The Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book has brought around to musicals again, and this time, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! This big budget adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical that opened in 1943 cast Gordon MacRae as the show’s lead Curly and Shirley Jones, as the object of his affections, Laurey.
There’s not much in the way of a story, it’s not much more than a couple of cowboys, Curly and Will Parker (Gene Nelson), vying for the hearts of the women they love despite competition from a peddler, Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) and an evil ranch hand, Jud (Rod Steigher).
But that’s all some musicals need to hang a series of song and dance numbers on, and that is what has happened here. The film is a technicolor and cinema-scope bonanza, combining a number of forms of dance, but, I don’t think, engages with the western cliches as much as it should. The story is bare bones, and sadly, you can wander out of the room for awhile, come back, and still know exactly what is going on.
The film is simplistic in its storytelling, but did serve to help bring Broadway to the big screen, and make it accessible for everyone, not just those who could get to the theatre.
Shirley Jones is a joy to watch in this one, she’s vibrant and charming, and simply owns the role, and steals the screen anytime she’s on it.
There’s a healthy measure of comedy provided via Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood). Her character seems to be the matriarch for the entire state, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to do it. She’s funny, compassionate, and sharp as a tack.
Eddie Albert fumbles about as Ali, and I feel he didn’t get the best out of the role he could have, and the odd character of Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) makes for some strange bits.
Simple, bright, and enjoyable, but far from my favourite musical this one definitely didn’t hold my attention the way I thought it would, and didn’t completely embrace its Western roots.
Still, a strong cast, who look like they are having fun, a luminous Shirley Jones, and some fairly catch tunes make this a modern musical staple, and one that has endured, lovingly for decades.
It just wasn’t necessarily for me.