Directed By: Victor Fleming
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
Tag line: "The Mighty Miracle Show That Is the Talk of America!"
Trivia: Originally contracted for six weeks, Margaret Hamilton ended up working for 23
Like a lot of kids, my brother and I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz on TV, and several years ago, the two of us, who hadn’t seen the film in well over a decade, sat down to watch it once again. It was during this viewing my brother said something that took me completely by surprise. Shortly after Dorothy met the Scarecrow on her journey to the Emerald City, as the latter was launching into his rendition of If I Only had a Brain, my brother turned to me with a stunned look on his face.
“What the hell...is this a musical or something?” he asked.
At the time, I laughed. Of course The Wizard of Oz is a musical! But I know where he was coming from. The Wizard of Oz is a movie with an awful lot going for it. So much, in fact, that you quickly find yourself wrapped up in all of its nuances. Clearly, it's a musical, featuring some of the most memorable tunes in the history of American cinema. Yet for me and my brother, The Wizard of Oz was, first and foremost, a fantasy adventure, complete with fascinating creatures, showdowns in an enchanted forest, and a wizard who, thanks to a few flashy special effects, looked pretty amazing. You certainly can’t fault a young boy for not paying attention to the music, especially when there are so many other things to distract him.
The story is timeless. Dorothy (Judy Garland), a Kansas farm girl, is whisked away by a tornado to the magical Land of Oz, a world inhabited by Munchkins, witches, and a Wizard who can grant your every wish. Dorothy's wants only to return home to be with her beloved Auntie Em (Clara Blandick), and just after Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke) gives her a pair of enchanted ruby slippers, Dorothy sets off down the yellow brick road that will guide her to the Emerald City, where the all-knowing Wizard resides. If anyone can get her back to Kansas, Glinda assures Dorothy, it’s the Wizard of Oz. During the journey, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who wishes he had a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) who longs for a heart, and a Lion (Bert Lahr) who lacks courage. Together, the four make their way along the yellow-brick road in the hopes the Wizard is as powerful as everyone says. But the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) has been tracking their progress, and, planning to steal the ruby slippers for herself, intends to capture Dorothy before she ever reaches her destination.
The Wizard of Oz is chock full of excitement and fun, including some fairly intense sequences (for a kid, anyway) involving Margaret Hamilton, perfectly cast as the Wicked Witch of the West. With her green face and ear-piercing cackle, this character laid the groundwork for many of the cinematic witches that followed in her footsteps. But with all due respect to Ms. Hamilton, nothing scared me as much as the scene in Kansas, where the twister is bearing down on Dorothy’s farmhouse. For a movie made in 1939, the effect was remarkably realistic, and always left me more shaken than anything that happened in Oz.
I've now seen The Wizard of Oz with both of my sons, and got a kick at how wide-eyed they remained throughout most of the film. Yet when I asked what they thought of it, my oldest said “I didn’t really like the music as much as the other stuff”.
That’s okay. In a few years, he just might.