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Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
One of the most successful Broadway musical teams was Richard Rogers and
Oscar Hammerstein. They produced some of the greatest show tunes of all time.
Songs that had audiences humming on the way out of the theater or cinema.
I saw both performances and movies of many of their output. I went to the
Broadway revivals of "Oklahoma!" (with character actress Mary Wickes as
Aunt Eller) and Yul Brynner in "The King and I" (he was dying and looked it).

And now I have special edition DVDs. But curiously, as I rescreened the
features and compared them to other musical playwrites like Lerner and Loewe
and Andrew Lloyd Webber I noticed they didn't hold up in some respects.

It would appear that in general, Rogers and Hammerstein had questionable taste
in selecting their source material. In fact their shows seemed to fall into two
categories. Plays with no story and musicals with too much plot. "Oklahoma!",
"State Fair" and "Carousel" are the near plotless musicals with "The Sound of Music"
and "South Pacific" the plot heavy shows. Very episodic with two many characters
to keep track of. "Carousel" is probably their best score but such a disturbing and depressing
downer it's hard to call it 'entertaining'. It's difficult to sympathize with a wife beater and
petty thief no matter how well he sings. I think their best musical was "The King and I" which had
just enough narrative and a limited number of characters to empathize with. Unfortunately
it didn't contain their best songs.

The show that started it all was "Oklahoma!" which opened in 1943.
It became a smash hit although it was inaccurately portrayed as the first musical
to incorportate songs into characterization. I would argue that "Show Boat" did
that in the late twenties too. Never the less, it's success made it a certainty that
it would eventually be adapated into a motion picture. But R&H were reluctant to sell
it to a studio and lose control. If you review my other posts about Michael Todd, you'll
note that he was itching to get into movie production but needed a property.
He had shot the first half of "This is Cinerama" with his son but wanted to
improve the process so that you got the peripheral illusion on the curved screen
on a single piece of film without join lines. He sold off his Cinerama stock and used
the equity to create the "Todd-AO" format which was 70mm wide film stock combined
with a 'bug eye' lens for the peripheral illusion and standard lenses for close ups without
distortion. He demonstrated it for the team and they agreed to allow "Oklahoma!" to be
the premiere picture in the process.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned for Todd. The director, Fred
Zinneman, seemed to have little interest in re-inventing Cinerama. Todd
made sure his format was utilized for maximum impact in the opening sequence
as the camera dollied through the corn field to reveal a spectacular vista
in "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and in the 'you are there' shots in the
tune, "Surrey with the Fringe on Top". Thereafter he got into a fight
with Zinneman and R&H and left the project. The rest of the movie resembles
a photographed stage play with little use of the peripheral illusion. When
Todd saw how poorly the finished film demonstrated his system, he went
out and re-made parts of "This is Cinerama" as a short shown with the movie
called "The Miracle of Todd-A0" including the famous rollercoaster ride.
It must've have been disorienting for audiences to see some spectacular
simulated Cinerama in the opening and a standard stage play in the actual
feature with the exception of those two scenes. Because they didn't
have a method of reduction printing 70mm yet, they simulateously shot
the movie in 35mm CinemaScope which looked very distorted.

In the special edition DVD of "Oklahoma!" they offer both versions for
comparison along with the Todd-AO demonstration short. The CinemaScope version
looks acceptable. It's reasonably sharp but has those grainy opticals
(fades, dissolves) and the distorted CinemaScope close ups. The problem
with this set is the Todd-AO version on the other disc along with the short.
For some reason they look terrible. Very soft focus and fuzzy. I saw
the new 70mm print they made of "Oklahoma!" in 1982 in New York City
and it was so sharp and vibrant it was almost three dimensional. It needs
a major restoration and re-mastering for blu ray some day. Don't even think
of projecting that version of it on a DLP.

There are minor differences in performances and shots in the two versions.
The Todd-AO version has the spectacular opening dolly through the corn
field but poor credits with letters against a black background. The CinemaScope
version has credits superimposed over images but doesn't have that opening shot.
It's in there but at a later point in the song.

When Jud asks Laurey to go to the dance, he sounds threatening in one version
and friendly in the other which is strange too. Why would she go with him
when he sounds dangerous. There are many nuances in the performances
of the two versions.

As mentioned above, the main problem is there isn't any plot to speak of
or drama. I was waiting for a big confrontation between Curly and Jud
at the end but there isn't. Jud accidently falls on his knife and dies which
was anti-climatic. They made the same mistake in "Carousel".

The cast in the movie is a mixed bag. Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones
have good chemistry (as they did in the later "Carousel") and excellent
voices. Rod Steiger is appropriately menacing as Jud. Gene Nelson is
a great dancer and character actors Charlotte Greenwood and James
Whitmore are fine too.

However, I found Gloria Grahame rather whiny and annoying as Ado
Annie and Barbara Lawrence really obnoxious as Gertie with that
excrutiating laugh. The worst performance is Eddie Albert as Ali Hakim.
Albert is a fine actor but he's painfully miscast here with a dreadful phony
accent. He ruins every scene he's in. You cringe when he appears
on screen.

While the ballet sequences (using a different cast) might have worked on
stage it doesn't on film. It seems like a short subject spliced into the main
feature and completely takes you out of what little narrative momentum
there was. It also takes up a huge chunk of the extended running time and is
too long as a set piece. I thought it would never end and couldn't get used
to different actors dancing the roles of Curly and Laurey while Rod Steiger
still played Jud. Very disorienting. I had the same problem with the ballet
number in "Carousel" and Uncle Tom's Cabin play within a play in "The King
and I". They seemed like padding to me.

So I recommend the CinemaScope version which has pretty good stereo sound
for the songs but not the Todd-AO version which is a terrible transfer and since
I've seen the film in 70mm I know they can do a lot better in the future. For
completely unknown reasons "The Miracle of Todd-AO" is mixed down from
6 channel to 2 channel stereo rather than adapting it to 5.1. A real sloppy
job. No excuses these days since better material exists to master from.
Depending on how much you like this musical will determine whether you want
to wait until a better blu ray version or versions are released.

In summary for the CinemaScope version: Picture quality B, sound design A, cinematography A, performances B + (to accomodate some bad supporting
players), musical numbers A, story and screenplay C.

For the Todd-AO version: Picture quality F, sound design A and the rest the same.

539 Posts
Interesting story Richard.

Funny thing... Oklahoma was one of my high-school plays. I was in it and played a general issue townsfolk and doubled as a lighting/sound guy/high school-nerd.

I hear the name of that particular state and I can't help but hear... OOOOOooooooooooKlahoma! Where the wind comes...."

well, you get the idea. :)

Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)

All kidding aside, it's a challenging musical for singers but somewhat
less challenging for actors. Much ado about nothing (to coin a phrase)
but at least the songs are catchy. But not in the league
of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot" or Andrew Lloyd
Webber's "Phantom" which had strong dramatic narratives. Dare I
say it but were Rogers and Hammerstein over-rated? I think they were
in the story department. Even in "South Pacific" the key moment of Lt.
Cable getting killed happens off screen. First time I saw it I thought they
had cut something from the movie but it was never filmed. R&H worst
movie is "State Fair". A rediculous picture with only one notable song,
"It Might as well be Spring". How could they write a musical about farmers
taking their pig to a fair? What were they thinking? It's only other asset was

Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)

I feel the same way. Then I saw "My Fair Lady" and "Phantom".
But...those R&H songs are still hummable out of context...'

By the way, the performance I saw with Yul Brynner was somewhat
macabre. He was dying of lung cancer and even did commercials on
TV telling people not to smoke (which I never did). In the Broadway
revival he was so ill he couldn't perform "Tis a Puzzlement" so his
stage child did it. The audience murmer was noticeable. I guess
it would've been ideal if he really died on stage at the end of the play
but he didn't. He would take a deep breath before spitting out his lines
...slightly slurred and raspy. I didn't know if he would make it through the
"Shall we Dance" number.
When I saw the revival of "Oklahoma!" Mary Wickes was funny but
it was an off day for the rest of the cast. The actor playing the Gene
Nelson role tripped on the rope during "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas
City". Embarassing. I seem to have an empathetic reaction when people
make fools of themselves which is why I can't watch game shows or
political debates on TV.
Personally, I would never waste my time and money directing a
stage show. Unless there is a 'hard copy' of your work I consider it an
enormous waste of energy with no permanent record of what you've done.
Most actors don't agree with me but the bottom line is whatever they've
accomplished is preserved in my negatives and whatever they did on
stage brings the question, "Vas ya there Charlie?" Otherwise lost
forever. I had the bad experience of seeing some shows when the cast
was not in their prime and considering what it cost, I'd rather see
a DVD of the movie.
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