Arson. Knife fights. Attempted assault. Vivid nightmares. Relentless jokes about promiscuity.
And I thought a film from the Golden Age of Broadway would guarantee some wholesome mother-daughter bonding time for Holly and me.
Quick, what are the images that come to mind when I say “Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma!’?” The surrey with the fringe on top, right? A box social? A square dance scene full of swinging skirts and prancing feet? A cowboy singing to the blue sky amidst waving stalks of corn?
It turned out there was a lot I’d forgotten. I lost track of how many times during the two-and-a-half hours that Holly and I spent huddled under a comfy afghan on the couch watching the DVD together I said “Is this too scary for you?” She just shook her head; the truth is she’s seen worse, thanks primarily to Tim’s affection for the entire Star Wars sequence and a few slightly graphic video games.
But still, this wasn’t the Oklahoma! I remembered at all, which makes me think maybe I’d never actually watched the film from beginning to end. In fact, it’s quite likely that my familiarity with this musical, as with many others of its ilk, may have come primarily from attending a high school performance of it when I was about twelve years old. And that would have been the stage version, of course; it might be that this was my first screening of the film.
I thought I knew the story fairly well, but what Holly and I viewed last night bore so little resemblance to my memory that it made me think twice about just how I knew the details. When I was growing up, my grandparents had an extensive collection of Broadway musical soundtracks on vinyl; when we visited them in the summer, my sisters and I would spend a fair amount of time playing the records. I think I probably read the liner notes to Oklahoma at some point and confused that with seeing the film.
So just in case any other parents of nine-year-old girls get the same urge I did to spend a cozy evening taking in an old-fashioned flick together, let me remind you of a few forgotten highlights of Oklahoma: there’s an attempted date rape in a carriage (which is thwarted when the horses bolt and take the carriage on a terrifying ride that ends in a near-collision with a train), a villain who tries to trick the hero into stabbing himself in the chest with a switchblade, a couple who nearly burn to death when the haystack they’re standing atop is intentionally set on fire, a predatory Peeping Tom, a scene where a man encourages his nemesis to seriously consider suicide, and a female character whose love of physical attention from men is the source of constant joking but who by today’s standards would likely be labeled both mentally challenged and co-dependent.
The film also includes the heroine's nightmare, which appears to be induced by hallucinogenic bath salts, about being taken prisoner in a bordello while a twister forms in the background. It occurred to me my daughter might be the first kid her teacher had ever heard complain that she had slept poorly because her mother made her sit through a Rogers and Hammerstein production.
Introducing our kids to timeless classics of stage and screen is one of the pleasures of parenthood, but next time I think I’ll pre-screen the production before we cozy up for a mother-daughter movie night. Either that or we’ll just watch Star Wars, where Holly already knows all the scary parts even if I don’t. This time she can tell me when to close my eyes or block my ears.