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New York Times review of the Todd-AO film "Oklahoma!"

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Written by: By Bosley Crowther Issue 42 - December 1995
Reviewed 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" Rivoli Theatre into "Oklahoma Territory" by stepping into transplanted Oklahoma soil in front of the theatre. He will also raise the Oklahoma flag atop the theatre building.

"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
Other reviews

"Oklahoma!" premiere dates

in70mm.com Presents: You are in the Show with Todd-AO

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Updated 07-01-23