The appearance of a restored version of the original Todd AO 30-frame-per-second roadshow version of Fred Zinneman’s Oklahoma! (’55) is easily the most exciting news about the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival (April 10th through 13th). I’ve never much liked this film, but I love the first 35 to 45 minutes of the original Todd AO version because of the amazingly clean and blur-free visuals. I’ve always gotten a perfunctory kick from the overture, of course, but that long, leisurely tracking shot with Gordon MacRae riding alongside the cornfield and singing “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning”…fantastic! Visually staid and perhaps a bit lazy, but it’s Todd AO!
Official TCM release on Oklahoma! restoration: “This unique 4k presentation, painstakingly restored from 65mm Todd-AO elements by Twentieth Century Fox and Fotokem, will be screened at 30 frames per second — the same frame rate as when the film was originally released in 1955. The original 6-track soundtrack has been also restored and re-mastered at Twentieth Century Fox, in collaboration with End Point Audio and Chase Audio by Deluxe.”
Here’s how I put it this morning to Fox Home Video’s Schawn Belston, who oversaw the restoration with colleagues at Fotokem:
“Great news about the Oklahoma! restoration, Schawn! As everyone knows Oklahoma! was shot and released in two separate versions in ’55 — the Todd AO 30-frame roadshow version and a 24-frame CinemaScope version that was shown in suburban and rural theatres nationwide, and now the Todd AO version, which looked dreadful on that 50th anniversary DVD of Oklahoma!, is finally back in its original pristine shape. Excellent!
“When that awful 2005 DVD of Oklahoma! came out with both an acceptable 24-frame version but with a blurry and mucky-looking Todd AO version, my heart sank. The Home Theatre Forum guys were all over this when it came out — they were as appalled as I was.
“I had been more or less pleased with the Todd-AO version presented on the old laserdisc from the mid 90s, and I had seen a very handsome special screening of the 30-frame version in 1984 after Tom Bodley of Crest Labs had done all the work.
“So this is fantastic news, Schawn. At least one of the two films made in 30-frame Todd AO has been restored. The 30-frame version of Around The World in 80 Days is lost forever, I take it.”
Leave it to L.A. Times reporter Susan King to announce the Oklahoma! restoration while ignoring the Todd AO 30-frame-per-second aspect.
The odd thing is that I’ve never been able to stay with Oklahoma! all the way through. I’ve always found it mediocre. I adore the first 20 or 25 minutes, and I can generally last until the end of “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City” or…wait, does that come before or after the “Many A New Day” sequence? Call it the first 35 or 40 minutes. And then it peters out for the simple reason that the story is ludicrous.
I’ve simply never been able to believe that sunny-hearted Laurie (Shirley Jones) would refuse to open her heart and just lay it on the line with the smug and boastful but undeniably handsome and partner-worthy Curly (Gordon MacRae) and instead allow herself to drift along with the attentions of smelly low-life Judd Fry (Rod Steiger). It’s completely insane — hot blondes never give unwashed, thick-fingered brutes the time of day — and yet that’s the plot of the movie and the play. Will Laurie end up with Judd or Curly?
All I can recall about the last third is that the ensemble sings “The Cowboy and the Farmer Should Be Friends.” And then Judd dies….how does that happen again? Curly has something to do with it, I think. I also remember that the community decides to let the investigation slide. They basically say, “That’s okay, Curly…he was an asshole anyway so let’s just call it an accident.”
Here’s how I summarized the state of Oklahoma! in a years-old piece called “Remains of the Film”:
“The 70mm Todd AO version of Oklahoma! was shot separately from the 35 mm version, which is what most general audiences saw when it was released in 1955. The Todd AO version, shot in 30 frames per second, looked pretty good on the old laser disc, but the elements had gone south by the time the 2005 DVD came out. For some reason a DVD rendering of this version was included, and it looks like hell.
“The responsibility for this long-gone loss is with 20th Century Fox home video, although it wasn’t Shawn Belston‘s fault. (He wasn’t running the show back then.) The elements of 30-frame Todd AO version of Around the World in 80 Days are also deteriorated and shot to hell.”