Oklahoma! (1955)

A couple of days back, a friend of mine, well aware of my obsession with old films, forwarded me a few URLs for sites where one can watch classic cinema for free. I had just begun watching Oklahoma!, and by the time I finished, I had a URL to add to my friend’s list. Yep, Sam: you missed this one: youtube, and I don’t mean a film in n number of parts. I mean the songs. Oklahoma!, for those who’d like to see it, is freely available on youtube—watch the songs in sequence, and you’re pretty much done.

Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in Oklahoma!

The film starts off the way it intends to proceed (a song every two minutes). Curly (Gordon MacRae) is a rosy-cheeked, burstin’ with health cowboy who seems to spend most of his time ridin’ along and admirin’ the corn, which is as high as an elephant’s eye’, because this, you see, is Oh what a beautiful mornin’, Oh what a beautiful day—and he’s got a beautiful feelin’ everythin’s goin’ his way.

Oh what a beautiful day...

Curly however isn’t exactly Nostradamus. His beautiful feelin’ goes kaput when his girl Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones, in her debut) starts acting pricey. A community party and hamper auction is coming up, and Laurey has agreed to go with Jud Fry (Rod Steiger), the brutish farmhand who works the farm for her and her aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood). It’s all a ploy to make Curly jealous, of course (I can’t figure out why; Curly is already besotted, and makes no attempt to hide it).
Anyway, Curly tries to press his suit by telling Laurey all about the spankin’ new surrey with a fringe on top, in which he’s goin’ to be takin’ her out, to the envy of all their neighbours.

Imagining a drive in the surrey with a fringe on top...

Laurey (dummkopf that she is) believes him—apparently, in her experience, surreys with fringes and a team of snow-white horses fall from the sky into the hands of poverty-stricken cowboys—and flies into a rage when Curly tells her the surrey and its trappings are all a figment of his imagination. She forgives him, though, after he’s sung her another verse.
The scene next shifts to the local railroad station, where local cowboy Will Parker (Gene Nelson) has just arrived from Kansas City. He spends a good bit of time telling the reception committee how everythin’s up to date in Kansas City—they gone about as fer as they can go. [The film version of this song isn’t yet on youtube, but there are plenty of amateur and semi-amateur versions].

Will tells his friends all about the wonders of Kansas City

Will, we discover, had gone to Kansas City to make his fortune (um, sort of) because his girlfriend’s sceptical father said he wouldn’t let Will marry the apple of his eye until Will had earned $50. So Will has earned that $50 in Kansas City, and has used it to buy presents for his sweetheart, Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame, in a delightful departure from her usual femme fatale roles).
While Will’s been away gettin’ to know Kansas City, Ado Annie’s been makin’ friends with a travellin’ salesman called Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert), who’s supposed to be Persian. Yeah, right. He doesn’t look Persian and he doesn’t sound Persian, but Ado Annie is happy to be kissed by him—or by any man. As she ruefully admits to Laurey, she’s just a girl who caint say no.

A girl who caint say no

Next, we’re back to Laurey and Curly’s on-and-off romance. This is the afternoon before the big party, and a bunch of girls have stopped by at Aunt Eller and Laurey’s home to freshen up. Laurey discovers that Curly will be taking another girl to the party, but insists she doesn’t care. Huh, not her! Why should a woman who is healthy and strong, blubber like a baby if her man goes away? …Many a new day will dawn before I do! she says.

Many a new day will dawn before I do

…and follows it up promptly by simpering at Curly while they all pick peaches in the orchard. Your sighs are so like mine, your eyes mustn’t glow like mine, she sings—because people will say we’re in love! Curly, not to be outdone, trills about how grand her hand feels in his, etc, and how they shouldn’t do this and that simply because it’ll give people a chance to say they’re in love.
Someone tell this lovestruck duo that singing romantic songs in full view of a peach-picking public isn’t the best way to squelch gossip.

People will say we're in love - especially if we shout it out

Meanwhile, Jud—the surly farmhand whom Laurey’s promised to accompany to the party—has been sulking in the smokehouse. He’s cottoned on to the fact that there’s something fishy going on between Curly and Laurey, and it’s not making him happy. Curly comes to the smokehouse to try and persuade Jud to let Laurey go with him, Curly, instead. He begins (why??) by singing a song—funny, but creepy—about how Jud would look dead. Pore Jud is daid, he sings, and goes on to describe how everybody would say that he’s all laid out to rest, with his hands acrost his chest—his fingernails have never been so clean. Jud joins in the mournful chorus, but when all’s said and done, insists he’ll be takin’ Laurey to the party. Curly tries to show off how good he is with a gun, but Jud refuses to take the hint.

Pore Jud is daid... or at least Curly hopes so

In the meantime, Laurey has been dreaming about Curly and herself. Out of my dreams and into your arms I long to fly… before Jud intrudes, even in Laurey’s dream, snatching her away from Curly and taking her into a nightmare world of harsh-faced and gaudy can-can dancers.

Out of my dreams - and into a nightmare

Laurey’s awakening is equally rude: Jud arrives to take her to the party. He’s a frustrated soul, lusting so terrifically after Laurey that on the way he confesses he remembers every single word she’s ever addressed to him. He tries to kiss her, which ensues in a scuffle, a runaway ride at breakneck speed—and Laurey, having finally managed to shake off Jud, spurring the horses on by herself, leaving her unwanted lover behind.

In real life, Laurey does manage to escape Jud

She arrives shortly at the party, where Aunt Eller has been insisting that the farmer and the cowman should be friends—while trying to break up squabbles between the farmers and the cowmen present.

The farmer and the cowman should be friends - in deed, if not in fact

While all this is happening, Ado Annie’s father has bust Will’s balloon by telling him that the deal was that Will would get to marry Ado Annie if he earned $50 hard cash. Not $50 in gifts for her.
Fortunately for Will, there’s someone who’s more than willing to help him out. Ali Hakim, forced at gunpoint to get engaged to Ado Annie (after her father’s found them engaging in some heavy petting), offers to buy off the gifts and give Will $50 for them. While the gifts are exchanging hands, Jud arrives, and finds something he could use: a concealed dagger, perfect for sticking into rivals.

Jud finds a useful little knickknack

With nine songs gone and a few more to come (plus very little left of the film as far as story goes) that makes, I think, for a fairly doable all-on-youtube watch.

What I liked about this film:
The music. For me, Oklahoma! ranks right up there with The Sound of Music as the best Rodgers and Hammerstein score there is. This film has lots of superb songs, with great music and excellent lyrics. The title song, Oklahoma’s state song since 1953, is one of my favourites. Everything about it is infectious: the pace, the lyrics, the sheer joy of it all.

Out of my dreams and into your arms. Yes, I said I loved the songs of this film, but this one goes well beyond the boundaries of a mere song. The lyrics (only there for a brief while at the beginning) are beautiful and so is the music—but what sets Out of my dreams apart from the rest of the songs is the stunning dream sequence that accompanies it. Featuring James Mitchell and Bambi Linn as a ‘dream’ Curly and Laurey respectively, this is a nearly 10-minute long section choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Curly and Laurey pirouette and flit, twirl and leap in an exuberant celebration of love attended by the joyful applause of a chorus. Laurey, decked in bridal white, is moving forward to be married to her love when an intruder—Rod Steiger, as Jud—arrives, dark and menacing, intent on doing away with Curly. In the aftermath of Jud’s destruction of Curly, Laurey finds herself pulled into a cruel, frightening world peopled by rouged can-can dancers and the ever-present Jud, from whom she tries to escape by running up a staircase that goes nowhere, a corridor that’s a dead end, a fenced-off section of corral that leads straight into the smokehouse where Jud lives. The dancing is exquisite, but what I find most compelling is the symbolism of the piece: Jud’s predatory lust, Laurey’s helplessness and her fear that Jud will shatter her pretty world to replace it with a seedy, scarily alien one… if you don’t have the time to watch the entire film, watch at least this song: it’s a good depiction of nearly 90% of the film.

A dream Laurey tries to escape Jud

What I didn’t like:
For pity’s sakes, couldn’t they have spent some time over the story?! For a film that has superb music, great dancing, lovely landscapes and witty dialogue, Oklahoma! has a story that’s so nonexistent, it’s disappointing.

That, thankfully, can be remedied. Watch the songs on youtube, and you’ll get the best of both worlds: great songs minus an abysmal plot. And if you want to know the end, just holler.

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18 thoughts on “Oklahoma! (1955)

  1. Ah. ;-) Good question.

    When I was a kid, I heard most of the Oklahoma! songs on radio, and loved them – so much that I wanted to see the film. In those days, you rarely got old English films on VHS in India, so once when my father went to the US on work, he brought back this. I thought all my dreams had come true – until I saw it. Such a letdown.

  2. I first saw Hugh Jackman as Curly . It was a theatre production in London and they released it on DVD.
    I was reluctant to buy the DVD because I wasn’t sure how I would like it with all on stage.
    You won’t believe how wonderful it is. Even the songs are fabulous.

    Here are 2 of them;

    I’m not sure if it is all on youtube or not. I couldn’t find it. The songs, yes.

  3. You are so lucky to have seen Hugh Jackman onstage! I am feeling very envious. ;-)
    I came across the Hugh Jackman videos when I was trying to find the songs from the film… frankly, anything with Hugh Jackman in it (even something with a terrible plot!) is right up my street. I just so adore that man – and what a fantastic singing voice he has. Gorgeous!

    Thank you for those links – have just seen them, enjoyed them, and am now trying to find the rest of the songs too. Here’s another of my favourites:

  4. Here are a couple more.
    You must get this DVD, you won’t be disappointed. :-)

    Much as I would like to boast that I did see Hugh Jackman, unfortunately, I didn’t :-(
    I saw him on DVD and was very impressed.

  5. You can see what a fan I am of this Hugh Jackman musical. :-D

    A couple of more.

    I can’t seem to find Jimmy Jonston’s ‘everything’s up to date in Kansas city’. The choreography is superb (well it’s superb all over), and also ‘why should a girl’.

  6. Was about to comment on the Hugh Jackman one, and see that everybody has beaten me to it! :-) He was the reason why I didnt switch channels when Oklahoma! was playing on TV a while ago. He has a lovely singing voice, but I dont remember much of the songs! *off to youtube to check them out*

    I first saw Hugh Jackman as Curly.
    Lucky you, Pacifist! The only time I was in New York when it was playing, the show was sold out! :-(

  7. harvey: Yes, but remember: the Hugh Jackman Oklahoma is not the one I’m talking about! ;-) But I have a feeling I’d like that one a good deal more than the Gordon MacRae one… if only because I think Jackman is so fabulous. And from the links pacifist has provided, I personally think the girls who play Laurey and Ado Annie respectively are better than Shirley Jones and Gloria Grahame. Yup, am going to try and get hold of the DVD for this one!

    pacifist: Thank you for those links – love ’em! And so what if you haven’t see Jackman on stage, at least seeing this as your introduction to Jackman must’ve been mind-blowing. I think the first Jackman film I saw was one of the X Men series.

    bollywooddeewana: The music and the dancing here are, in my opinion, as good as in The Sound of Music. But that remains my favourite R&H musical because it has a good story, and the music blends very well into the story (plus the number of songs is more in check)

    bollyviewer: I wish they’d do a remake of Oklahoma, as a proper film, with Hugh Jackman. I’ll be there for first day, first show! :-)

  8. I recall that for me this was too much like just watching a stage show, except without the excitement.

    They didn’t make a movie so much as they just restaged the show…which makes for dull viewing a lot of the time (Mamma Mia, anyone?)…

  9. memsaab: Yes, I got that feeling too… it’s like Cats: I don’t mind seeing it on stage (and even then, after a while I started getting sick of just one song after the other), but I don’t think I could see it onscreen.

    Have just seen another musical, this one much more delightful: the Judy Holliday-Dean Martin starrer Bells are Ringing. Lots of music, but a nice enough story too, and oh so cute! :-)

    pacifist: I’m all for theatre! Am so glad the theatre season’s finally kicked in here in Delhi – am looking forward to finding something I want to see.

  10. Yes, ‘cats’ was boring (at least on DVD).
    I had heard so much about it, and decided to buy after the good impression I got on watching ‘Oklahoma’.

    I don’t live in an English speaking country, and have to rely on London trips for it. That’s why I thought of trying DVDs. It’s not always successful though. (‘cats’ being an example).

    Have fun this theatre season! :-)

  11. Thank you. :-)

    I happened to see Cats one year when a Delhi theatre group staged it – some of the songs are good (I love Memory, Shimbleshanks the railway cat and Macavity the mystery cat in particular) but other than that, this isn’t something I’d want to watch as a film – even on stage it got a bit tedious. I was pretty restless by the time it finished!

  12. Love your narrative, captures the film’s silly plot quite well. Enjoyed reading it. I love this movie, mostly for the beautiful, beautiful songs, and some (but by no means all) of its quirkiness appeals to me as well.

  13. Thank you! This was such a great film for the eyes and the ears – I just wish it had been backed up with a good plot too. The Ado Annie-Ali Hakim-Will triangle is probably more interesting than the Laurey-Curly-Jud one (ah, now I’m thinking I should’ve given some thought to those two interlocking triangles and explored the depth of each and how they differed from the other!)

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