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.
In his fine book, "The Great Movies,"
(Broadway Books, 2002), film critic Roger Ebert provides the following
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
Dorothy tells him he's "a very bad man!"
He replies that he is "a very good man, I'm just a very bad
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
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.
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