Oklahoma! (1955 film)

Oklahoma! (1955 film)

DVD cover
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Written by Sonya Levien
William Ludwig
Based on Oklahoma! by
Lynn Riggs
Oscar Hammerstein II
Starring Gordon MacRae
Gloria Grahame
Gene Nelson
Charlotte Greenwood
Shirley Jones
Music by Richard Rodgers
Oscar Hammerstein II
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Floyd Crosby
Editing by George Boemler
Gene Ruggiero
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) October 11, 1955 (1955-10-11)
Running time 145 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.8 million

Oklahoma! is a 1955 musical film based on the 1943 musical play Oklahoma!, written by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones (in her film debut), Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert. The production was the first musical directed by Fred Zinnemann.[1] Oklahoma! was the first feature film photographed in the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process.

In 2007, Oklahoma! was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Development of a film version of Oklahoma! dates as far back as 1943, when the musical first opened on Broadway. United Artists, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and MGM were among the many Hollywood studios interested in the project.[2] Ultimately, the film rights were bought by the Magna Theatre Corporation, a company founded by George Skouras, Joseph Schenck, and Michael Todd. Magna was initially founded in order to develop a new widescreen process Todd created, called "Todd-AO,"[3] and ended up financing the film independently after a deal with Fox fell through.[2]

Although the film was initially to have been shot on location in the title state, the producers opted to shoot elsewhere, apparently because the oil wells would be a distraction for exterior scenes.[2] Location shooting was done mostly in Nogales, Arizona.[2][4] The corn field in the opening number was located in a farm in Amado, Arizona.[2] The train station used in the "Kansas City" routine was located in Elgin, Arizona.[2] Sound stage and backlot sequences were filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City, CA.[1][4]

As mentioned previously, Oklahoma! was the first production photographed in Todd-AO. It was simultaneously shot in the more established CinemaScope 35 mm format to allow presentation in theaters lacking 70 mm equipment. Hence, there are actually two different versions of the film comprising different takes.[1][4] Director Zinnemann mentioned that shooting the film in both formats was a "precautionary measure," as the Todd-AO camera was still being tested during production.[2]

Among the many actors who tried out for the role of Curly included James Dean and Paul Newman;[5] the role ultimately went to Gordon MacRae. Joanne Woodward was offered the role of Laurey,[6] which went to Shirley Jones (who had previously performed in a stage production of Oklahoma![2]) Eli Wallach and Ernest Borgnine[7] were considered for the role of Jud, before Rod Steiger was cast.

Robert Russell Bennett expanded his Broadway orchestrations, Jay Blackton conducted, and Agnes de Mille again choreographed.[2]

From stage to screen

Rodgers and Hammerstein personally oversaw the film themselves to prevent the studio from making the changes that were then typical of stage-to-film musical adaptations—such as putting in new songs by different composers. They also maintained artistic control over the film versions of several of their other stage musicals.

The film Oklahoma! followed the original stage version extremely closely, more so than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein stage-to-film adaptation. However, it did divide the very long (more than 45 minutes) first scene into several shorter scenes, changing the locations (and lyrics) of several of the songs in the process.

  • Rather than beginning offstage, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" was now sung as Curly (Gordon MacRae) rode his horse from the now-seen cornfield "as high as an elephant's eye" to Aunt Eller's farm.
  • "Kansas City" was sung and danced at the local train station where Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood) and other cowboys meet Will Parker (Gene Nelson), who has just returned from said city. Also, a few lyrics in the song, about a burlesque stripteaser, had to undergo minor changes to pass film censorship.[1] In the original Broadway musical, the character of Will Parker sings:
I could swear that she was padded from her shoulder to her heel.
But later in the second act when she began to peel,
She proved that everything she had was absolutely real!
For the film, these were changed to:
But then she started dancing and her dancing made me feel
That every single thing she had was absolutely real![1]
  • "I Can't Say No" was sung by Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) at a lakeside where Laurey has been swimming.
  • '"Many a New Day" was sung and danced in Laurey's (Shirley Jones) bedroom, as the women, stopping over at the farmhouse on their way to the Skidmore ranch, change their clothes for the upcoming Box Social that evening.

In a nod to Green Grow the Lilacs, which was the basis of Oklahoma!, Jud attempts revenge on Curly and Laurey by burning a haystack they stand on after the wedding, rather than simply attacking Curly with a knife, as in the stage version of the musical. As Curly and Laurey stand atop the burning haystack, Jud pulls a knife and taunts Curly. The couple jumps down, with Curly landing on Jud and inadvertently causing him to fall on his own knife. (In the film Carousel, another Rodgers and Hammerstein adaptation, Billy Bigelow, also played by Gordon MacRae, would similarly die by accidentally falling on his own knife).

The film omitted very little from the stage production, cutting only two songs (Ali Hakim's "It's a Scandal, It's an Outrage" and Jud's "Lonely Room"),[2] and thus ran two-and-a-half hours, much longer than most other screen musicals of the time.


The movie of Oklahoma! revived an early talkie trend which had not lasted long—filming stage musicals virtually complete, and showing them as roadshow attractions (two performances a day, usually with an intermission, like stage productions).[8] Although the film versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel (1956) and The King and I (1956) did not have intermissions and cut more from the stage originals than did the film version of Oklahoma!, they also ran over two hours, followed the stage originals quite closely and retained most of their songs. South Pacific (1958), as well as most other stage-to-film musical adaptations that came after it, did have an intermission and was also quite long, as was The Sound of Music (1965). The trend of "roadshow" stage-to-film musicals lasted into the early 1970s, the last of them being the film versions of Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Man of La Mancha (1972).

Academy Awards

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for two others. The wins came in Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (for Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton, and Adolph Deutsch) and Best Sound, Recording (Fred Hynes). Nominations came in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color (Robert Surtees) and Best Film Editing (for Gene Ruggiero and George Boemler).[9]

Distribution history

In its original theatrical releases, the Magna Theatre Corporation handled distribution of the roadshow presentaions (in 70 mm Todd-AO). RKO Radio Pictures distributed the general release version (in 35 mm anamorphic CinemaScope), which was released after its roadshow run ended. Later, when RKO was experiencing financial turmoil, 20th Century Fox assumed distribution of the general release edition.[2] All rights to the film are owned by the estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Decades later, the major ancillary distribution rights to this film reverted to The Samuel Goldwyn Company and re-issued both the 70 mm and 35 mm versions theatrically. However, home video rights went outside the parameters of Goldwyn. CBS Video acquired the home video license, and later passed on to its successor CBS/Fox Video. After CBS was bought by Viacom in 2000, the CBS/Fox venture folded, and under contract with Rodgers' and Hammerstein's respective estates, 20th Century Fox assumed the video (and later DVD) distribution rights, as well as other underlying rights, so the Fox studio, in a way, has back some of its rights it had lost years earlier. All U.S. domestic home video versions are currently distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, while Goldwyn Company successor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer now handles theatrical and television distribution rights.

For unexplained reasons the original UK DVD release is a pan and scan version from a noticeably grainy CinemaScope print, even though the companion DVD of South Pacific was taken from a pristine Todd-AO master and presented in widescreen. The 50th Anniversary US DVD release of Oklahoma! by partial rights holder 20th Century Fox is a double-disc release that includes both the Cinemascope and original 70 mm Todd-AO versions in widescreen. Shirley Jones does audio commentary on the Todd-AO presentation.[4] In March 2006 this version was also released in the UK as part of a set of remastered Rodgers & Hammerstein DVDs.

Musical numbers

  • "Overture" - Orchestra (played before the film actually begins)
  • "Main Title" - Orchestra (played over the opening credits)
  • "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" - Curly
  • "Laurey's Entrance" - Laurey ("Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'")
  • "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top" - Curly
  • "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top (Reprise)" - Curly
  • "Kansas City" - Will, Aunt Eller, Male Ensemble
  • "I Cain't Say No" - Ado Annie
  • "I Cain't Say No" (reprise) - Will and Ado Annie
  • "Entrance of Ensemble" ("Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'") - Curly, Gertie, and Ensemble
  • "Many a New Day" - Laurey and Female Ensemble
  • "People Will Say We're In Love" - Curly and Laurey
  • "Pore Jud is Daid" Curly and Jud
  • "Out of My Dreams" - Laurey and Female Ensemble
  • "Dream Ballet" - Ensemble
  • "Entr'acte" - Orchestra
  • "The Farmer and the Cowman" - Carnes, Aunt Eller, Ike Skidmore, Ensemble
  • "All Er Nuthin'" - Will and Ado Annie
  • "People Will Say We're In Love (Reprise)" - Curly and Laurey
  • "Oklahoma!" - Curly and Ensemble
  • "Finale Ultimo" ("Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'") - Ensemble
  • "Exit Music" - Orchestra

See also


  • Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones would star together again in the 1956 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.
  • The burlesque performers who appear in Laurie's dream sequence were a motley collection of the cast, many of whom can be spotted in their other roles as respectable members of the community.
  • Magna Corporation, creators and licensors of the Todd-AO widescreen process, offered Rodgers and Hammerstein a substantial stake in the company to secure their cooperation. This explains why a later Rodgers and Hammerstein film, South Pacific (1958) was also photographed in Todd-AO. The Sound of Music (1965) was photographed in Todd-AO as well; however, before the film went before the cameras, 20th Century-Fox, the studio that produced The Sound of Music, purchased the Todd-AO process from Mike Todd.


  1. ^ a b c d e Audio commentary by Ted Chapin and Hugh Fordin, CinemaScope version of film, 2-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition (2005), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Oklahoma! from Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d Audio commentary by Shirley Jones and Nick Redman, Todd-AO version of film, 2-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition (2005), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ Ernest Borgnine Interview Part 1 Cinema Retro magazine
  8. ^ The 2-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition (2005) 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment release presents the CinemaScope version without intermission or any traditional road-show features. The Todd-AO version has an Overture, intermission with Entr'acte, and Exit Music.
  9. ^ "The 28th Academy Awards (1956) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/28th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 

External links

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