The hit Broadway musical from the 1940s gets a lavish if not always exciting workout in this 1955 film version directed by old lion Fred Zinnemann (High Noon). Gordon MacRae brings his sterling voice to the role of cowboy Curly, and Shirley Jones plays Laurie, the object of his affection. The Rodgers and Hammerstein score includes "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," and "People Will Say We're in Love," and Agnes DeMille provides the buoyant choreography. Among the supporting cast, Gloria Grahame is memorable as Ado Annie, the "girl who cain't say no," and Rod Steiger overdoes it as the villainous Jud. --Tom Keogh
The 2005 two-disc edition of Oklahoma! is a clear winner over the original DVD. In addition to the bevy of bonus features, it offers two different versions of the film, both of which are anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TVs. Disc 1 includes the CinemaScope version of the film. The second disc examines an interesting slice of film history: the background of "Todd-AO," the widescreen format that debuted with Oklahoma! and was intended to compete with established widescreen formats such as CinemaScope. There's a 12-minute featurette on the difference between the two formats, as well as two short features ("The Miracle of Todd-AO," 12 minutes, and "The March of Todd-AO," 17 minutes) that were created to show off the format through such gimmicks as first-person roller-coaster rides--precursors to modern IMAX films. Also on the second disc is the complete film as it was shot in Todd-AO. You'll quickly notice the difference between aspect ratios (2.55 to 2.20 for the taller Todd-AO), and that the Todd-AO version includes the overture and entr'acte and a different opening-credit sequence. (The original DVD release was the Todd-AO version.) And because the film had to be shot twice to accommodate the two formats, there are some subtle variations in actor performance, camera angles, etc.
So of the two versions of the film here, which is better to watch? One would expect it to be the Todd-AO version, which was shot in 70 mm instead of 35 mm, and at 30 frames per second rather than 24 for a smoother picture. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Todd-AO version looks fuzzy and washed out and is clearly inferior to the DVD's CinemaScope transfer. Other bonus features include a commentary track by Oscar Hammerstein biographer Hugh Fordin and Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization president Ted Chapin and sing-along subtitles on disc 1. On disc 2 are a commentary track by Shirley Jones and historian Nick Redman (she recounts how she auditioned for the film on her way to veterinary school, and how she worried about being filmed in Todd-AO because it was "as though you could see every mark on your skin"), and black-and-white television broadcast performances of Gordon MacRae singing "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" and Florence Henderson and MacRae singing "People Will Say We're in Love." --David Horiuchi