Film/Classic logo

The Wizard of Oz

Directed by Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Victor Fleming and King Vidor, with Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley and Margaret Hamilton, 101 minutes, 1939

Cover of DVD

Cover of DVD

By Carter B. Horsley

"The Wizard of Oz" is a magical trip into a child's fantasies, full of fun and fright. It exudes gaminess, has an charming esprit de corps, and an inexorable momentum through myriad adventures to happiness.

It is about attitude, mindset. It is about the comfort of home and friends. It is very artfully fundamental and comically courageous.

It's grand.

In his fine book, "The Great Movies," (Broadway Books, 2002), film critic Roger Ebert provides the following commentary:

"The Wizard of Oz has a wonderful surface of comedy and music, special effects and excitement, but we still watch it six decades later because its underlying story penetrates straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood, stirs them, and then reassures them. As adults, we love it because it reminds of a journey we have taken....Garland's whole persona projected a tremulous uncertainty, a wistfulness....Her friends on the Yellow Brick Road (the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion) were projections of every child's secret fears. Are we real? Are we ugly and silly? Are we brave enough? "

Most of the actors played dual roles: Ray Bolger plays the Hunk and the Scarecrow; Bert Lahr plays Zeke and the Cowardly Lion; Jack Haley plays Hickory and the Tin Man; Margaret Hamilton plays Miss Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. Frank Morgan plays Professor Marvel, the Emerald City Doorman, the cabbie, the Wizard's guard, and the Wizard of Oz.

In his excellent review at http://www.filmsite.org, Tim Dirks noted that initially "the film was not commercially successful, but it was critically acclaimed."

"The popular film was brilliantly adapted," Mr. Dirks continued, "from L. Frank Baum's venerated children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (written in 1899 and published in 1900) by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and E.A. Woolf, and a team of many uncredited scriptwriters (including Arthur Freed, Herman Mankiewicz, Sid Silvers, and Ogden Nash). The Wizard of Oz was first performed on-stage in 1902-03 in Chicago and New York. Then, it was made into a silent film in 1910 (as the short film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with 9 year old Bebe Daniels as Dorothy), again in 1921, and in 1925 (with comedian Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame portraying the Tin Woodsman). Other versions included a Canadian black and white feature The Wizard of Oz (1933), a short animated version in 1938, The Wiz (1978) - Universal's Afro-American film of the Broadway musical, and Disney's live-action fantasy Return to Oz (1985)."

"The film," according to Mr. Dirks, perfectly integrated the musical numbers (songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. ('Yip') Harburg) with the action of the plot, enhancing and advancing the suspenseful narrative. Many of the film's characters played two roles - one in Kansas and their counterparts in the Land of Oz, the locale of the young hero's troubled dreams. The scenes in bleak Kansas were shot in drab sepia tone, with brilliant, vibrant, 3-strip Technicolor used for the fantasy scenes in the journey to Oz. The special effects, by Arnold Gillespie, included the cyclone sequence, the flying winged monkeys, the Emerald City views, the poppyfield, and the message written by the witch in the sky: "Surrender Dorothy." "The magic world of OZ was named after the alphabetical letters O - Z on the bottom drawer of Baum's file cabinet," Mr. Dirks observed.

"The Wizard of Oz" was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture (producer Mervyn LeRoy), Best Color Cinematography (Hal Rosson), Best Interior Decoration (Cedric Gibbons), Best Special Effects, Best Song ("Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg) and Best Original Score (Herbert Stothart). It won the two awards for music and Judy
Garland was given a special award as a "screen juvenile." Mr. Dirks noted that Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin had been considered to play Dorothy Gale, Judy Garland's role, but they were unavailable. Judy Garland had recently appeared in the 1938 film, "Love Finds Andy Hardy" and the 1939 film "Babes in Arms." "Judy Garland," Mr. Dirks observed, "was far too old for the part of young Dorothy in Baum's storybook - so her breasts had to be bound to flatten them and make her appear younger." As adorable and cute as Temple and Durbin were, the choice of Garland was inspired and she would go on to become one of the 20th Century's legendary singers.

"There were a total of four directors," according to Mr. Dirks, "who collaborated in the making of the film: first, Richard Thorpe (for two weeks) and then George Cukor (for two or three days). Victor Fleming (the credited director) was involved for four months, but was hired away by David O. Selznick to direct Gone With the Wind (1939). An uncredited King Vidor finished the production in ten more days, which consisted mostly of completing the film's opening and closing sepia sequences in Kansas. The back-story behind the chaos and confusion created by the many Munchkin extras was strangely and improbably documented in director Steve Rash's Under the Rainbow (1981), a tasteless comedy set in 1938 during the filming of Oz, that starred Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, and Eve Arden."

The movie opens in sepia-tone with adopted orphan Dorothy Gale running down a country road in Kansas with her small black terrier, Toto, rushing home to her guardians, "Uncle Henry," played by Charles Grapewin, and "Auntie Em," played by Clara Blandick, to complain about their unpleasant neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, played by Margaret Hamilton, who hit Toto with a rake because he chased her cat.

Dorothy proceeds to discuss the problem with the neighbor with the farmhands. Hunk, played by Ray Bolger, tells her to use her brain and not walk near the neighbor's house. Zeke, played by Bert Lahr, advises her to have courage, and Hickory, played by Jack Haley, is busy with a contraption. Mr. Dirks wrote that he was building "a tornado-stopping device in an attempt to become famous - something that was cut from the script."

Auntie Em scolds Dorothy who wanders off and sings "Somewhere Over The Rainbow, away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me. Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why, can't I? Way up high there's a land that I've heard of, once in a lullaby. Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Some day I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me where troubles melt like lemon drops."

Just then, in a memorable image accompanied with ominous music, Dorothy's fantasies are shattered by the appearance of a stern-faced, ugly Miss Gulch riding her creaky bicycle down the country road toward the farm. After leaning her bicycle against the fence, she speaks to Henry to complain about Dorothy (actually about Dorothy's dog):

Miss Gulch arrives at the farm to inform Uncle Henry that Toto is a "menace to the community" and that she is going to take him to the sheriff to have him destroyed, and that if he is not given over she will "take" the farm. Uncle Henry puts Toto into her bicycle basket. Miss Gulch bicycles away with Toto but he escapes and runs back to Dorothy, who decides to run away with Toto. They soon come upon Professor Marvel, played by Frank Morgan, on a carnival wagon. He acts as a fortune teller and surmises she is running away. Dorothy wants to go away with him to "seel all the crowned heads of Europe." He consults his crystal ball and sees a woman crying because "someone has just about broken her heart" and he persuades her to go home just as a storm appears on the horizon.

The storm is a twister and Dorothy rushes into the farmhouse but cannot get into the basement where the others have taken shelter. She goes into her room but the window frame breaks away and hits her on the head knocking her unconscious. She awakens and the house is spinning in the air inside the twister and she sees a cow, an old lady knitting in a rocking chair, two men rowing a boat and Miss Gulch on her bicycle Miss Gulch suddenly becomes a witch riding a broomstick.

The house lands on the ground and Dorothy senses she is no longer in Kansas and the movie changes from sepia to Technicolor. Everything is extremely colorful and she hears voices singing and sees a yellow-brick path. She tells Toto that "We must be over the rainbow." A colored ball of light appears and becomes Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, played by Billie Burke. Glinda tells Dorothy she has been summoned by the Munckins because "a new Witch just dropped a house on the Wicked Witch of the East." Dorothy says that witches are ugly, but Glinda responds that "only bad witches are ugly," adding that "The Munckins are happy because you have freed them from the Wicked Witch of the East...And you are their national heroine."

Dorothy tries to explain:

"It really was no miracle, what happened was just this. The wind began to switch, the house to pitch. And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch. Just then the Witch, to satisfy an itch, went flying on her broomstick thumbin' for a hitch. And oh, what happened then was rich. The house began to pitch, the kitchen took a slitch. It landed on the Wicked Witch in the middle of a ditch. Which was not a healthy sit-uation for the Wicked Witch..."

The Munchkins sing "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead!"

Their celebrations, however, are interrupted when the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton, appears in the midst of red smoke wearing a pointed black hat and holds Dorothy responsible for her sister's death.

The Wicked Witch of the West wants her sister's red-sequined slippers that on still on her sister's feet protruding from under the crashed farmhouse. When she reaches for them, however, they disappear under the farmhouse and the Good Witch waves her star wand and they appear on Dorothy's feet. Mr. Dirks notes that in the original novel the slippers were silver. The Wicked Witch of the West is told by the Good Witch that she has no power in Munchkin-land. The Wicked Witch warns that she will bide her time and warns Dorothy to "stay out" of her way: "I'll get you, my pretty - and your little dog, too!" She then disappears in an explosion of smoke.


Dorothy wants to return to Kansas but Glinda urges her to travel on the yellow brick road to Emerald City in the Land of Oz to seek help from the Wizard of Oz. She also tells Dorothy not to take off the ruby sleepers.

The Munchkins sing "Follow the Yellow-Brick Road" and Dorothy marches off. "You're off the see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the Munchkins sing.


Soon Dorothy is alone on the road with Toto and they come to an intersection. A voice from nearby cornstalks tells them "that way is a very nice way." Toto barks at a scarecrow who then says "It's pleasant down that way too!," adding "Of course, people do go both ways." The scarecrow, played by Ray Bolger, explains that he cannot make up his mind because he does not have a brain, "only straw."

Dorothy helps him off his pole and he falls unsteadily to the ground, losing some of his straw, which he tries to gather up as a crow lands on him to peck away some straw. "You see, I can't even scare a crow...I'm a failure because I haven't got a brain," he signs and then sings "If I Only Had A Brain." Dorothy tells him that if her scarecrow in Kansas could do what he does the "crows would be scared to pieces" and he asks her if he went along with her would the Wizard give him some brains. She tells him that a witch is mad at her and that he might therefore get in trouble, but he states he is scared of nothing "excepted a lighted match" and would risk his life to get a brain, adding that he will not be any trouble because he "don't eat a thing" and he will not try to manage things because he cannot think. Dorothy agrees to take him along

Before long they run into the Tinman, played by Jack Haley, with an ax in his hand. He is immobile because he has rusted. Dorothy finds an oil can and squirts oil into his joints and he recovers, but admits he has another problem: he has no heart - "the tinsmith forgot to give me a heart." He sings "If I Only Had a Heart."

Dorothy asks him along so he can ask the Wizard for a heart.

They then are accosted by Cowardly Lion, played by Bert Lahr, who declares "Put 'em up, put 'em uuuuup!" Toto barks and Cowardly Lion chases him, but Dorothy slaps him on the nose, making him cry. "What did you do that for? I didn't bite him," sobs Cowardly Lion. Dorothy calls him "nothing but a great big Coward." "You're right. I am a coward....I even scare myself. Look at the circles under my eyes. I haven't sleep in weeks," Cowardly Lion replies. The Tinman asks why doesn't he count sheep. "That doesn't do any good. I'm afarid of 'em," replies Cowardly Lion.

Dorothy, not surprisingly at this point, invites Cowardly Lion to join them, assuring him that she is sure the Wizard "could give you some courage." He then sings "If I Only Had The Nerve." "I'm afarid there's no denying. I'm just a dandy lion."

They all then dance through the woods singing "We're Off To See The Wizard," unaware that the Wicked Witch is watching them from her castle with her band of winged monkeys.

Dorothy and her new friends see in the distance the Emerald City, an Art Deco-style confection of skyscrapers far beyond a field of red poppies that the Wicked Witch hopes will put them to sleep.

Dorothy and Toto and Cowardly Lion succumb to the narcotic power of the poppies but the Scarecrow and the Tin Man call for help and Glina appears and with a wave of her wand induces snow to fall and revive the others.

Frustrated and infuriated, the Wicked Witch flies off on her broomstick.

Dorothy and her friends soon arrive at Emerald City and she rings the bell to get in, but a porthole opens and a doorman, played by Frank Morgan, tells them to knock. They knock and tell the doorman they want to see the Wizard but the doorman tells them that "nobody can see the great Oz: "Nobody's ever seen the great Oz. Even I've never seen him." Dorothy tells the doorman she was sent by the Good Witch and when he sees the ruby slippers she is wearing he admits them.

A coachman arrives in a carriage pulled by a white horse. He explains that he is a horse "of a different color," and, sure enough, the horse changes into different colors of the rainbow.

The coachmen takes them to the Wash & Brush Up Company where they are refreshed but when they exit the Wicked Witch appears on her broomstick and paints "Surrender Dorothy" in black smoke in the sky.

A palace guard, played by Frank Morgan, tells everyone to go home but Dorothy and her friends insist on entering the palace. "Not nobody, not no how," replies the guard. The scarecrow tells him that "she's Dorothy." "The Witch's Dorothy? Well, that makes a difference," the guard replies, adding that he will announce them.

While waiting outside the palace, Cowardly Lion sings "If I Were King Of The Forest." Dorothy asks if he were king would be afraid of anything. "Not nobody. Not no how," he replies. "Not even a rhinoceros," asks the Tin Man. "Imp-oceros," replies Cowardly Lion. Dorothy asks "How about a hippopotamus?" "Why I'd trash him from top-to-bottom-us," replies Cowardly Lion.

The guard then returns to tell them "The Wizard says, 'Go away.'"

Dorothy cries and says she'll never forgive herself for running away and hurting Auntie Em's feelings. The guard overhears her and, telling her he also had an Aunt Em, tells them he will get them "in to the Wizard somehow," opening the palace doors.

The palace guard returns to reverse the good news: "The Wizard says, 'Go away.'" Dorothy collapses, heartbroken by the bad news, reflecting tearfully:

They advance only to be confronted by a large head suspended over a throne that roars "I am Oz, the Great and Powerful, who are you?" Scared, Dorothy replies "I am Dorothy, the small and meek. We've come to ask..." "Silence!" roars the head, "The great and powerful Oz knows why you have come. Step forward, Tin Man. You dare to come to me for a heart, do you, you clinking, clanking, clattering collection of collaginous junk!" Oz proceeds to bellow at the Scarecrow: "You billowing bale of bovine fodder."

Dorothy scolds Oz for frightening Cowardly Lion. "Silence, whippersnapper," Oz roars. Oz then declares he will grant their requests but they must perform a task: they must go to the Witch's Castle and bring back her broomstick.

Dorothy and her friends then go to the Haunted forest near the castle and are observed by the Witch in her crystal ball. She tells Nikko, the captain of her winged monkeys to bring her Dorothy and her dog. "Do what you want with the others, but I want her alive," she tells him.

Nikko and his band swoop down on Dorothy and her freinds and kipnap her and Toto.

The Witch puts Toto in a basket and demands that Dorothy give her the ruby slippers. Dorothy says the Good Witch told her not. The Witch tells Nikko to throw the basket with Toto in the river and drown him. Dorothy relents but when the Witch tries to take them off Dorothy sparks fly off them. Dorothy says she didn't do it and asks for her dog. The Witch says no and says that as long as Dorothy is alive the slippers will not come off.. Toto jumps out of the basket. and escapes. The Witch locks Dorothy in a room in the tower where she sees the worried face of Auntie Em calling out for her. Her face then changes into the Witch's and the Witch says "I'll give you Auntie Em, my pretty."

Toto finds Dorothy's companions and they realize he's come to lead them to Dorothy. They are ambushed by some of the Witch's sentries, but manage to overpower them and steal their uniforms and sneak into the castle.

They get to Dorothy and try to escape but are caught by the Witch who cackles "Going so soon? I wouldn't hear of it. Why, my little party's just beginning."

The Witch sets the Scarecrow's arm on farm and Dorothy tosses a bucket of water on it and in the process splaches the Witch's face.

The Witch shrieks and dissolves."Oh? You cursed brat. Look what you've done. I'm melting! Melting? Oh what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness. Oh I'm gone. I'm gone. I'm going."

Dorothy is hailed as a liberator and the Witch's assistants give her the broomstick and Dorothy and her friends return to Oz's palace. Oz tells them to come back the next day. Tpto pulls away a drap revealing an ordinary man, played by Frank Morgan, pulling various levers and fiddling with dials that control the special effects of the Wizard's projected image. Revealed, he states that he is the "Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz." The Scarecrow yells "You Humbug." The Wizard admits he's "a

Dorothy tells him he's "a very bad man!" He replies that he is "a very good man, I'm just a very bad Wizard."

He tells them that they already have the qualities they desire and demonstrated that in their rescue of Dorothy. He gives the Scarecrow a diploma and Cowardly Lion is given a medal, the Legion of Courage.

The Wizard tells the Tin Man that "hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable." The Wizard gives him a heart-shaped watch made of metal, telling him that "a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."

The Wizard reveals he had been a ballonist and promises to return Dorothy to Kansas. He tells his subjects he is embarking on a "hazardous and technically unexplainable journey...to confer, converse, and otherwise hobknob with my brother Wizards" and nominates the Scarecrow to take his place, assisted by Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man.

Toto sees a cat as the balloon takes off and Dorothy climbs out after him while the Wizard flies away.

Glinda, the Good Witch, reappears and tells Dorothy that she has had the ability to go home with the magic of the ruby slippers, but she had to discover it for herself.

Dorothy ponders and realizes that the magic is that ""it's that if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard because, if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with."'

Dorothy says good-bye to her friends and Glinda tells her to click her heels three times and say "There's no place like home."

Suddenly she is transferred back to the sepia, real world of her Kansas farm home and she awakens in bed with Auntie Em holding a compress to her forehead.

She tells Auntie Em and Uncle Henry about her trip to Oz, insisting it was not a "bad dream." Hunk, Hickory and Zeke join them Uncle Henry assures her that they believe her and Dorothy ends the film saying "oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like home."

There are two silent versions of "The Wizard of Oz," one made in 1914 and the other, with Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man, in 1925.

The film's DVD includes a documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury, outtakes, excerpts from the silent versions and other bonus materials. The documentary reports, among other things, that Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man but developed a severe allegy to the make-up and Margaret Hamilton was badly burned in the making of one scene.

The special effects of "The Wizard of Oz" were not very spectacular, but the acting and the lyrics and the make-up and the richness of its Technicolor combined with the great charm of the story have made it a classic that always delights. Judy Garland's youthful innocence and great singing voice and Bert Lahr's wonderful antics are very, very memorable.

Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.com for 30 percent off its $24.98 list price

 

This film in rated 4th in the American Film Institute's top 100 films, 58th in the Internet Movie Data Base's Top 250 films as of December 26, 2003 and 15th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects

 

Home Page of The City Review