Historic Restoration for the film OKLAHOMA!

OKLAHOMA! was shot in the rare format Todd-AO. On April 10th, for the first time ever, a fully restored version of the historic film will premiere at the TCM Film Festival. President Ted Chapin gives his take on this beautiful restoration.

Richard Rodgers on the set of OKLAHOMA! with film director Fred Zinnemann.

The film of OKLAHOMA! was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  They were theater guys.  But because OKLAHOMA! was the biggest hit Broadway had ever seen, everyone knew the movie was going to be an event.  A major event.  And so it was.  The newest movie technology was employed: Mike Todd’s widescreen process (which he nobly named after himself – Todd-AO) and it was shot in 70mm film stock – twice the normal size. 

Choreographer Agnes deMille and Orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett ratcheted up their Broadway contributions to fill the movie screen, and an authentic looking Oklahoma territory was found for the location shoot.  (OK, it was in southern Arizona, but no one complained about what it looked like.)  A cast of actors entirely appropriate to their roles – it was Rodgers & Hammerstein who were going to sell this movie – was hired, and they delivered in both the musical and dramatic aspect of the show. This was a movie that was going to be noticed and noted.

Film Marquee
Marquee for the 1955 film release of OKLAHOMA!

Then the years went by.  When I first got to this office, whatever prints of the movie – now reduced to the normal 35mm and made in Cinemascope – were housed in a warehouse in New Jersey, and when the few people who asked wanted to show it in a movie theater, someone would drag out the two hexagonal metal boxes that contained the many reels, and ship them to wherever the theater was.  When they would return, we would invariably get notes about what bad shape they were in, how in at least one instance one of the reels was actually from the one other movie Rodgers and Hammerstein made – SOUTH PACIFIC – and we’d probably refund the rental money.

Shirley Jones
Shirley Jones, star of OKLAHOMA!

First next important step: CBS/Fox Home Video came to us asking to license the movie to the nascent home video world.  They felt – accurately, as it turned out – that people might be prone to buying a cassette of a classic musical movie.  So they took the best of the prints we had, and created the first of a series of ‘improved’ versions of the film for their market.  The we turned over to the Samuel Goldwyn Company the distribution of the film itself, and under their supervision, a sparkling new 70mm Todd-AO version of the film was struck, and it played limited engagements in movie theaters around the country.  And more people came to see it than they ever expected, causing those runs to be extended.

Then the years went on, CBS/Fox became Fox Home Entertainment, the 70mm prints that Goldwyn had created were themselves run through many projectors and began to deteriorate.  Collectors started asking when the original movie was going to be restored.  Schawn Belston of Twentieth Century Fox explained to me, in his modest but brilliant manner, how important the film was to film archivists, and how important it was that Fox be allowed to go back to the elements of the film itself – all those things that we theater people don’t understand, like interpositives and nitrate negatives – to do a full restoration of the film.  Well, now the magic has happened.

Representing the original writers, producers, and owners of the film of OKLAHOMA!, I couldn’t be more thrilled.  I started to take a look at the Blu Ray of the restored version, thinking I’d just take a quick look.  Two and a half hours later, I was watching the final credits.   It’s pretty astonishing.

- Rodgers & Hammerstein President Ted Chapin


RThe newly restored film of OKLAHOMA! is now available on Amazon as part of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Blu-Ray collection - joining other classic R&H films including THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC, STATE FAIR and CAROUSEL. Restored at 4K resolution, OKLAHOMA! can be seen at its unusual original rate of 30 frames per second.

Order yours: The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection - Exclusively available on Amazon




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