Video Picks & Passes
THE SOUND OF MUSIC 40TH ANN. EDITION: PICK
OKLAHOMA! — 50TH ANN. EDITION: PICK
OLD YELLER/SAVAGE SAM: PASS
Three old classics are new again on DVD racks in a week of tepid new releases. Spectacular new anniversary editions of the two best cinematic Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music, make previous editions obsolete. Classic childhood tearjerker Old Yeller is also back in an unnecessary pairing with its inferior sequel, Savage Sam.
Other than The Wizard of Oz, no Hollywood musical is as familiar, reassuring, and beloved of all ages as The Sound of Music. The new 40th-anniversary edition boasts an improved transfer that makes those mountain landscapes and shooting locations in Germany and Austria more beautiful than ever, as well as commentaries by director Robert Wise and stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, new documentary and reunion material, and much more.
The loosely fact-based story has its earliest origins in the memoirs of Baroness Maria von Trapp, and was turned into a stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their final collaboration (and their only joint effort to rival their first collaboration, Oklahoma!). Julie Andrews is the quintessential Maria — radiantly joyful, earnest and energetic, clear of diction and powerful in song. Her performance anchors the film: Any flicker of condescension or insincerity on her part, and the whole thing would have collapsed into treacle and camp. But cynics will search her face in vain: Her sincerity is absolute, and she sells the role and the film.
Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater. Breaking from both traditional musical comedies and Gilbert & Sullivan style operettas — in which show-stopping production numbers and comedy came first and character and story were secondary — Oklahoma! for the first time placed lyrics and dance at the service of character and story development. With this inversion, Rodgers & Hammerstein created a distinctively modern dramatic form, the musical play.
Many of the songs are worthy classics, including “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and “Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City.” A couple of omitted songs were less savory and aren't missed, and a few lyrics have been sanitized as well. Leads Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones (in her first role) bring ample charm as well as strong singing to the story's depiction of frontier romance as a battle of the sexes with plenty of fraternizing with the “enemy.” Rod Steiger makes menacing Jud Fry more human, and therefore creepier, than he's often portrayed; the film effectively debunks his creepy antisocial isolation and fantasy fixations, extolling instead healthy social engagement.
Robert Stevenson's Old Yeller occupies a unique place in our cultural heritage. “It's not just a dog story; it's a rite of passage for American children,” writes Annie Dingus in Texas Monthly. If you don't remember the sequel, Savage Sam, you're not alone; this inferior film has largely been forgotten, and justifiably so. If this two-fer were the only available DVD edition of Old Yeller, it would be worth it just for the one film. However, the Disney Vault edition of Old Yeller— without Savagex Sam— is still available at a lower price, making this repackaging unnecessary.
CONTENT ADVISORY: The Sound of Music contains nothing objectionable. Oklahoma! contains romantic complications, a few suggestive lyrics and references; some menace; content relating to the antagonist's licentiousness, and is appropriate for teens and up. Old Yeller contains menacing situations and a wrenching climax that may be hard on young viewers. Savage Sam contains much menace to children and sometimes deadly violence.
- November 13-19, 2005