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The Wizard of Oz

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Wizard of Oz

Starring: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger
Director: Victor Fleming
Rated: G
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: August 1939
Genres: Family, Kids, Music, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action

*Also starring: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

I'd like five bucks for every time someone called out to me, "Hey, Toto!" when I walk my cairn terrier around the neighborhood. "Is that really Toto?" adults would stop and ask me, and I'd of course reply, "Sure it is; I've had him for sixty-three years now." As for the kids, well, surprisingly enough some of them never saw "The Wizard of Oz" so the best they can do is say, "Ma, Ma, look at the dog!" Pretty soon, though, thanks to a dramatic re-release of "The Wizard of Oz," every kid for miles around will be joining the grownups: "Ma, Ma, look, there's Toto!"

Why do so many people know about this movie? Sure, it's one of the 100 greats, and in fact the American Film Institute called it #6 in eminence. But then, most Americans probably haven't seen others on the list--anything by Antonioni, Fellini, Buneul. Roger Ebert has a theory, as he says in his essay on "The Wizard of Oz"..."Elements powerfully fill a void that exists inside many children....home is everything, the center of the world. But over the rainbow is the wide earth, fascinating and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him far away in a strange land. And what would he hope to find there? Why, new friends, to advise and protect him."

The Great American Movie Classic, one of those few movies that come across as vividly the 15th time around as the first, follows the odyssey of Dorothy Gale who at the age of 16 is disappointed with her life on a remote Kansas farm and with being ignored by her busy aunt and her workers. She dreams of flying over the rainbow to a magical fairyland, some place preferable to life with hogs and seemingly indifferent people. When a tornado causes her to bump her head and fall momentarily unconscious she, her little dog Toto, and her entire house are presumably swept up and taken to just such a fairyland, where she meets up with three unforgettable characters who look surprisingly like the folks back home. Despite a series of breathtaking adventures with them and with a wicked witch, a good one, a band of happy munchkins, and a putative, god-like wizard who is other than he seems, she realizes that it doesn't pay to wish for too many things--because you just may get them. Wanting nothing more than to go home, she begins to appreciate her aunt and her life in Kansas all the more, having taken an incredible flight of fancy.

What is more surprising than Dorothy's wind-swept tour is the fact that this movie, which people see annually on TV, has not been viewed for twenty-five years the way it should be. Not only do we now get to see the whole drama on the wide screen: we see it with Warner Bros.' digitally restored and remastered Dolby Ditial Stereo Sound. The studio has also spent nine months reconstructing the sepia opening and cleaning and restoring damages and flickering with which the 1939 film masters suffered. Originally released by MGM and re-released by that studio in 1949 and 1955, "The Wizard of Oz" got a TV broadcast in '56, so that youngsters of all ages can appreciate the magnificent acting of the tragic figure of Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy, who is supported ably by comic figures Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Frank Morgan as her three friends. Not to be underestimated is the movie's cairn terrier, Toto (playing himself), a mischievous pup who is inseparable from her mistress and who is responsible in one of the concluding scenes for removing the wool over Dorothy's eyes, so to speak.

What more can one say for a film that is virtually without flaws? If we must point out one blemish, it is in the scene in which the exposed wizard gives the four travelers the movie's meaning, a talky monologue particularly considering that the kids in the movie audience will endure a drop-off in interest-- as indeed they did in a recent invitational screening. All things considered, parents who do not take their youngsters to this seminal event in their rites of passage might have abuse charges filed against them. But then what adult could fail to be enchanted by the remarkable, colorful, heartwarming "Wizard of Oz"?

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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