My son's school is putting on a production of THE WIZARD OF OZ -
he's a Munchkin whose one line is "It's a girl and she's asleep." - so
we rented the classic Judy Garland version from 1939. Beautifully
directed by Victor Fleming, who won the award that year for best
director, but for GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ is so
exquisitely constructed that it's hard to believe that it could have
been done any other way. But there were scenes deleted, including a
jitterbug number, and others that were almost excised, including the
key "Over the Rainbow" number.
The cast, which seems etched in stone now like a cinematic Mount
Rushmore, was not exactly what the studio wanted. Buddy Ebsen was to
have been the Tin Woodman until the silver make-up made him sick. And
W. C. Fields was the original choice for the Wizard, but he turned them
Opening to a bleak Kansas landscape, filmed in a nostalgic,
Sepiatone black-and-white, Dorothy wants to be anywhere but boring old
home. After a long dream sequence that bursts forth in bright primary
colors and imaginative sets, the story ends in that same monotone
Kansas that it began but with Dorothy wanting never to leave home
again. Just as the mythical sets for Oz are not meant to be real, so
the sets for the Kansas farm are so obviously done on a sound stage
that they too have a poetic realism that transcends the literal. It is
the dream set in the Land of Oz that is the heart of the magical tale
that warms the hearts of young and old alike.
Most "family" pictures aren't. At best they are kids' movies that
keep the adults' attention with sufficient humor aimed at them. THE
WIZARD OF OZ, on the other hand, truly mesmerizes all ages.
With Judy Garland as Dorothy, Frank Morgan as the Wizard (as well
as many other roles), Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the
Cowardly Lion and Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman, the ensemble cast
never ceases to delight and amaze us. Every scene brings some new joy
or gem of wisdom such as the "brainless" Tin Woodman's observation that
"some people without brains do an awful lot of talking."
The sweet script by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan
Woolf, based on the classic L. Frank Baum novel, captivates us at
every turn. "And she's not only merely dead, she's really most
sincerely dead." the coroner says of the Wicked Witch of the East, who
was killed by Dorothy's house. The dialog that is spoken rather than
sung still has almost a musical cadence and is always just short of
The music is so infectiously happy that it is basically impossible
to keep your toes from tapping, your head from bobbing, and an
ear-to-ear grin from appearing on your face.
The movie is perhaps best epitomized in Dorothy's dance as she
leaves the cute little Munchkins. Singing "Off to see the Wizard," she
skips along with an infectious joy along the famous yellow brick road.
If we could enter the screen, every member of the audience would skip
right along behind her.
THE WIZARD OF OZ runs 1:41. It is rated G and is perfect for all
My son Jeffrey, age 9, gave the movie **** and said it was
wonderful. His favorite scene was the one with all the flying monkeys.
He said that "you can't grow too old for this movie."
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes