This review includes full spoilers. Proceed accordingly. For other movie reviews from me, click HERE:
Comment: How can you blog if you haven’t got a brain?
Dusty: I don’t know! But some people without brains do an *awful* lot of blogging, don’t they?
Comment: Yes, I guess you’re right.
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy (transitional sequences), Norman Taurog (test footage), Richard Thorpe (initial shoots), King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes)
Writers: Noel Langley (screenplay), Florence Ryerson (screenplay), Edgar Alan Woolf (screenplay), L Frank Baum (from the book by)
Stars: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton
Release Date: August 25, 1939 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Teenager Dorothy Gale lives on a Kansas farm owned by her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. When Dorothy’s Cairn Terrier Toto bites the wealthy Almira Gulch, Miss Gulch obtains a sheriff’s order authorizing her to seize the dog to be euthanized. Toto escapes and returns to Dorothy, who runs away to protect him. Professor Marvel, a charlatan fortune-teller, tells Dorothy to go home because Aunt Em is heartbroken. Dorothy returns just as a tornado approaches the farm. Unable to get into the locked storm shelter, Dorothy takes cover in the farmhouse and is knocked unconscious by the violence of the storm. The tornado then lifts the house and drops it into an unknown land.
Dorothy awakens and is greeted by a good witch named Glinda, who explains to Dorothy that she is in Munchkinland in the land of Oz. The Munchkins are celebrating because the house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, appears in a puff of smoke. Before she can seize her deceased sister’s ruby slippers, Glinda magically transports them onto Dorothy’s feet and tells her to keep them on, as they must be very powerful. Because the Wicked Witch has no power in Munchkinland, she leaves in another puff of smoke, but only after telling Dorothy, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” Glinda knows of only one person who might know how to help Dorothy return home: the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is directed to follow the yellow brick road that goes to the Emerald City, the Wizard’s home.
Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, who wants a brain; the Tin Man, who wants a heart; and the Cowardly Lion, who wants courage. The group reaches the Emerald City, despite the efforts of the Wicked Witch. Dorothy is initially denied an audience with the Wizard by his doorman. The doorman relents on hearing that they were sent by Glinda, and the four are led into the Wizard’s chambers. The Wizard appears as a giant ghostly head and tells them he will grant their wishes if they bring him the Wicked Witch’s broomstick.During their quest, Dorothy and Toto are captured by flying monkeys and taken to the Wicked Witch, but the ruby slippers protect her. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion free Dorothy, but are pursued by the Witch and her guards. They are cornered by the Witch, who sets fire to the Scarecrow. When Dorothy throws a bucket of water onto the Scarecrow, she inadvertently splashes the Witch, which causes her to melt away.
The Witch’s guards gratefully give Dorothy her broomstick. The four return to the Wizard, but he tells them to return tomorrow. When Toto pulls back a curtain, the “Wizard” is revealed to be just an ordinary man, operating machinery that projects the ghostly image of his face. The four travelers confront the Wizard, who insists that he is a good man at heart, but confesses to being a humbug. He then “grants” the wishes of Dorothy’s three friends by giving them tokens that symbolize that they always had the qualities they sought.
The Wizard reveals that he, like Dorothy, is a Kansas man and accidentally arrived in Oz in a hot air balloon. He then offers to take Dorothy back to Kansas with him aboard his balloon. However, after Toto jumps off and Dorothy goes after him, the balloon accidentally lifts off with just the Wizard aboard. Glinda reappears and tells Dorothy she always had the power to return to Kansas with the help of the ruby slippers, but had to find that out for herself. After sharing a tearful farewell with her friends, Dorothy heeds Glinda’s instructions by tapping her heels three times and repeating the words, “There’s no place like home.” She is transported back to Kansas.
She awakens in her bed with a washcloth on her injured head and is attended to by her aunt, uncle and the farm hands. Professor Marvel stops by as Dorothy describes Oz, telling the farm hands and the Professor they were there too. Dorothy gratefully exclaims, “There’s no place like home!”
The Wizard of Oz is as close to perfect as it is possible for a film to be, even eight decades after its initial release. The story is compelling and still resonates in our collective subconscious, filling an archetypal void, informing us about the world and ourselves, as fairy tales and myths often do. The pacing is quick throughout, the humor is both potent and timeless, the wicked witch and her army of flying monkeys are as fearsome as ever, the music still stirs the soul, and the visual effects are still magical. The Wizard of Oz was an early Hollywood example of a film made for children that nevertheless remained enjoyable for adults as well, and it might be the best example of that type of movie.
Judy Garland is a legend for a reason and her performance as Dorothy is wonderful. Whether it be her emotive reaction to having her dog taken, or her warmth and joy with her three misfit friends, or her genuine and authentic portrayal of fear and despair once captured by the Wicked Witch, she gave a terrific performance from beginning to end. She made the movie work. It goes without saying that her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” will be listened to until humans lose the ability to play the recording.
Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch was also fantastic. She was scary, but she managed to be scary in a way where the audience is able to see that she is having fun with the role, and that helped to take some of the edge away from her character such that it is suitable for children. She delivers her lines about her own evil, in a way where you can almost laugh at them, but not quite. This felt like the right tone to be inclusive of both children and their parents. That said, the flying monkeys are still pretty terrifying, and the scene where she mocks a crying Dorothy through a crystal ball stood out to me as being extra-dark, so this still might not be the best movie option for very young children.
- The moment when the color comes on will never not be magical.
- My favorite song in the film is Cowardly Lion’s “If I Were King of the Forest.” I don’t know why, but that one has always resonated with me.
- The staging and costuming of this film remains incredible. It almost doesn’t matter that it’s dated because the movie works just as well stylistically without the modern updates. When you’re not in the real world, you don’t need it to look like the real world. It’s a small detail, in a film where they really did a great job with the small details, but I have always loved the way that the black floors look shiny inside Oz’s castle. It creates a really otherworldly feel.
- I noticed on this viewing that Dorothy’s three friends are from the “good” Hogwarts Houses – Scarecrow (Ravenclaw), Lion (Gryffindor), and Tin Man (Hufflepuff.) I wonder if J.K. Rowling drew some inspiration from this story.
I have a personal and very formative connection to this movie. The small town I once lived in as a kid was home to an excellent Wizard of Oz museum called “Dorothy’s House.” As a result, I have never been entirely sure whether this film is as important to the world as my childhood led me to believe (though I have always believed innately that it is.) Whether it is, or not, I feel a lot of “ownership” of the film due to where I lived and being a former farm kid. I eventually moved away from the country and into a much larger city. A couple houses down the street from my new abode dwelt a Star Search champion (!) in my grade. One of the first truly memorable experiences for me after moving was seeing her do an outstanding middle school performance of Dorothy, in a stage production of the story, and the whole thing had me feeling a bit more like I would eventually feel settled in my new surroundings.
There are not a lot of movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood that seem destined to be watched forever, but this is one of those that will. It’s just as watchable now as ever. Dorothy learns to face the world (good, bad, and difficult people included), she deals with adversity, she makes friends under difficult circumstances, and she learns to appreciate what she has, rather than be too preoccupied with what she does not. These are primal lessons for children, and always will be. Somewhere over the rainbow might be fine, for a while, but we should also not forget that there’s no place like home.