Oklahoma! 1955 The first production photographed in Todd-AO. Based on the 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Directed by Fred Zinneman. If you’ve only seen the most recent live iteration of this, definitely rent the musical. Oklahoma Territory. Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones in her film debut) is courted by cowboy, Curly McLain (Gordon MacRae), and lusted after by creepy hired hand, Jud Fry (Rod Steiger). Second banana relationships feature Ado Annie, who can’t say “no” (Gloria Grahame), cowboy Will Parker (the terrific Gene Nelson), and Will’s competition, itinerant peddler, Ali Hakim (excellent Eddie Albert).
Everything comes to a head with a box social. Trying to make Curly jealous backfires on Laurie. Annie is pressed to make a choice. With statehood looming, farmers and cowboys agree to a détente. Julie and Curly marry. Jud tries to murder his rival. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Carousel 1956 Based on the 1945 Rogers & Hammerstein musical which in turn was based on Ferenc Molnár’s play, Lilliom. Directed by Henry King. Seemingly innocent mill worker, Julie Jordon (Shirley Jones), accepts carnival barker, Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae), for the irresponsible, womanizing drifter he is. Resolving to change his life for this, his one love, Billy finds a lifetime of old habits die hard.
When he discovers Julie’s pregnant, he lets his friend, Jigger (Cameron Mitchell), talk him into a robbery, gets killed, and, fifteen years later, is allowed back on earth for a single day to let his family know he loved them. A parallel story involves Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Barbara Ruik), and her fisherman beau, Enoch Snow (Robert Rounseville). Rent on Amazon Prime.
April Love 1957 Based on the novel Phantom Filly by George Agnew Chamberlain. Directed by Henry Levin. Pleasant, pretty, predictable. Convicted of joyriding in a stolen car, Nick Conover (Pat Boone hard to believe as a bad boy) is sent to his aunt and uncle’s horse farm in Kentucky as part of a parole agreement. Aunt Henrietta Bruce (Jeanette Nolan) and Uncle Jed (Arthur O’Connell) haven’t seen him since he was a child. Their neighbors, the Templetons, own a lavish ranch and have two attractive daughters, sophisticate Fran (Dolores Michaels) and tomboy Liz (Shirley Jones). Need you ask who Nick chooses?
The film has harness racing, miscommunication, comeuppance, romance, and the requisite happy ending. (We could use a few more of those.) A remake of Home in Indiana (1944), it offers “two of the nicest-looking young singers to be found anywhere, a batch of pleasant tunes, some nifty Kentucky scenery in good color and absolutely no plot.” Critic Bosley Crowther. Stream on VIMEO, DIRECTV, YouTube.
The Music Man 1962 Based on the Broadway musical by Meredith Wilson. Produced and directed by Morton DaCosta who also directed on stage. 1912. Traveling salesman, “Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston), arrives in River City, Iowa, and cons the town into buying musical instruments and uniforms for their kids to form a band – rather than be corrupted by the local pool hall. As money pours in, he attempts to seduce distrustful local librarian, Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones).
He wins over her shy, little brother Winthrop (Ron Howard, yes, that now well known director Ron Howard), but the lady is an uphill climb. Also out to discredit him is Mayor Shinn (Paul Ford). The instruments arrive. Pressed into demonstration, Hill leads the untutored kids utilizing “The Think Method.” They sound terrible, but parents are enthralled.
The hero finds himself packed, but hesitant to leave. Marian, who has discovered Harold’s gambit, is now in love and defends him for bringing the town together. Cue big production number in which the kids march and play like virtuosos. Bing Crosby and Cary Grant turned down the role of Harold Hill. Uncomplicated, unadulterated fun. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father 1963 based on a 1961 novel by Mark Toby. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. A sweet, clean romantic comedy. Eddie Corbett (Ron, then Ronny Howard) has decided his widowed father Tom Corbett (Glen Ford) has been alone too long. First candidate, sexy Dollye Daly (Stella Steven) falls in love with Tom’s colleague (Jerry Van Dyke). Rita Behrens (Dina Merrill), to whom his dad’s attracted, is terrible with the boy. Divorced next-door neighbor Elizabeth Marten (Shirley Jones) loves Eddie and is, of course perfect for Tom, but it takes him the film to realize it. Of course. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Cheyenne Social Club 1970 Directed by Gene Kelly. Definitely a curiosity. Buddies John O’Hanlan (Jimmy Stewart) and Harley Sullivan (Henry Fonda) are itinerant Texas cowboys. John gets a letter (two years in transit) from a Wyoming lawyer telling him his brother died leaving him a business. He immediately saddles up and rides to Cheyenne with Harley unasked, in tow. John is quiet and conservative, Harley the opposite.
Apparently the cowboy has inherited The Cheyenne Social Club, an upscale brothel with pretty young women so happy in their work, you’d think this was a Disney crossover or at least a musical. The house is run by Jennie (Shirley Jones). While the querulous Harley takes full advantage of their situation (and multiple open arms), John decides to close the venue down and make the building into a boarding house. He has high falutin’ ideas about being “a man of property.”
At first welcomed like a king by the town, he’s then ostracized. At this point Jennie is beat up by a local ruffian. Furious, John goes after the man strapping on a gun he’s barely ever used. Because of something Harley inadvertently does, John’s shot hits home. The man dies. Unfortunately, the victim has a vengeful family. The two characters have originality, though Fonda spends a lot of time with his jaw dropped, as does the situation. Jones is attractive if you discount dreadful hair pieces. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock Photo: Shirley Jones at the “Oklahoma” Restoration Premiere at the Opening Night Gala 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theater on April 10, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA