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Monday, May 26, 2008

OKLAHOMA! (1955)

Pitch-perfect casting (Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, the irreplaceable Charlotte Greenwood, Gene Nelson & Gloria Grahame) makes this ultra-faithful version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic work as well as it does. It was particularly tough to shoot since technical differences in lighting & framing meant everything had to be filmed twice, first in the Todd-AO process and then relit & restaged for CinemaScope. Rumor held that the long unavailable Todd-AO version had a significant edge in both picture quality & in the performances; and it does. But the gains are compromised in the current DVD edition which boasts an all but flawless ‘Scope print and a Todd-AO print with considerable image deterioration, presumably from the original elements. (Flaws belied by an earlier LaserDisc release. Go figure.) Still, at its best, the 30 fps Todd-AO image is so lifelike, it’s like looking out a window. Helming such a formidable stage success, Fred Zinnemann is largely concerned with creating real cinema out of stage aesthetics; no small thing. But he also shows the range of his natural directing chops in moments like juxtaposing the realism of Jud Fry’s miserable hut against the brightly colored stylization of an outdoor community social. Jumping from Method Acting to Musical Comedy without missing a beat.  NOTE: That's a theater poster from the Boston stage try-out.  Before it got its famous title, but already showing an exclamation point.

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