Oklahoma! (1955) Musical Film Directed by Fred Zinnemann

The wrong director, Fred Zinnemann, got assigned to direct the big-screen version of the Broadway musical hit, Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! (1956 film poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

The seminal 1943 Broadway production, often hailed as the musical that changed the course of the American theater from revues to book musicals, focusing on character and plot.

The songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are great, but Zinnemann, a humorless director who knew nothing about musicals, gave it a pedestrian treatment that resulted in one of the weakest adaptations of the 1950s.

Zinnemann got the assignment due to his increased status in the industry, a result of winning Best Director, Best Picture and other Oscars for From Here to Eternity, the most hailed movie of 1953.

The fault is not entirely his. Screenwriter Sonya Levien and William Ludwig could not find an interesting way to open up the musical cinematically, and the composers’ insistence that not one word be changed from their stage version didn’t help either.

Still, “Oklahoma! was very popular with audiences, due to their familiarity with the Broadway production and/or glorious music.

Oscar Context

The movie received four Oscar nominations, winning two:

Sound Recording to Fred Hynes (of the Todd-AO Department)

Scoring of a Musical Picture to Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton, and Adolph Deutsch.

The other two nominations were for Color Cinematography to multiple nominee Robert Surtees, and Film Editing to Gene Ruggiero and George Boemler.

However, the Cinematography Oscar went to another Robert, Robert Burk, for Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” and the Editing to Charles Nelson and William A. Lyon for Joshua Logan’s “Picnic.”

Gordon MacRae as Curly McLain
James Mitchell as Curly in the dream sequence (dancer)
Shirley Jones as Laurey Williams
Bambi Linn as Laurey in the dream sequence (dancer)
Gene Nelson as Will Parker
Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie Carnes
Charlotte Greenwood as Aunt Eller
Rod Steiger as Jud Fry
Eddie Albert as Ali Hakim
James Whitmore as Andrew Carnes
Barbara Lawrence as Gertie Cummings
Jay C. Flippen as Skidmore
Roy Barcroft as Marshal


Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, based on Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Green Grow The Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Music by Richard Rodgers
Cinematography Robert Surtees, Floyd Crosby
Edited by George Boemler, Gene Ruggiero
Color process Eastman Color
Distributed by Magna Theatre Corporation (70mm)
RKO Radio Pictures (35mm)

Release date: October 11, 1955 (Rivoli Theatre)

Running time: 145 minutes
Budget $6.8 million
Box office $7.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)