An Award Winning Western Musical is Left on the Cutting–Room Floor

gordon_macrae-rod_steiger-oklahoma-blogSixty years ago the award-winning Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical Oklahoma! was being finalized by Magna Theatre Corporation for theatrical release in October 1955. Surprisingly, the director was Oscar winner Fred Zinnemann, the Austrian-born director. He had won the Best Director award for From Here to Eternity in 1954, and received a Best Director nomination for High Noon in 1953. Oklahoma! is often over-looked as Zinnemann’s second Western—and first color film—according to biographer J.E. Smyth, in her new book Fred Zinnemann and the Cinema of Resistance from the University of Mississippi Press. The award-winning director was a hot commodity in Hollywood in the early 1950s when he was tapped to direct Oklahoma! Unfortunately, Smyth, who is an associate professor of history and comparative American studies at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, only spends a few paragraphs on the musical-Western. Creatively, Oklahoma! stands starkly in juxtaposition to the strong-willed director’s dramatic movies he filmed before and after he shot the musical on location in Arizona’s San Rafael Valley. She eludes to more intriguing research, especially about his intentional casting of actor Rod Steiger as “the only Jewish actor in the cast as the dark working-class outsider in the Golden West,” but does not elaborate any further on the importance of the musical, good or bad, on the enigmatic Austrian’s career. Nonetheless, she has written an excellent biography of the enigmatic director and the intellectual themes that drove Zinnemann creatively: “a director of resistant women and unknown, courageous men. …” I recommend Smyth’s biography of Zinnemann, especially for her in-depth analysis of High Noon. I do believe the British historian has left plenty of analysis of Zinnemann films on the cutting-room floor for another book—or a historian of Western films—to tackle the life and career of one of the most revolutionary directors in Hollywood history.

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