Sunday, July 8, 2012

#692. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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 good many kids, my brother and I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. Several years ago, the two of us - who hadn’t seen the film in well over a decade - sat down to watch it again. It was during this viewing that 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 this a musical or something?” he asked.

At the time, I laughed. Of course The Wizard of Oz is a musical! But as I thought about it, I understood his reaction. The Wizard of Oz has an awful lot going for it. So much, in fact, that you quickly find yourself wrapped up in all of its nuances.

Yes, it's a musical, featuring some of the most memorable tunes in the history of American cinema. For my brother and I, though, and tons of other kids, The Wizard of Oz was, first and foremost, a fantasy adventure, with fascinating creatures, showdowns in an enchanted forest between the forces of good and evil, and a wizard who, thanks to a few flashy special effects, looks pretty amazing (before the "big reveal", that is). You certainly can’t fault a young boy for not paying attention to the music, especially when there were 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 wants only to return home, to be with her beloved Auntie Em (Clara Blandick). Moments after Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke) gives her a pair of enchanted ruby slippers, Dorothy sets off down a 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 her 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 the Emerald City.

The Wizard of Oz is chock full of fun and excitement, and features 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 to follow. But with all due respect to Ms. Hamilton, nothing scared me as much as that 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 shaken, more so than anything that happened in Oz.

In addition, the movie is jam-packed with memorable scenes.  Dorothy's first entrance into Oz, where she leaves her black-and-white world behind for one of vibrant colors, is magical, as are her various encounters with her new "friends", especially Ray Bolger's Scarecrow (for me, he steals the show). Then, of course, there's the music, from Judy Garland's signature tune "Over the Rainbow" to the rousing number with the Munchkins, who belt out "Follow The Yellow Brick Road", the music is the perfect touch to what is already a wonderfully imaginative motion picture.

I've now seen The Wizard of Oz with both of my sons, and got a kick out of how wide-eyed they remained through 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.


AK Williams said...

Unfortunately not one of my favourites & my two daughters are not that keen either. My partner he likes it & tries on some occasions suggest to watch it.
I know it's meant to be a classic but it always seems so dark. Maybe one day I'll watch it & see it differently.

DVD Infatuation said...

@H.E.: I understand what you mean...the movie is definitely dark for a children's film (which is probably one of the things I really like about it!)

Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by.

ThePopcornPreacher said...

I watched this film a while ago and have to say that, even as an 8 year old boy obsessed with football and gaming, this was a pretty enjoyable adventure. I agreed with many of your points but none more so than the musical one. I for one forgot that it was a musical. However in my defence and your brothers I would say that it is not a traditional musical and that the songs don't interrupt the narrative in the same way.