Of all the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, OKLAHOMA! ($27) is definitely one of the best. Although the story is literally a trifle, OKLAHOMA! is a wonderfully humorous and romantic tale with a surprisingly dark side. While the story initially seems a little thin, much of the heart, soul and characterization comes out in the marvelous Rodgers & Hammerstein songs that include: Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin', The Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Kansas City, I Cain't Say No, Many A New Day, People Will Say We're In Love, Pore Jud Is Daid, Out Of My Dreams, The Farmer And The Cowman, All Er Nuthin', People Will Say We're In Love and Oklahoma.
The plot of OKLAHOMA! takes place in the title pre-statehood territory at the turn of the century and finds lovely young Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones) caught between two suitors. Curly McLain (Gordon MacRae) is the good-natured, if cocky cowboy with whom Laurey is truly enamored, while Jud Fry (Rod Steiger) is a loutish farm hand in the employ of Laurey’s aunt, Eller Murphy (Charlotte Greenwood). Although Laurey has no interest in Jud, she takes advantage of his feelings for her, by accepting Jud’s invitation to a dance with after a fight with Curly. Not surprisingly, things turn ugly, when Jud realizes he is not destined to get the girl. On a lighter note, OKLAHOMA! also includes a humorous subplot involving the fickled Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame), Persian traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) and Will Parker (Gene Nelson), the cowboy desperately trying to hold on to enough money to win the hand of said fickled female.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made the CinemaScope version of OKLAHOMA! available on DVD in a 2.55:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a truly fine looking transfer that produces a generally sharp and nicely defined image. Some mild softness crops up here and there, but nothing bothersome. Colors are strongly rendered and come across with a great deal of vibrancy. Blacks are accurately rendered, whites are clean and the picture produces smooth contrast and more than respectable shadow detail. The film elements appear well preserved and display few blemishes. Film grain is generally mild. Digital compression artifacts are nicely concealed.
For this release, OKLAHOMA! comes with a Dolby Digital 5.0 channel track. Considering the age of the recordings, the Dolby Digital is really quite good. The forward soundstage is dominant, with the rears providing some mild reinforcements, but nothing that ever calls attention to itself. Fidelity is surprisingly good for a vintage track, although it doesn’t compare with the current state of the art. The music is always pleasantly rendered without harshness or brittleness. During the musical numbers, vocals are strong and generally appealing. As for the dialogue, it is always easy to understand. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features a running audio commentary with Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization president Ted Chapin and film historian Hugh Fordin, plus Sing-along Subtitles and a Theatrical Teaser.
Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. The biggest supplement is the inclusion of the Todd-AO version of OKLAHOMA! that was filmed at the same time as the CinemaScope version. Based upon the technical specs of the format, the 2.20:1 aspect ratio, 16:9 enhanced Todd-AO version of OKLAHOMA! should be the superior presentation. Unfortunately, it is not. The Todd-AO elements do not appear to have aged as well as its CinemaScope counterparts and appear to be in need of restorative work. Supplementing this version is a running audio commentary by actress Shirley Jones and music historian Nick Redman.
Next up, CinemaScope Vs. Todd-AO is a twelve-minute program that compares the two wide screen processes. The Miracle Of Todd-AO comes from the original release of OKLAHOMA! and this eleven-minute program showcases the potential of the format. The March Of Todd-AO is a sixteen-minute travelogue that also shows off the capabilities of the format. Vintage Stage Excepts includes rare television performances from 1954 of two OKLAHOMA! musical numbers featuring Gordon MacRae and Florence Henderson. A Theatrical Trailer, Theatrical Teaser, Still Galleries and Sing-along Subtitles close out disc two.
Unquestionably, OKLAHOMA! is one of Rodgers & Hammerstein finest musicals. Fans are certain to enjoy the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD release for its fine CinemaScope presentation of the film. Until the Todd-AO film elements can be brought up to snuff, this version remains a curiosity on the set, instead of the definitive version of the film. Recommended with the above reservation.
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