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Oklahoma! Movie Review

jud curly laurey jones

1955 – Fred Zinnemann –

Maybe the most popular of all Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's musicals, Oklahoma! is the classic American story of family and community. The 1943 opening of the play launched the collaboration of the duo, who based their work on Green Grow the Lilacs, an earlier play by Lynn Riggs. Laurey (Shirley Jones), the farm girl and Curly (Gordon McRae), the cowboy, fall in love, spar playfully with one another, misunderstand each other, quarrel, then reconcile and marry to start a new family on the Oklahoma frontier at the turn of the century. They are threatened by sinister farmhand Jud (Rod Steiger), who covets Jones. In the meantime, a community is being forged as well. One of the major scenes is the “raising” of a schoolhouse, with the chorus singing about the territory becoming a state, and the differences between former enemies dissipating as the “farmer and the cowman will be friends.” Unity, loyalty, and hope are the great values of the music and the action. Humor also plays a major role, especially in the comic subplot of the love triangle of Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame), Will (Gene Nelson), and Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert).

The Todd-A-O high resolution color filming, used for the first time in this film, is perfect for crisp landscapes and sparkling white farmhouses (though the film was released in a Cinemascope version a year later). The “surrey with the fringe on top” springs from imagination to real life as the camera pans beneath the wheels to ducks scattering along a country road. Shirley Jones' Laurey is the picture of blonde, wholesome youth and energy—domestic yet spirited, vulnerable yet confident in the future ahead of her as a prairie wife. Curly the cowboy doesn't have to woo her much with words (or songs); they are so visibly right for each other. Paul Newman and James Dean had tested for the role of Curly, and Joanne Woodward auditioned for Laurey. Rod Steiger's Jud Fry is a menace; he is virile but coarse, ignorant yet cunning. He is the loner, and the frontier community has no place for loners. The only way Jud can be a part of the group is not through giving money for the school—even his money seems tainted—but through starring at his own funeral, parodied in the bizarre but funny number “Poor Jud is Daid.”

Oklahoma! is as much American myth as it is American musical theater. The songs mirror our hopes (“People Will Say We're in Love”) and our flaws (“I Cain't Say No”) and our boundless energy (the show-stopping signature song “Oklahoma!”); the dance numbers, choreographed by Agnes de Mille, trace our experience, our dreams, and our nightmares. Statehood and weddings: both are ceremonies of hope for the future, and that hope shines through this film version of a beloved musical classic.

Songs: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin',” “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “I Cain't Say No,” “Many a New Day,” “People Will Say We're in Love,” “Poor Jud is Daid,” “All ‘Er Nuthin’,” “Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City,” “The Farmer and the Cowman,” and “Out of My Dreams.”

Cast: Gordon MacRae (Curly), 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), Barbara Lawrence (Gertie), Jay C. Flippen (Skidmore), Roy Barcroft (Marshal), James Mitchell (Dream Curly), Bambi Linn (Dream Laurey), Jennie Workman (Dancer), Virginia Bosler (Dancer) Screenwriter: Sonya Levien, William Ludwig Cinematographer: Floyd Crosby, Robert Surtees Composer: Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton, Adolph Deutsch, Richard Rodgers Producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr. Running Time: 145 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1955: Sound, Score of a Musical; Color Cinematography, Editing Box Office: $7M.

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