New York Times review of the Todd-AO film "Oklahoma!"
This article first appeared in
The 70mm Newsletter
By Bosley Crowther
Issue 42 - December 1995
October 10th 1955 at the Rivoli Theatre in New York.
At long last, "Oklahoma!", the great Richard Rodgers - Oscar
Hammerstein II musical shown, which ran for more than five years on
Broadway, has been brought to the motion picture screen in a production that
magnifies and strenghtens all the charm that it had upon the stage.
Photographed and projected in the new process known as Todd-AO, which
reflects the images in color from a wide and deep Cinerama-like screen, the
ever-popular operetta was presented before an invited audience at the Rivoli
last night. It will be shown at two more invitation "premieres"
tonight and tomorrow night. Then it begins its two-a-day public showings on
Thursday at the Rivoli.
Inevitably, the question which leaps to every mind is whether the essential
magnificence and gusto of the original has been retained in the somtimes
fatal opration of transfer to the screen. And then the question follows whether
the mechanics of Todd-AO, which is being inaugurated with this
picture, are appropriate to articulate this show.
To the first question, there is only one answer: under the direction of Fred
Zinnemann - and we might add, under the hawk-eyed observation of Messrs.
Rodgers and Hammerstein - a full-bodied "Oklahoma!" has been
brought forth in this film to match in vitality, eloquence and melody any
musical this reviewer has ever seen.
With his wide-angle cameras catching backgrounds of genuine cornfields
and open plains, red barns, yellow farmhouses and the blue sky full of
fleecy clouds, Mr. Zinnemann has brought into the foreground all the warm,
lively characters that swarm through this tale of the Oklahoma Territory and
sing and dance its songs. By virtue of the sweeping motion picture, he has
obtained a fresh, open-air atmosphere to embrace the same rollicking romance
that tumbled on the stage. And because he had the fine assistance of
choreographer Agnes de Mille, he has made the dances and ballet of the
original into eloquent movements that flow beneath the sky.
In Gordon MacRae he has a Curly, the cowboy hero of the tale, who is
wonderfully relaxed and unaffected (to this reviewers delighted surprise).
And in Shirly Jones, a strawberry-blonde newcomer, he has Laurey, the girl
Curly courts, so full of beauty, sweetness and spirit that a better Laurey
cannot be dreamed. Both have excellent voices for the grand and familliar
Rodgers tunes. They are best, as one might hope and reckon, in the lyrical
"People will say we are in love".
Charlotte Greenwoods rangy Aunt Eller is an unmitigated joy. She has added a
rare quality of real compassion to the robust rusticity of the role. And
Gene Nelsons lanky Will Parker is a deliciously light footed, dim-witted
beau to the squeaky and occasionally pretentious Ado Annie of Gloria Grahame.
Rod Stigers Jud Fry is less degenerate and a little more human and petiful
than he is usually made, while Eddie Alberts Ali Hakim is the least
impressive figure in the film. Both characters have been abbreviated, and a
song of each has been dropped.
As for the "Out of my dreams" ballet, with James Mitchell and Bambi
Linn dancing the roles of Curly and Laurey, it is an exquisitely fluid and
colorful thing, expansive and imagistic. The dancing boys and girls are as
lith as reeds. In colorful costumes and hairdos, they are
pumpkin-seed-country come to town!
To the question of whether the dimensions and the mechanism of Todd-AO are
appropriate to the material, one can only say that the generous expanse of
screen is fetching, but the system has disconcerting flaws. The distortions
of the images are striking when the picture is viewed from the seats on the
sides of the Rivolis orchestra or the sides and rear of its balcony. Even
from central locations, the concave shape of the screen causes it to appear
to be arched upwards or downwards, according to whether one views it from
the orchestra or the balcony.
While a fine sense of depth is imparted with some of the outdoor scenes -
notably one looking down the rows of a cornfield and in a thrilling sequence
of a horse-and-wagon runaway - the third-dimensional effect is not
insistent. The color in the present film is variable. Some highly annoying
scratches are conspicuous in many otherwise absorbing scenes.
However, the flaws in mechanism do not begin to outweigh a superlative
screen entertainment, which is endowed with excellent sound and runs for two
hours and twentyfive minutes, with a ten-minute pause for air.
"Oklahoma!" will have a special, invitational "premiere"
showing tonight at the Rivoli for Gov. Raymond Gary of Oklahoma and other
state officials, as well as guests from the civic, stage, screen, television
and radio fields.
Governor Gary is scheduled to ride a white horse in the van of a cavalcade
of surreys from the St. James Theatre on Forty-fourth Street, west of
Broadway, to the Rivoli, at Broadway near Forty-ninth Street, where he will
be welcomed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Governor Gary is slated to "annex"
"Oklahoma Territory" by stepping into transplanted Oklahoma soil
in front of the theatre. He will also raise the Oklahoma flag atop the
"Oklahoma!" which was screen for the press yesterday, will be
shown again Wednesday night before an invited audience under the sponsorship
of the Vocational Advisory Service.
Further in 70mm reading:
Hollywood Reporter Review
"Oklahoma!" premiere dates
in70mm.com Presents: You
are in the Show with Todd-AO
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