will take Laurey to the box social -- cowboy Curly, whom she loves, or Jud, the menacing hired hand? Both simple and revolutionary, Oklahoma! was a huge hit which ran for more than 2200 performances, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were flooded with offers for the film rights. But they chose to wait until the stage show had finished its run before considering a film version. By the early 1950s, they were ready to make a deal. What sold them on making a film of Oklahoma! (1955) was the new 65-mm. wide-screen process called Todd-AO, which would allow them to show the wide-open landscapes that the stage could only suggest. Rodgers and Hammerstein would keep control by serving as executive producers. Fred Zinnemann was chosen to direct, and Agnes DeMille would re-create her innovative dances.
In casting the leads, Zinnemann agreed with Rodgers and Hammerstein that excellent singing voices were a must. So he reluctantly eliminated some attractive young performers like Paul Newman, who would have been physically right for Curly. But he did audition a young unknown whom his wife had spotted on a television program -- James Dean. Dean arrived late for the audition at Zinnemann's hotel, wearing rumpled old cowboy clothes. He'd been thrown out of the hotel lobby because of his appearance, but had managed to sneak up a service elevator. According to the director, "Dean made a sensational test with Rod Steiger in the 'Poor Jud Is Dead' number." But his singing voice wasn't strong enough. Gordon MacRae, who was already a film and stage star and had a superb baritone voice, got the part.
Rodgers and Hammerstein handpicked their Laurey, a young discovery named Shirley Jones, the only performer they ever put under exclusive contract. In 1953, the 19-year-old Jones went to an open audition for South Pacific, and so impressed the casting director that he brought in Oscar Hammerstein to hear her sing. After gaining some onstage experience in touring companies of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, she was signed to play Laurey. Jones and MacRae would also co-star in the film version of another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel (1956).
For the villain Jud Fry, a good actor was more important than a good singer, and a young Welsh actor named Richard Burton was considered. He was not available, and Zinnemann cast Rod Steiger, who brought a complexity to the character that went far beyond the stock musical villain. The actor played Jud as a disturbed, emotionally isolated person, more to be pitied than despised. Steiger also did his own singing as well.
Gloria Grahame was no singer, but she was an Oscar-winning actress, and brought a bad-girl edge to the character of Ado Annie, who "cain't say no." Fellow actors and crew members claimed that Grahame really was a bad girl, upstaging co-stars and mistreating dancers and crew members alike. After Oklahoma!, Grahame's reputation as a difficult actress spread, and her career suffered as a result.
Much of Oklahoma! was shot on location in Arizona, near Nogales on the Mexican border. The real Oklahoma, it turns out, had too many oil wells to pass for the turn-of-the-century version of the state. Planting 2,100 stalks of corn that would grow "as high as an elephant's eye" for Curly to ride through singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" began almost a year before location shooting commenced. By the time the company began shooting in late July of 1954, the corn was 16 feet tall...as high, Oscar Hammerstein noted, "as the eye of an elephant who is standing on another elephant." Some of the corn was transplanted into moveable boxes so the camera could pass through.
Oklahoma! had one of the biggest location shoots to date, including some 70 trucks and trailers and a crew of 325 people. Daily thunderstorms and flash floods had the crew singing "the mud is as high as a Cadillac's eye" as nervous executives waited for the sky to clear. One crew member was actually struck by lightning, but was not seriously injured. The peach orchard planted near the house did not bear enough fruit, and every day the crew hung two thousand wax peaches on the trees. Because not many theaters were equipped to show the Todd-AO system, the film was actually shot twice, in Cinemascope as well as Todd-AO. Oklahoma! cost a total of seven million dollars, the most expensive film ever made to that time.
In spite of all the expense and anticipation, Oklahoma! had only a modest success at the box office. By the mid-'50s, musicals had lost some of their popularity, and television had cut into movie audiences. And even with all its production values, some critics felt that Oklahoma! (as well as subsequent film versions of other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals) suffered from a stagebound look, which may be due to the fact that Rodgers and Hammerstein maintained such strict control over their properties.
Nevertheless, Oklahoma! won Academy Awards for Best Scoring of a musical, and for Best Sound Recording, and was nominated for Best Color Cinematography and Best Editing. Today, it remains an outstanding record of a milestone of musical theater, and a fine example of how film can enhance and expand the storyline of a stage musical.
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, based on the play by Oscar Hammerstein II and the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Editor: George Boemler, Gene Ruggiero
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby, Robert Surtees
Costume Design: Motley, Orry-Kelly
Art Direction: Oliver Smith
Music: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Adolph Deutsch
Choreography: Agnes DeMille
Principal Cast: Gordon MacRae (Curly McLain), Gloria Grahame (Ado Annie Carnes), Gene Nelson (Will Parker), Charlotte Greenwood (Aunt Eller), Shirley Jones (Laurey Williams), Eddie Albert (Ali Hakim), James Whitmore (Carnes), Rod Steiger (Jud Fry), Jay C. Flippen (Ike Skidmore), Barbara Lawrence (Gertie Cummings).
C-149m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Oklahoma! (50th Anniversary Special Edition) on DVD
Despite its record-breaking success on Broadway, it would be over a decade before the musical would make it to the screen, where it would again make history by becoming the first film to be shot in entrepreneur/producer Michael Todd's Todd-AO process, a single projector version of Cinerama, projected on a concave screen that would envelope the audience in the viewing experience. With theaters needing an expensive retooling in order to show the film in the new process, Oklahoma! would be shot twice, once using Todd's new system and again in the popular Cinemascope process, which would provide two completely different versions of the film, though the latter would be more widely seen, and would be the version of the film shown on broadcast television for decades. More than simply two formats, these editions would provide subtly differences in performances, so that viewing both of them is rather like seeing the same play on consecutive nights. Both versions are included in Fox's new 50th Anniversary Edition of the film.
In spite of its historical significance, Oklahoma! is a very simple story, set in 1906 when the territory, rich in cattle ranches, was on the eve of statehood, and when government land grants would bring an influx of settlers who were moving to the area to start farms. Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones) is a young woman living on a farms which is owned and run by her Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood). Laurey is the object of affection of rowdy rancher Curley McLain (Gordon MacRae), with whom she shares the kind of mildly antagonistic relationship which disallows them from open professions of love for each other: charmingly demonstrated in the song People Will Say We're in Love, in which the pair offer a list of "don'ts" that will keep the locals from mistakenly believing that they care for each other.
But Laurey's affections are also sought by burly, troubled Jud Fry (Rod Steiger), the ranch hand who makes his home in Aunt Eller's smokehouse. When Laurey playfully vascilates about whether or not she will accompany Curly to the event of the season—a mammoth party at the nearby Skidmore Ranch—her plan to make Curley jealous backfires, and he asks another girl to be his date. Laurey agrees to go with Jud to the party, and the fireworks when the two men are pitted against one another lead to disaster. At least until the happy ending.
While the basic plot of Oklahoma! may be simple, the marriage of music and spirit are not: Rogers and Hammerstein capture the most basic and universal emotions and literally make them sing. The film opens with the fresh-faced Curly giving voice to his reaction to the glorious landscape and weather with Oh What a Beautiful Morning, demonstrating right from the outset, with almost breathtaking simplicity, R&H's innate ability to reflect human experience in both words and music. The same is true of the later Many a New Day, sung by Laurey after learning she's been spurned by Curley: the lyrics convey her philosophy, while the lilting melody perfectly reflects the emotional attitude she intends to adopt. In the aforementioned People Will Say We're in Love, Hammerstein's clever lyrics are belied by Rodgers' soaring melody, which clearly shows that the pair are in love. It is a device that will be echoed in R&H's next hit, Carousel, as the young lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow (also played by Jones and MacRae in the film version) croon the "anti-love-song" If I Loved You.
The beauty of the music is fully realized in the performances of Jones and MacRae, who were at the height of their vocal powers when the film was made. MacRae in particular does more than justice to the score: in the opening his booming baritone seems to cut through the morning air, awakening the landscape (and the movie) around him. As in many of the Rogers and Hammerstein efforts, the romance of the principal characters is offset with comic seconds: a sort of Twentieth Century version of Shakespeare's comic rustics. In this we have the on-again-off-again romance of the flirtatious Ado Annie (an unforgettable performance by Gloria Grahame), and her rancher beau Will Parker (Gene Nelson), who has an ongoing problem holding onto the fifty dollars he needs in order to win Annie's hand in marriage. Rod Steiger provides the film's only dark moments as the man who is so obsessed with Laurey than in modern days he would be termed a stalker (or worse). And Charlotte Greenwood offers he usual solid support in the role of the understanding Aunt.
Although Oklahoma! may suffer from a thin story and overlength, the music, performances, and lovely cinematography make for a film in which the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. Seeing Oklahoma! the first time (or the hundredth), even those who don't like musicals cannot escape the feeling that they are watching history being made.
In the new 50th Anniversary edition of the film, the Todd-AO version is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.20:1, while the Cinemascope edition is framed at its theatrical ratio of 2.55:1, both anamorphically enhanced. The Todd-AO version features deep, rich colors that at times look almost over-saturated, and the picture has a tendency to softness, while the Cinemascope edition is struck for a nearly pristine source, with colors that are rich and natural, and flesh tones that are far more life-like, and an image that overall is much sharper and crisper than in the other version. There are some interesting differences not only in the performances between the two versions, but also in the framing of the image: i.e., in the song Kansas City, the cameras for both versions appears to have been placed in exactly the same places, however the Todd-AO version offers more information at the top an bottom of the screen so that all of the dancing is clearly seen, while in the Cinemascope version the feet of the dancing chorus are not visible during a major part of the dance.
The disc includes a wealth of supplements, including a feature-length commentary by Shirley Jones and film historian Nick Redman on the Todd-AO version, and a commentary by Ted Chapin (president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization) and film historian Hugh Fordin on the Cinemascope version. Also included are vintage featurettes, including "The Miracle of Todd-AO," which played before the feature at theaters showing the Todd-AO edition.
For more information about Oklahoma!, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Oklahoma!, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Oklahoma! (50th Anniversary Special Edition) on DVD
Eddie Albert (1906-2005)
The son of a real estate agent, Albert was born Edward Albert Heimberger in Rock Island, Ill., on April 22, 1906. His family relocated to Minneapolis when he was still an infant. Long entralled by theatre, he studied drama at the University of Minnesota. After years of developing his acting chops in touring companies, summer stock and a stint with a Mexican circus, he signed a contract with Warner Bros. and made his film debut in Brother Rat (1938). Although hardly a stellar early film career, he made some pleasant B-pictures, playing slap happy youths in Brother Rat and a Baby (1940), and The Wagons Roll at Night (1941).
His career was interrupted for military service for World War II, and after his stint (1942-45), he came back and developed a stronger, more mature screen image: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947); Carrie (1952); his Oscar® nominated turn as the Bohemian photographer friend of Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953); a charming Ali Hakim in Oklahoma (1955); and to many critics, his finest hour as an actor, when he was cast unnervingly against type as a cowardly military officer whose lack of commitment to his troops results in their deaths in Attack! (1956).
As he settled into middle-age, Albert discovered belated fame when he made the move to Hooterville. For six seasons (1965-71), television viewers loved Eddie Albert as Oliver Wendal Douglas, the bemused city slicker who, along with his charming wife Lisa (Eva Gabor), takes a chance on buying a farm in the country and dealing with all the strange characters that come along their way. Of course, I'm talking about Green Acres. If he did nothing else, Alberts proved he could be a stalwart straight man in the most inane situations, and pull it off with grace.
After the run of Green Acres, Albert found two of his best roles in the late stages of his career that once again cast him against his genial, good-natured persona: the fiercly overprotective father of Cybill Shepherd in The Heartbreak Kid (1972), for which he earned his second Oscar® nomination; and the sadistic warden in Robert Aldrich's raucous gridiron comedy The Longest Yard (1974). Soon, Albert was in demand again, and he had another hit series, playing a retired police officer who partners with a retired con artist (Robert Wagner) to form a detective agency in Switch (1975-78).
The good roles slowed down slightly by the dawn of the '80s, both film: The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979), How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), Take This Job and Shove It (1981); and television: Highway to Heaven, Murder, She Wrote, Thirtysomething, offered him little in the way of expansion. Yet, Albert spent his golden years in a most admirable fashion, he became something of activist for world health and pollution issues throughout the latter stages of his life. It is widely acknowledged that International Earth Day (April 22) is honored on his birthday for his tireless work on environemental matters. Albert was married to famed hispanic actress Margo (1945-85) until her death, and is survived by his son, actor Edward Albert, a daughter, and two granddaughters.
by Michael T. Toole
Eddie Albert (1906-2005)
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
ROD STEIGER, 1925 - 2002
From the docks of New York to the rural back roads of Mississippi to the war torn Russian steppes, Rod Steiger reveled in creating some of the most overpowering and difficult men on the screen. He could be a total scoundrel, embodying Machiavelli's idiom that "it's better to be feared than loved" in the movies. But as an actor he refused to be typecast and his wide range included characters who were secretly tormented (The Pawnbroker, 1965) or loners (Run of the Arrow, 1965) or eccentrics (The Loved One, 1965).
Along with Marlon Brando, Steiger helped bring the 'Method School' from the Group Theater and Actors Studio in New York to the screens of Hollywood. The Method technique, taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, insisted on complete immersion into the character's psyche and resulted in intense, dramatic performances and performers. Steiger made his first significant screen appearance as Brando's older brother in On the Waterfront (1954). Their climatic scene together in a taxicab is one of the great moments in American cinema.
It was a short leap from playing a crooked lawyer in On the Waterfront to playing the shady boxing promoter in The Harder They Fall (1956). Based on the tragic tale of true-life fighter Primo Carnera, The Harder They Fall details the corruption behind the scenes of professional boxing bouts. Steiger is a fight manager named Nick Benko who enlists newspaperman Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart in his final screen appearance) to drum up publicity for a fixed prizefight. While the boxing scenes were often brutally realistic, the most powerful dramatic moments took place between Steiger and Bogart on the sidelines.
As mob boss Al Capone (1959), Steiger got to play another man you loved to hate. He vividly depicted the criminal from his swaggering early days to his pathetic demise from syphilis. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Steiger was the only American in the international cast, playing the hateful and perverse Komarovsky. During the production of Dr. Zhivago, Steiger often found himself at odds with director David Lean. Schooled in the British tradition, Lean valued the integrity of the script and demanded that actors remain faithful to the script. Steiger, on the other hand, relied on improvisation and spontaneity. When kissing the lovely Lara (played by Julie Christie), Steiger jammed his tongue into Christie's mouth to produce the desired reaction - disgust. It worked! While it might not have been Lean's approach, it brought a grittier edge to the prestige production and made Komarovsky is a detestable but truly memorable figure.
Steiger dared audiences to dislike him. As the smalltown southern Sheriff Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night (1967), Steiger embodied all the prejudices and suspicions of a racist. When a black northern lawyer, played by Sidney Poitier, arrives on the crime scene, Gillespie is forced to recognize his fellow man as an equal despite skin color. Here, Steiger's character started as a bigot and developed into a better man. He finally claimed a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sheriff Gillespie.
Steiger was an actor's actor. A chameleon who didn't think twice about diving into challenging roles that others would shy away from. In the Private Screenings interview he did with host Robert Osborne he admitted that Paul Muni was one of his idols because of his total immersion into his roles. Steiger said, "I believe actors are supposed to create different human beings." And Steiger showed us a rich and diverse cross section of them.
by Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father's shotgun.- Ali Hakim
If she liked me any more, she'd sic the dogs on me.- Curly
Sometimes there seems like times that men ain't got no need for women.- Ado Annie Carnes
There's sometimes women ain't got no need for men.- Girl
Yeah, but who wants to be dead?- Ado Annie Carnes
Now that I got that fifty dollars, you name the date.- Will Parker
August 15th.- Ado Annie Carnes
Why August 15th?- Will Parker
Because that was the first day I'se kissed!- Ado Annie Carnes
Oh was it? I didn't remember that!- Will Parker
You wasn't there.- Ado Annie Carnes
Curly! You're sittin' on the stove!- Laurey
Cold as a hunk of ice.- Curly
Wish it would've burned a hole in your pants.- Laurey
This is the first Todd-AO production and the first of three such productions to be shot twice, first at 24 fps (to produce the general-release version in 35 mm) and finally at 30 fps (to produce the roadshow version in 70 mm). The 35 mm version is presented in CinemaScope; the 70 mm version is presented in Todd-AO.
Shot on location in and around Nogales, Arizona, because the producers thought that Arizona looked more like Oklahoma.
This was Fred Zinnemann's first musical, and it cost a then-astronomical $6.8 million.
The song "Lonely Room" (sung by Jud) was cut from the film. In the song, Jud explains his bitter resentments and deep frustrations. Possibly this was considered too strong for 1955 film-goers.
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, a part-Cherokee playwright born in Oklahoma.
The original Broadway musical Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943, and had a record-setting run of five years on Broadway, closing on May 29, 1948. Hailed by critics as the preeminent American musical because it was the first to seamlessly combine dance, music and story, Oklahoma! also marked the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who were awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944 in recognition of their achievement. The 1943 musical was directed by renowned film and theatrical director Rouben Mamoulian, with choreography by Agnes De Mille, who subsequently choreographed the film. The opening night cast included Alfred Drake as "Curly," Joan Roberts as "Laurey," Howard Da Silva as "Jud Fry" and Celeste Holm as "Ado Annie Carnes." Oklahoma! continued as a roadshow production for approximately ten years. The musical continues to be an American favorite: Its initial long run has been followed by three Broadway revivals to date, some of which were nominated for or won the American Theatre Wing Tony award (established in 1947). A highly successful London revival, produced by Trevor Nunn, opened in January 1999 before going to Broadway and being telecast on PBS on November 22, 2003. An article in the March 29, 2002 edition of Entertainment Weekly noted that the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization issued permission to 526 regional theaters for productions of Oklahoma! in 2001 alone.
Although the film was shot in two different formats, the viewed print of the film was in CinemaScope. The opening title credits read: "Rodgers & Hammerstein present Oklahoma!, produced in Todd-AO, developed by The American Optical Company." The dancers were individually listed in opening credits following the choreography credit for De Mille (whose surname was spelled onscreen as de Mille), under the title "The Dancers." Dancers James Mitchell and Bambi Linn were also listed in the end cast credits with their respective character names, "Dream Curly" and "Dream Laurey." The song, "Out of My Dreams" segues into the "Dream Ballet, in which Mitchell and Linn are featured. The 1955 film featured all the musical's original songs with the exception of "Jud's" solo "Lonely Room" and "It's a Scandal, It's an Outrage!"
According to various news items, purchase of the film rights to the musical play Oklahoma! was being negotiated as early as 1943, shortly after the play opened on Broadway. A April 30, 1943 New York Times news item noted that Rodgers and Hammerstein were in discussion with The Theatre Guild about a film production with either United Artists or Columbia Pictures as distributors. In addition, Hollywood Reporter reported on December 29, 1943 that Arthur Lyons of Producing Artists, Inc. was interested in buying the film rights. Although The Theatre Guild is not credited on the film, later news items indicate that The Theatre Guild sought an alliance with several of the potential early film productions. Among the interested parties in 1944 were producer David Lewis and actor James Cagney and his producer-brother William Cagney. Producer Harry Sherman also considered buying the property in 1944, with Mamoulian slated as the film's director. Modern sources add that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer optioned the musical, but sold the property rights to Rodgers and Hammerstein. The New York Times reported in a September 27, 1961 article that, when finally sold for the 1955 movie, the film rights cost over $1,000,000. However, a modern source contradicts some of this information and reports that Rodgers and Hammerstein purchased the film rights directly from The Theatre Guild for $850,000.
Hollywood Reporter news items reported that the film version was originally slated to be financed and distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox, using their lot for shooting as well. However, according to a January 19, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, the production company, Magna Theatre Corp., which was formed to be the sole producer of films featuring Todd-AO, disagreed with some of Fox's stipulations. As reported in the next day's issue of Hollywood Reporter, Joseph M. Schenck then took over the financing, and Magna chose to produce the film independently. The January 1954 news items noted that use of the Todd-AO process May have constituted a conflict of interest for Fox, which was affiliated with CinemaScope, and added that Warner Bros. also had a tentative interest in the production. A few months later, as noted in an article dated March 25, 1953, Schenck resigned from Twentieth Century-Fox and became chairman of Magna. Magna's board of directors included George P. Skouras, Arthur Hornblow, Jr., as vice-president in charge of production, as well as Michael Todd, Lee Shubert, Edward Small, Rodgers and Hammerstein, among others. The Todd-AO Corp. was also created at the same time to distribute and lease the equipment manufactured by American Optical. Further news items in May 1954 reported that National Theatres invested $1,000,000 in the film production, and that American Optical invested another $500,000. In addition, United Artists Theatre Circuit invested over $1,000,000 in Magna Theatre Corp., whose first film was Oklahoma!.
The information below derives from contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items, unless noted otherwise. Oklahoma! features the first use of the Todd-AO widescreen process, which was conceived by producer Todd, in conjunction with scientist Dr. Brian O'Brien. Although Todd was not directly affiliated with the film production of Oklahoma!, his influence was instrumental in bringing the film version to fruition, as well as the Todd-AO process. "Todd-AO" represents a combination of Todd's surname and the American Optical Company, which developed the panoramic "bug-eye" lens under O'Brien's leadership, with Dr. Hopkins of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. In addition, as Box Office noted in a October 15, 1955 special section specifically about Oklahoma!, Westrex and Ampex created a six-channel sound system to complement Todd-AO. In late March 1953, the film Far West, then to be produced by Hornblow and directed by Edward Small, was reported to be the first production to use Todd-AO. However, Magna never released a film under that title, and it has not been determined if the property was ever produced under another title or by another entity.
As opposed to competitors such as CinemaScope, Cinerama and VistaVision, which required multiple cameras and projectors, Todd-AO used a single wide-angle camera and one-strip 65mm negative film (the final print used 70mm film to accommodate the six sound tracks) and required a single projector to screen. The special "bug-eye" lens, which measured 128 degrees, enhanced the panoramic image. New cameras were constructed to accommodate the special lenses and larger film stock. The article in Box Office reported that Todd and cinematographer Schuyler A. Sanford shot the first test footage of the process, and screened it in June 1953 in Buffalo, New York. The article added that director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Harry Stradling then created more test footage, which was screened on August 14, 1953. Contemporary and modern sources affirm that the early test footage was screened for Rodgers and Hammerstein in New York, and that the producers then agreed to sell the film rights to Oklahoma! and use the Todd-AO process for the picture. Modern sources add that Todd had initially introduced the idea of Oklahoma! as the ideal Todd-AO debut production to Rodgers and Hammerstein several months before their test screening, which May have been produced specifically to sway them in favor of the film production. Rodgers and Hammerstein reportedly had long resisted a film version of their musical. Some contemporary sources indicate that they were waiting for the right vehicle to highlight the musical on film appropriately. In an article written by the producers-composers in Box Office, Rodgers and Hammerstein confirmed that they waited to sell the film rights because they felt proprietary about Oklahoma!, and because they wanted "...something that would make the motion picture Oklahoma! again a first in [their] experience." Like their groundbreaking first theatrical production of Oklahoma!, the movie version was their first motion picture production. In the Box Office article they added that "...when we first saw a demonstration of the Todd-AO process we realized what we had been waiting for. Unconsciously we had been groping for some way to give our story the visual scope, the big outdoor feeling it needed." Modern sources conjecture that they May have feared that a film production would reduce the audience attendance for the numerous ongoing roadshow productions of the play.
Although an April 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Oklahoma! might be shot simultaneously in VistaVision, CinemaScope was used instead. In his autobiography, director Zinnemann noted that using both Todd-AO and CinemaScope was a precautionary measure, as Todd-AO was still in the testing stages and only one bug-eye lens existed at the time. American Cinematographer featured several technical articles about the new Todd-AO process, and noted in its April 1955 issue that simultaneous shooting with both cameras was used for only about ten scenes, because the width of the Todd-AO camera was prohibitive. Modern sources add that the bug-eye lens was used for just four scenes of the final film.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item dated September 9, 1954, Consolidated Film Laboratories made 35mm reductions of the 65mm film for the standard prints. Oklahoma! was ultimately released in Todd-AO, CinemaScope and standard 35mm prints because few theaters could afford to retrofit for the Todd-AO projectors and extended, curved screens. Approximately forty American theatres were renovated to accommodate the larger curved screen necessary for Todd-AO, according to the September 9, 1954 news item. New York City's Rivoli Theatre, for example, was renovated to introduce the new screen which, according to Box Office, measured "66 feet long along the arc, but only 50 feet wide along the chord, indicating the extent of the curvature." With the screen and special equipment, the overall seating capacity was reduced by over 300 seats. Modern sources add that the Rivoli served as New York's flagship theater for Todd-AO films for many years.
Hollywood Reporter news items noted the following information about the cast and crew: Singers were auditioned as early as April 1953, although Magna had not yet confirmed their purchase of the musical's film rights. Actress Sharon Dexter auditioned for the role of "Ado Annie." M-G-M, which rented its studio lot to an outside production company for the first time, also loaned the services of cinematographer Robert Surtees, film editor Gene Ruggiero, music editor Ralph Avseev and music coordinator Robert Helfer. In August 1954, makeup artist Don Roberson returned to Los Angeles from location shooting due to appendicitis. It is unclear whether Ben Lane, who is credited onscreen as the makeup artist, replaced Roberson or if Roberson was one of several makeup artists in the crew. According to a October 12, 1954 news item, cinematographer William C. Mellor temporarily replaced Surtees when the director of photography fell ill. In addition, an December 11, 1954 news item noted that location auditor Ralph Leo resigned to work on the Cinerama production Seven Wonders of the World (see below). A September 29, 1954 news item indicated that Hammerstein had intended to make his onscreen debut in this film, but withdrew because of a scheduling conflict.
Various news items include the following actors in the cast: Gloria Moore, Allene Roberts, Norma LaRoche and Jeanne Wood. News items also add the following dancers to the cast: Randy Rayburn, Anne Morgan, Patricia Parvin, Raimonda Orselli, Charlyne Baker, Christy Peterson, Sheila Hackett, Nancy Kilgas, Cecile Rogers, Alicia Krug, Erin Martin, Dolores Starr, Sally Sorvo, Paul Olson, Maurice Kelly, Bill Chatham, Jerry Rush, Eddie Weston, Loren Hightower, Jerry Dealy, Bob Calder, Dick Landry, Bob Hanlin, Cary Leverette, Alex Rodin, Donna Pouget, Robert Cole, Fred Hansen and Sally Whalen. The actors' and dancers' appearances in the final film have not been confirmed. Although the pressbook for the film notes that Charlotte Greenwood appeared in the original Broadway production of the play, she was not listed in the opening night cast. Some modern sources indicate that the role of "Aunt Eller" was created for Greenwood, but that she never appeared in the Broadway production. Dancer Bambi Linn appeared in several roles in the original Broadway production. Modern sources add the following information about casting: James Dean was tested for the role of "Curly." In his autobiography, Zinnemann recalled that Dean tested with a version of "Curly's" song "Pore Jud." Shirley Jones, who made her motion picture debut in this film, was discovered while performing in one of the many theatrical roadshow productions of the musical.
Although producers initially intended to film Oklahoma! on location in that state, by August 3, 1953, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that they were leaning toward Ohio as a better location. In his autobiography, Zinnemann commented that Oklahoma had too many oil wells that would disrupt the skyline. A Hollywood Reporter news item later in August 1953 noted that Hornblow and Zinnemann shot backgrounds and process shots in Claremore for use in the film. In July 1954, when Oklahoma's then-Representative Victor Wickersham learned that the musical was to be filmed in Nogales, Arizona, rather than his state, he protested in writing to the producers, and publicly in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, location filming began in July on 1,000 acres in Nogales where, according to an July 8, 1954 news item, corn and wheat fields had been planted specifically for the production. The pressbook adds that the corn field was located on a farm in the small town of Amado, and that agricultural expert Edward B. Clark was hired to supervise the corn's growth because the producers were forced to shorten the normal growing season. The pressbook also noted that the "Kansas City" dance scene was shot at a railroad station in Elgin. On August 20, 1954, Hollywood Reporter followed up on their earlier report about Victor Wickersham and observed that the "feud" with the producers of Oklahoma! was apparently concluded, as then-Governor Johnston Murray was scheduled to visit the Nogales set. Box Office reported the total negative cost of the production as $6,800,000.
As noted above, Oklahoma! was considered ground-breaking musical theater. The film version maintained the music and style of the new standard set by Rodgers, Hammerstein and De Mille, in which songs and dances achieved character development and often furthered the plot. De Mille's choreography for the theatrical version, and later in the film, was lauded by critics as introducing a new era in musicals, and combined classical ballet techniques with modern dance. In the "Dream Ballet" sequence in the film, for example, during which Laurey dreams about an unintended marriage to Jud, Laurey's disturbing dream leads her to conclude that Jud would be the wrong romantic choice for her. In this dance sequence, the characters Curly and Laurey are portrayed respectively by professional dancers Mitchell and Linn, rather than the lead actors MacRae and Jones. However, Rod Steiger continued to portray Jud in this sequence, despite the fact that he was not a trained dancer. Furthermore, neither Steiger nor actress Gloria Grahame were known to be singers, although they sang in the movie.
A press and film industry preview of the Todd-AO process was held at M-G-M on August 16, 1955. An article in Harrrison's Reports dated July 3, 1954 noted that the screening included footage of a roller coaster ride, and observed that it "...gave one a very noticeable feeling of audience participation." The footage also included scenes of gondolas in Venice, Italy, a bullfight in Spain and footage from Oklahoma!. A modern source adds that this footage featured the film's opening shot of "Curly" riding along the cornfield. A September 15, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that a 35mm print of the completed film was also screened at the National Theatres convention in Colorado Springs, CO. The world premiere of Oklahoma!, featuring the Todd-AO process, was held in New York City. According to an article dated October 11, 1955, some confusion occurred about which date was the official world premiere, as Magna held invitational screenings at the Rivoli Theatre over the course of three days. The article stated that Magna considered October 13, 1955 to be the official public premiere, despite the fact that the film already had been screened twice on two preceding days. Additional news items noted that the New York and Los Angeles premieres were sponsored by the state of Oklahoma, and attended by the state's then newly-elected governor, Raymond Gary. Tickets for the special engagements of the Todd-AO version at the Rivoli carried a then-high price ranging from $1.75 to $3.50.
There was no official national release date for Oklahoma!; the premiere was followed by twice-daily roadshow screenings at theaters throughout the country. The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review declared that the "cinematic Oklahoma! is...big in beauty, big in conception and execution, magnificently big, bright and beautiful." The Variety review praised the film and noted that "Oklahoma's most valuable asset on the screen is the very same that cued its successful 10-year run on Broadway....That's the music-which listens as fresh as a spring shower at each hearing even though heard over and over again." While some reviewers appreciated that the broad movie screens for the Todd-AO prints were lacking the noticeable seams that appeared during Cinerama screenings, they did remark on flaws remaining in the Todd-AO images. According to the Daily Variety review, "...the finished picture evidences in number of instances some photographic `bugs' inherent with any brand new camera and lens." The New York Times review noted that "...the generous expanse of screen is fetching, but the system has disconcerting flaws." Nevertheless, the review continued that "...the flaws in mechanism do not begin to outweigh a superlative screen entertainment."
Magna distributed the Todd-AO version of the film, and RKO Radio Pictures distributed the CinemaScope version until 1956. Twentieth Century-Fox took over distribution of the film when RKO suffered financial setbacks (independent of this film). As reported in Hollywood Reporter in November 1955, Todd sold his interest in Magna Theatre Corp. and Todd-AO Corp. following the film's successful release, and retained a position as a consultant. Todd next produced Around the World in Eighty Days, which was the second film to feature the Todd-AO process.
Oklahoma! won Academy Awards for Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was nominated for color cinematography and film editing. The next Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to be converted to film was Twentieth Century-Fox's 1956 feature Carousel, in which MacRae and Jones co-starred.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1955 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States April 2000
Released in United States March 1977
Released in United States March 1995
Released in United States on Video September 13, 1990
Released in United States Winter December 1955
Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival (A Salute to Shirley Jones) March 3-12, 1995.
Shown at the Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois, April 26-30, 2000.
Screen debut for Shirley Jones.
Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Mighty Musical Movie Marathon) March 9-27, 1977.)
Released in United States March 1995 (Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival (A Salute to Shirley Jones) March 3-12, 1995.)
Released in United States April 2000 (Shown at the Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois, April 26-30, 2000.)
Released in United States on Video September 13, 1990
Released in United States Winter December 1955