The film Oklahoma! was released in 1955, but was based off the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, written by Lynn Riggs and Oscar Hammerstein. Oklahoma! was directed by Fred Zimmerman, produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr., and written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig. James Dean and Paul Newman actually tried out for the role of Curly but the part went to Gordon MacRae instead. In addition, Joanne Woodward was offered the role of Laurey, but it went to Shirley Jones who had performed in a stage production of Oklahoma!. The film was also the first feature film to be shot in the Todd-AO 70mm widescreen process as opposed to the usual 35mm format. The budget was around $6.8 million, made $7.1 million and was reviewed fairly well resulting in a “New York Times Critics Pick.” The film was also nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won the awards for Best Music Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording. Lastly, Oklahoma! achieved the honor of being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
The plot centers on a cowboy named Curly and his courtship of Laurey, a farm gal. Curly wants to take Laurey to the box social but she already agreed to go with the menacing farm hand, Jud. There’s also a comical subplot of Ado Annie and her love triangle between a foreign peddler, Ali Hakim and Will parker who has arrived back from Kansas City to marry her. On the way to the box social, Laurey decides to leave Jud behind and go find Curly at the social. There at the social, Curly must win a bidding war against Jud for Laurey where he gives up all he owns to outbid Jud. Later on, Curly marries Laurey, but Jud shows up and attempts to kill them by setting the haystack they are on top of on fire. Curly jumps down to fight Jud, but Jud falls on his knife and dies. The next day, Curly is quickly acquitted of any wrongdoing in the death of Jud, and he and Laurey ride off to the train.
The first main theme of Oklahoma! is the importance of traditional American family values. This theme is explored through the characters of Laurie and Curly. They spend the whole movie coming together, and in the end they become engaged, and Curly says that he is going to give up being a cowboy to settle down and start a family with Laurie. Marriage is a major goal for all of the characters and this reflects the idea that young people should be settling down and getting married at a young age. The second message in the film is a mistrust of outsiders. The character Jud Fry lives on the fringes of society, he does not own his own land, he’s a farmhand, and he does not have any family. From the beginning of the film the main characters show a dislike for Jud, and in the end their dislike for him is vindicated when he tries to kill Curly and Laurie. Another less sinister character that shows that outsiders should be mistrusted is Ali Hakim. He is a gypsy peddler who takes advantage of women. He uses women with no intention of marrying them, which is the opposite of what a good American boy would do.
The film Oklahoma! marks a departure from the previous films viewed in class such as The Manchurian Candidate as it relates less to McCarthyism and Communism and more to the sentiments and values of 1950s Cold War America. The film relates to our class discussion, especially the novel, Homeward Bound in regards to themes such as traditional gender roles, emphasis on marriage and subsequent security established at a young age, and the value of female sexuality as seen in Ado Annie’s storyline. In the discussion of how Oklahoma!’s popularity reflects on 1950’s values, members such of the class such as Savannah, Amir, and Damon brought up good points. They said that the movie shows an emphasis on turning to a traditional home, “going back to the roots”, and a simple home life with less vulnerability. Also, they mentioned the movie reflects on the 1950s consumerism and focus on the family.
By: John Parker, Grace Gealy, Marissa Ferrighetto
Class notes and discussion