Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II
by Alix Cohen
The songs, the dancing!
State Fair 1945 An adaptation of the 1933 film, itself an adaption of the novel by Phil Stong. Music and lyrics by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine. Remade in 1962. The Frake family attends the Iowa State Fair garnering 4H prizes and love. Lyrical and uncomplicated. Rent on Amazon Prime
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. 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, but is killed by him in self defense. The town finds the groom not guilty. Rent on Amazon Prime
Carousel 1956 Based on the 1945 Rogers & Hammerstein musical which in turn was based on Ferenc Molnar’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.) Free- Amazon Prime & Netflix
The King & I 1956 Based on the 1951 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, which, in turn, was based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and The King of Siam inspired by memoirs by Anna Leonowens, school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner in a role he played almost to the end of his life.
Widowed schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens arrives in Siam under contract to teach dozens and dozens of children fathered by the king. She and her majesty lock horns immediately, but over time, grow to respect and even love one another as she nudges his country towards progress the young prince will continue. A second love story is that of Tuptim (Rita Moreno), gifted to the king her love, Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas). Remember, these were the days when “exotic” looking actors were asked to represent every nationality. You may cry at the end. Rent on Amazon Prime
South Pacific 1958 Based on the 1949 Rodgers & Hammerstein Musical which is inspired by James A. Michener’s Tales of The South Pacific. Directed by Joshua Logan. Nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) is powerfully attracted to plantation owner, Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi.) When she discovers the widower has two children by a native wife, however, she can’t get past a bigoted upbringing. Emile feels all is lost and volunteers for a reconnaissance suicide mission.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Joseph Cable (John Kerr) is spirited to the romanticized island Bali Ha’i by Private Luther Billis (Ray Walston), who’s interested in cheap souvenirs and bare breasted women. There, handicraft mogul Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) introduces the officer to her beautiful, innocent young daughter Liat, hoping for a match. The two fall in love, but again, learned prejudice kicks in. Cable volunteers for the dangerous mission with De Becque. One of the men dies, one returns to an enlightened love. As provocative as it is entertaining. Rent on Amazon Prime
Flower Drum Song 1961 based on the 1958 musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein which, in turn, was based on the novel by Chin Yang Lee. Directed by Henry Koster. The first major Hollywood feature film to have a majority Asian cast in a contemporary Asian-American story. Mei Li (Myoshi Umeki) has illegally emigrated from China to San Francisco, having been promised in marriage to Sammy Fong (Jack Soo.) She’s subdued and traditional, at first warily looking forward to a new life. He owns a glitzy nightclub and is involved with lead showgirl, Linda Low (Nancy Quan). It’s seemingly timid Mei Li who unexpectedly figures a way out of the situation, paving the way for two happier marriages.
The piece centers on adjusting custom to more contemporary situations. Filled with production numbers, it’s an entertaining, if unsubtle fable. Free on Amazon Prime
The Sound of Music 1965 Adaptation of the 1959 musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Directed by Robert Wise. Interestingly, rights were first purchased in 1956 with Audrey Hepburn in mind to star. Salzburg 1938. High spirited postulant Maria (Julie Andrews) has great difficulty with rules of her abbey. Thinking she might be happier outside, the Mother Abbess sends her to Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) to act as governess to his seven children. Her employer runs his home like a military barracks.
Maria brings warmth, cheer, and, notably, music into a household that grows to love her. Unwittingly falling for the captain, she runs away, agreeing to return only until his marriage to a cold baroness. Von Trapp, at last, sees the light and instead weds Maria. Austria is annexed by the Third Reich. The appalled captain is conscripted into the navy. On the night of the family’s performance at The Salzberg Music Festival, they slip away and are hidden by the nuns. In true Hollywood fashion, a romantic liaison for oldest daughter Liesl saves them from capture. The family make their way over the Swiss Alps into safety. Also with Eleanor Parker, Peggy Wood, Richard Hayden, and Angela Cartwright.
In reality, third child, Louisa has stated her father was much less authoritarian, their living style less grand, and her stepmother prone to temper. There are two camps here, those that declare this corny and unrealistic (even for a musical) and those for whom it’s beloved. Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Music. Rent on Amazon Prime