Oklahoma! (1955) is a movie musical based on the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It’s a story about farm girl Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones) and her two suitors cowboy Curly McLain (Gordon MacRae) and farmhand Jud Fry (Rod Steiger) as they try to win her over to take her to a town party.
On the morning of the party, Curly rides through the bright, vibrant cornfields, singing the iconic “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” along the way, to Aunt Eller’s (Charlotte Greenwood) farm to ask her niece, Laurey, to the party that evening. Offended that he waited until the morning of the party to ask her, Laurey agrees to go with Aunt Eller’s farmhand, Jud, just to spite him even though she clearly feels the same way about him as he feels about her.
In this movie, there’s not just one love triangle but two. Will Parker (Gene Nelson) has returned from Kansas City in hopes of marrying Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) but she is currently seeing travelling salesman Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert), who agreed to marry her in exchange for $50 from her father. Annie loves Will but her father approves of Ali. In the end, she chooses Will.
Later, several local families arrive at Aunt Eller’s farm to get ready for the party. One of the girls, Gertie (Barbara Lawrence) flirts with Curly. Curly isn’t interested but he plays along to make Laurey jealous. Laurey sees the two of them and gets upset, so she decides to sing “Many a New Day” about how she doesn’t need a man with the rest of the female ensemble. However, the afternoon drags on and Laurey becomes more miserable about Curly. She uses a bottle of smelling salts from Ali, who told her it was a magic elixir and slips into a long dream sequence. In Laurey’s dream, her and Curly were about to be married but Jud crashes the wedding and kills Curly. This sequence was beautifully shot with the story being told through music and dancing rather than dialogue. When she wakes up, Laurey realizes that Curly is the man for her but it’s too late for her to change her mind about who to bring to the party.
Throughout the movie, there has been a subtle rivalry between the farmhands and the cowboys. The party scene opens with a great song and dance number “The Farmer and the Cowman” about how they should get along since they share the same territory. At the party, Will says that he and Annie are now engaged and Laurey fires Jud from her aunt’s farm. After learning this news, Curly proposes to her and she happily accepts.
The movie ends with Curly and Laurey’s wedding, but things get out of control when Jud shows up and sets fire to a haystack, threatening to kill Curly with a knife. Curly and Jud fight it out like men tend to do but it ends with Jud falling on his own knife, killing him. After a makeshift trial at Aunt Eller’s, where Curly is found not guilty of murder, Curly and Laurey ride off into the sunset for their honeymoon, singing “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” again. Yes, it’s a cliché ending however, it works because everyone’s happy and they end up with who they were supposed to be with.