After last week’s decent into bleakness with ”The Man with the Golden Arm” this week’s ”Oklahoma!” feels like the antidote. Gone is the heavy weight of the world, ugliness and unsavory drugs. Instead we have open skies in beautiful colors, pretty girls and handsome men with nothing in their heads but who they are going to marry.
It felt like relief… for about fifteen minutes. Then I started groaning.
I know, I know, this is a musical, it is all about the music and a musical should be happy and gay. But this is just super, super gay. In both senses of the word. I do not use this term often and I have nothing against gays, I just cannot describe this in any other way. Somewhere between the dancing cowboys, the colorful and very elaborate dresses and the sugar-laced sentiments on display this movie went far beyond my tolerance.
In earlier posts I have declared that I was turning around to actually like musical, but those were largely back in the thirties. The musicals of the fifties are in quick order reminding me why I disliked the genre in the first place. Where is the charm of Fred Astaire in “Top Hat”? Or the likeability of “Love me Tonight”? The tunes are fine enough, at least if you have a penchant for peasant romantics, it is the wrapping that is the problem.
The deep and engaging story is that the community of Whatever-town in Oklahoma is having a social event to which everybody, though mostly young and very agile people, are going. Curly (Gordon MacRae) and Laurey (Shirley Jones) are sweethearts, but teasing each other to the extent that Laurey instead asks farmhand Jud (Rod Steiger) to take her to the dance. Jud who has the hots for Laurey jumps at the opportunity and is over the moon. He is the brooding type and therefore a bad guy so when he declares his love for Laurey she feels assaulted and drops him off on the way to the ball. See, she was only using him to get back at Curly for being fresh with her. At the dance Jud challenges Curly in a bidding game for Laurey’s lunch box and losses since everybody is against him. He gets pissed off and it end with a fight.
This takes about two hours and fifteen minutes to unfold which allows for plenty of singing and dancing. It is telling that most unusually the Wikipedia entry on “Oklahoma!” does not include a plot synopsis.
There are only two interesting characters in this movie: Charlotte Greenwood’s Aunt Eller, who has an acerbic comment to everything, extremely welcome against all the sugar, and Jud, who is the only one of the lot who looks the part of a country boy and is annoyed with all those morons. I am supposed to be scared of what he will do to Laurey and Curly, but I found myself cheering for him, hoping he would cause a lot of trouble.
There is a side story with the Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Eddie Alberts, who apparently thinks that a Persian accent is something like Irish) and the frivolous Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame, would you believe it?), but that is just incredibly stupid and seem mainly to function as a humorous sidekick and to allow Ado Annie to say “Purty” as many times as possible. Now, I am not really sure what that word means, but I bet it is (giggle) naughty.
Of course I am focusing on the wrong things here. I should be writing about the singing and the dancing, so let me give it a shot. The singing… well I suppose it is nice enough, I just do not care much for peasant romantics (I dislike Country and Western music with a vengeance) and would have much preferred some Frank Sinatra. The dancing: that is something I much prefer to do rather than to look at it, so I cannot really comment on that, except, you know, dancing cowboys?
My wife surprised me by actually knowing “Oklahoma!”. She shuddered by the mention of it. Apparently it represents everything she despise about the fifties.
I had a thought (actually many, there is plenty of time for that) while watching the movie. This would make an interesting double feature with “The Grapes of Wrath”. The fantasy and the bitter reality. Wonder what the Oki’es of the depression thought of “Oklahoma!”?
Done with ’55. Now it is on to ’56.