Oklahoma! (1955 Film)
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Oklahoma! 1955 Film

Oklahoma! (1955) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFred Zinnemann
Produced byArthur Hornblow Jr.
Written bySonya Levien
William Ludwig
Based onOklahoma!
by Lynn Riggs
Oscar Hammerstein II
StarringGordon MacRae
Shirley Jones
Gloria Grahame
Gene Nelson
Charlotte Greenwood
Rod Steiger
Eddie Albert
James Whitmore
Music byRichard Rodgers
CinematographyRobert Surtees
Floyd Crosby
Edited byGeorge Boemler
Gene Ruggiero
Distributed byMagna Theatre Corporation (70mm)
RKO Radio Pictures (35mm)
Release date
  • October 11, 1955 (1955-10-11) (Rivoli Theatre)[1]
Running time
145 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.8 million
Box office$7.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Oklahoma! is a 1955 American musical film based on the 1943 musical of the same name by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, 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 only musical directed by Fred Zinnemann.[3]Oklahoma! was the first feature film photographed in the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process (and was simultaneously filmed in CinemaScope 35mm).

Set in Oklahoma Territory, it tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams (Jones) and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly McLain (MacRae) and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry (Steiger). A secondary romance concerns Laurey's friend, Ado Annie (Grahame), and cowboy Will Parker (Nelson), who also has an unwilling rival. A background theme is the territory's aspiration for Statehood, and the local conflict between cattlemen and farmers.

The film received a rave review from The New York Times,[4] and was voted a "New York Times Critics Pick".[5] 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".


Curly rides his horse through the cornfield. He arrives at Aunt Eller's farm. Laurey Williams is Aunt Eller's niece, with whom Curly is in love. Laurey clearly feels the same way, but is loath to admit it. Curly has come to ask her to a party that night, but Laurey is offended that Curly has waited until the morning of the party to ask her. To make him jealous, she agrees to go with Jud, Aunt Eller's surly hired hand, though she is afraid of him.

At the train station, Aunt Eller meets roving cowboy Will Parker, who has just returned from Kansas City and is hoping to marry Ado Annie. Meanwhile, Laurey meets up with Ado Annie, who is with a traveling salesman named Ali Hakim. Laurey reminds her that Will is returning from Kansas City. Ado Annie is in a dilemma, unable to decide between Will and Ali. She explains to Laurey that she can never resist a romantic man, though she knows it is wrong.

Will is reunited with Ado Annie, and meets Ali Hakim, unaware that he has been spending time with Annie. He reminds Annie her father agreed to let him marry her in exchange for $50. He has managed to earn $50 - but spent it all on presents for Annie. She initially tries to resist, but Will wins her over.

Several local families arrive at Aunt Eller's ranch to prepare for the party that night. When Gertie flirts with Curly, he is uninterested but uses the flirtation to make Laurey jealous. Laurey is hurt, but as she and the other girls freshen up for the party, she tries to convince them and herself that she doesn't care.

Ado Annie's father learns Will spent all his money, and when Ado Annie introduces Ali, her father forces a proposal from Ali at gunpoint - though Ali is a rover and has no desire for marriage.

In the orchard, Laurey tells Curly to keep his distance, but Curly is quick to point out that she is as much to blame for the rumors as he is. Curly asks Laurey if she will go to the party with him instead, and though she clearly wants to, she is too scared of Jud's reaction to turn him down now. In anger, Curly goes to confront Jud about his feelings for Laurey. At first, things seem harmless enough. Curly teases Jud about his reputation, and Jud joins in. But Jud deduces why Curly has come to see him, and angrily threatens him and Laurey.

As the party draws near, Laurey is miserable. When she uses a bottle of smelling salts bought from Ali, which she was told was a magic elixir, she slips into a trance. In her dream, she and Curly are about to marry, but Jud crashes the wedding and eventually kills Curly. Jud wakes Laurey. Laurey knows Curly is the right man for her, but it's too late to change her mind about going to the party with Jud. Curly, unwilling to go with another young lady to the dance, decides to take Aunt Eller.

Jud has no intention of taking Laurey to the party. He slows down and attempts to sweet-talk her. But when he tries to kiss her, Laurey grabs the whip and causes the horses to bolt. When they eventually stop and Jud leaps down, Laurey whips up the horses and leaves Jud stranded.

The party is in full swing, though the local farmers and cowmen are at loggerheads. Aunt Eller and Mr. Skidmore, the party's host, manage to make peace. Aunt Eller leads an auction of picnic hampers prepared by the local girls. Will discovers Ali is engaged to Ado Annie. When Ali learns Will needs $50 to marry her, he buys the presents Will bought, some for more than twice what they're worth, allowing Will to recover the needed $50. Ado Annie's father is forced to let Will marry his daughter. Meanwhile, Curly and Jud, who has arrived just in time, vie furiously for Laurey's hamper. Curly wins, but not before he has sold his saddle, horse and gun. Jud tries to kill Curly with a "Little Wonder" - a kaleidoscope-like device with a dagger concealed inside it - but is foiled by Ali Hakim and Aunt Eller.

Will Parker tells Annie that now that they are engaged, she must stop flirting with other men. Jud confronts Laurey, but she fires him. He says she will never be rid of him. She finds Curly and explains what has happened. Seizing his chance, Curly proposes to her, and she accepts. Ali bids goodbye to Will and Ado Annie and leaves.

Curly and Laurey are married. Gertie arrives at the wedding party, announcing she is also married. Her husband turns out to be Ali Hakim - Gertie's father forced Ali to marry her. But the festivities are disrupted by Jud, who sets fire to a haystack and threatens Curly with a knife. Curly jumps him, and inadvertently causes Jud to fall on his own knife, killing him.

A makeshift trial is held at Aunt Eller's house. Curly is found not guilty, and he and Laurey depart for their honeymoon in the surrey with the fringe on top.


Interest in 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.[6] Ultimately, the film rights were bought by the Magna Theatre Corporation, a company founded by George Skouras, Joseph Schenck, and Michael Todd for a record $1,000,000.[7] Magna was initially founded in order to develop a new widescreen process Todd created, called "Todd-AO",[8] and ended up financing the film independently after a deal with Fox fell through.[6] Including the cost of developing the new process, Magna invested $11 million in the film.[9]

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.[6]Location shooting was done mostly in Nogales, Arizona.[6][10] The corn field in the opening number as well as the reprise song, "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" was shot at the historic Canoa Ranch in Green Valley, Arizona. The train station used in the "Kansas City" routine was located in Elgin, Arizona.[6]Sound stage and backlot sequences were filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City, California.[3][10]

Oklahoma! was the first production photographed in Todd-AO. The original specification for Todd-AO involved running at 30 frames per second which made it impossible to produce 35mm (which ran at 24 fps) reduction prints from the Todd-AO negative. Therefore, 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.[3][10] Director Zinnemann mentioned that shooting the film in both formats was a "precautionary measure", as the (converted ca. 1930s Fearless Superfilm 65mm) Todd-AO camera was still being tested during production.[6]

The many actors who tried out for the role of Curly included James Dean and Paul Newman.[11] According to TCM, Dean "made a sensational [screen] test with Rod Steiger in the 'Poor Jud Is Dead' number", but as his voice wasn't strong enough, Gordon MacRae was cast in the main role.[12] Steiger remarked that Dean "hadn't quite got his technique together. At the time of his death, he was working too much on instinct. He'd be brilliant in one scene and then blow the next".[13] He observed that Dean was a "nice kid absorbed by his own ego, so much so that it was destroying him", which he thinks led to his death. Dean reportedly gave him his prized copy of Ernest Hemingway's book Death in the Afternoon, and had underlined every occurrence of the word "death".[14]Joanne Woodward was offered the role of Laurey,[15] which went to Shirley Jones (who had previously performed in a stage production of Oklahoma![6]). Eli Wallach and Ernest Borgnine[16] 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.[6] Costume designer Orry-Kelly was hired to oversee the costumes for the film with Ann Roth as his assistant.

From stage to screen

Rodgers and Hammerstein personally oversaw the film to prevent the studio from making changes of the kind 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 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 that city. Also, a few lyrics in the song, about a burlesque stripteaser, had to undergo minor changes to pass film censorship.[3] 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![3]
  • "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 to get 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.

The film omitted very little from the stage production, cutting only two songs (Ali Hakim's "It's a Scandal, It's a Outrage" and Jud's "Lonely Room"),[6] and thus ran two-and-a-half hours, much longer than most other screen musicals of the time. It was the first of the huge roadshow musical films that would eventually overrun Hollywood in the 1960s.



Magna held invitational screenings of Oklahoma! over three days at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City starting on October 11, 1955. The official public premiere was on October 13.[17] The film was shown on a two-a-day reserved seat policy with three shows at the weekends and holidays and grossed $573,493 in its first 12 weeks in New York. The film opened on the same roadshow basis at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles on November 18 and then at the McVicker's Theater in Chicago on December 26.[18]

In its initial theatrical release, the Magna Theatre Corporation handled distribution of the roadshow presentations in 70 mm Todd-AO. In 29 American and 2 Canadian cities it grossed $8,970,087 from 4,672,184 patrons.[19]

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.[6]

Outside the United States, the film was a box office disappointment.[20]

All rights to the film are owned by the estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 1982, the US/Canadian distribution rights to this film were acquired by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and re-issued both the 70 mm and 35 mm versions theatrically. The original 70mm version was restored and screened for the first time since its initial engagements.[21]

In April 2014, a restored version of the Todd-AO version was screened at the Fifth Annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The eight-month restoration was developed in conjunction with 20th Century Fox and the studio's film preservationist Schawn Belston.[22]

First telecast

The Cinemascope version of the film was first telecast as a Thanksgiving Day special by CBS, on the evening of November 26, 1970. Unlike some later telecasts of the film, this one was presented complete and uncut, except for the Overture, Entr'acte, and Exit Music. As with its 1960s telecasts of The Wizard of Oz, CBS felt that the film needed a host to introduce it, so they brought in Sebastian Cabot, Anissa Jones, Johnny Whitaker, and Kathy Garver, all from the long-running CBS sitcom Family Affair, to serve as hosts. The four of them, rather than appearing as themselves, spoke their lines in character, as if they were still playing their roles from the series. Because the film was shown on a Thursday evening, it occupied the same time slot in which Family Affair was shown in 1970,[23] which explains the selection of the four actors from the show to host the film. It earned a Nielsen rating of 27.9 and an audience share of 47%.[24]


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. The Todd-AO version has an Overture, intermission with Entr'acte, and Exit Music. The CinemaScope version is without intermission or any traditional roadshow features. Shirley Jones does audio commentary on the Todd-AO presentation.[10] In March 2006 this version was also released in the UK as part of a set of remastered Rodgers & Hammerstein DVDs.

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).[25]

Musical numbers


  • Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones would star together again in the 1956 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.
  • Marc Platt, who danced the role of Dream Curly in the original 1943 Broadway stage production of Oklahoma!, also appeared in the 1955 film version in a dancing and speaking role as a cowboy friend of Curly's. He is the cowboy friend who buys Curly's saddle for $10 at the auction--and who also comments that, the previous year, Ado Annie's sweet potato pie gave him a "three-day bellyache" (Platt is credited in the cast list of the film as a dancer).
  • Besides Platt, dancer Bambi Linn, who portrays the role of "Dream Laurey" in the film, had also been a member of the original Broadway cast, in a role alternately called Aggie, "Pigtails", or simply The Child. She was sixteen years old.
  • 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.
  • Southern Pacific 1673 was painted up and outfitted with turn of the century colors and equipment for the "Kansas City" number. The locomotive was retired in 1955 and given as a gift to the city of Tucson, Arizona where it can be seen on display at the historic depot.

See also


  1. ^ Oklahoma! at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ "Movie Review - The Screen: 'Oklahoma!' Is Okay; Musical Shown in New Process at Rivoli - NYTimes.com". movies.nytimes.com.
  5. ^ "Movies" – via NYTimes.com.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Oklahoma! (1955) - Overview - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
  7. ^ "Up Bids For Stage Plays". Variety. September 23, 1953. p. 3. Retrieved 2019 – via Archive.org.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 7, 2012. Retrieved 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Daily Variety review, October 11, 1955 p. 3
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "'A MYTH-SHATTERING BIOGRAPHY OF AN ICON: THE JAMES DEAN STORY' by Ron Martinetti, The Blacklisted Journalist, Bill Bast, The Iroquois, Dizzy, Rogers Brackett, Actors' Studio, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, James Whitmore". www.blacklistedjournalist.com.
  12. ^ Oklahoma!, TCM. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  13. ^ Fantle & Johnson 2009, p. 140.
  14. ^ "Never Meet Your Hero. Unless it's Rod Steiger". Sabotage Times. Retrieved 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  15. ^ "Oklahoma! (1955)" – via www.imdb.com.
  16. ^ Ernest Borgnine Interview Part 1 Cinema Retro magazine
  17. ^ Oklahoma! at the American Film Institute Catalog
  18. ^ "12-Week $573,493 Rivoli, N.Y. Take For Oklahoma". Variety. January 11, 1956. p. 7. Retrieved 2019 – via Archive.org.
  19. ^ "29 'Oklahoma' Showings In Todd-AO Chalked Up $8,970,087 - Bollengier". Variety. February 6, 1957. p. 3. Retrieved 2019 – via Archive.org.
  20. ^ "RKO's Retreat". Variety. January 16, 1957. p. 20. Retrieved 2019 – via Archive.org.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ Hammond, Pete (April 11, 2014). "'Oklahoma' Restoration Launches TCM Film Fest As Classic Hollywood Gets Ready For Its Closeup".
  23. ^ "Wayback Machine". March 14, 2008. Archived from the original on March 14, 2008.
  24. ^ "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
  25. ^ "The 28th Academy Awards (1956) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011.


External links

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