Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…

I guess it was kind of unfortunate that Oklahoma was added to the recent edition, thus forcing me to encounter it nearer to the end of my quest than the beginning. If I’d watched it up-front early on, I probably would’ve liked it a little better, if only a smidgen, but now, having been thoroughly jaded by the genre as a whole, Oklahoma just comes off as excruciatingly saccharine. I don’t mean this film is sweet; I mean that this film is like being swept out to sea by a tsunami made of dissolved sugar, pulled by the current until your strength and resolve run out and you drown in it. That’s pretty much how I felt during the almost two-and-a-half hours that is Oklahoma; like I was drowning in sheer, unmitigated, family-friendly exuberance.

The film is essentially nothing but a love triangle, and not even a complicated one. Curly is a cowboy in love with a young farmgirl, Laurie, who also has a would-be suitor in the farm’s ranch hand, Jud, and the film details the ebb and flow of their relationship, all centered around the town’s box social that night. I know that joy is a concept that permeates many a musical, almost by genre definition, but holy crap was it overflowing from the screen during this one. Everyone is just so gosh-darned happy; even when things are supposed to be taking a dour turn, it’s always in an “aw, shucks!” mentality instead of genuine displeasure, and the audience can rarely give a hoot either way, since it is bleedingly obvious that no matter how may so-called hardships the characters endure, that everything will work out in the end. Hell, even when the main character is in his romantic rival’s house, essentially trying to convince him to hang himself, the tone is still uplifting and the characters still break out into a song, almost as if the film can’t wipe the smile off its own face. As befitting the musical that largely revived the concept of the “roadshow film”, there are songs aplenty and a length that borders on the absurd, at least in terms of the weight of the material, of which there is none. I will say this for the film, though; I could only barely tell the songs had been pre-recorded – that’s how good the sound mixing had been. My dreaded pet peeve, lousy overdubbing, did not show his face with this one, which was quite a surprise. As for the acting, it was okay enough, though the actress who plays Ado Annie could either have used a little more expressiveness in her face or a little less Botox to accomplish the same thing. And I guess I can’t end this without mentioning the cinematography, which for 1955 was fairly well done (though, fun fact, the film actually wasn’t shot in the eponymous state, but rather in Arizona, with some additional soundstage work on the side).

This was actually the first musical Rodgers & Hammerstein made, and their naiveté and whimsical freshman skill are unfortunately on full display here. One could very easily argue that this is something that the composer/lyricist duo would never truly outgrow, and indeed if it weren’t for essentially growing up on the film, I would largely have had the same response to The Sound of Music, a later R&H work. Fans of musicals will probably find a lot to like about Oklahoma, but if you dislike musicals in any way, for just about any reason, this will be like nails on a chalkboard to you. That said, I couldn’t ignore how well made the film was, and it’s largely this that’s why I’ve given the film a higher rating than I otherwise would have. Take it with a big grain of salt; if you do decide to watch this one, you’ll need that to counteract all the sugar you’ll be getting.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


2 thoughts on “Oklahoma!

  1. We posted reviews of the same film within a half hour of each other, and we had completely different takes on it. I feel that this film is interesting precisely because it’s NOT a happy one. I feel a current of darkness runs through the entire thing and that the “bad” character is actually the most sympathetic one for much of the film.

    • That’s pretty amusing. Reading your review, in retrospect I can see how the conclusions were made, but for me, the film just came across as far too vapid and elementary to actually be smart enough to contain half of the stuff you found in it (though I do agree that Jud was the bad guy pretty much solely for the sake of being the obligatory bad guy). Who knows; on another day, I might’ve been with you.

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