The Wizard of Oz

Director: Victor Fleming

1939

The Wizard Of Oz“Based on The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the turn-of-the-century children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, this evergreen classic is one of the great film fairytales, also a first-rate musical and the vehicle that turned Judy Garland from a talented child performer into a lasting and iconic movie star.” (154-155, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I think I must have been in a nostalgic mood when I watched this as for once I found myself enjoying the film, which only ever happens once in a blue moon. On the whole I find The Wizard of Oz cloying and Judy Garland as Dorothy annoying beyond belief. This time round I was clearly in the right mood to watch it and found myself really appreciating all the technical aspects of the film. And in terms of the technical side of things the film really is remarkable. Even more so when you think about what they had to work with in 1939!

The switch between the sepia tones of the real world, Dorothy’s Kansas, and the technicolor world that is Oz is flawless. And thanks to the wonder of remastering these colors are as vivid as ever. Oz is a sumptuous land and a visual delight. The Munchkins are wonderful even if they haven’t been synched properly due to altering their voices. They are delightfully bizarre with interesting costumes. “The film has many splendors: a superb Harold Arlen – E. Y. Harburg score (ranging from the wistful “Over the Rainbow” through the infectious jollity of “Off To See The Wizard” and “Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead” to the classic comedy of “If I Only Had A Brain”), incredible MGM set design, hundreds of squeaky Munchkins and flying monkeys, the ‘horse of a different color’ gag, and perfect performances all round.” (154-155) The songs are, as always, ridiculously catchy and remain with you for the remainder of the day. Both my mum and I found ourselves singing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” at random points throughout the day.

The special effects and makeup really are outstanding. For a film made at the tail end of the 1930s the make up and prosthetics are still remarkably believable. I quite like the fact that they are real people. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a computer generated lion if anyone decided to remake The Wizard of Oz which would detract from the character. After all one of the key themes is that although Dorothy has been ripped from her world, quite literally, and deposited in a strange new world there are still familiar faces all around her.  “The “no place like home” theme, a screenwriter’s convenience to keep all the characters focussed on their quests, has always seemed like a slight cop out (why would anyone want to leave the wonders of Oz and go back to Kansas?). It never quite squares with the spoilsport interpretation of the whole film as a delirious dream in which Dorothy has recast everyone she knows as her Land of Oz friends and enemies.” (154-155)

I did find it hard to come at this film with a fresh mind as there are so many different versions and retellings floating around out there. Indeed I did find the story behind Wicked (Stephen Schwartz, 2003) rearing its head every so often which threw a whole new light on Margaret Hamilton’s iconic Wicked Witch of the West. And talking of Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West she is delightfully mean with a quintessential villain’s laugh, one that is oft imitated and grates on you whenever you hear it. The flying monkeys are brilliant although I do remember them scaring me as a child. Now I can appreciate the beauty and all the technical elements that went into creating them.

Frank Morgan is a lovable rogue as the eponymous Wizard, a con-man by all accounts but a rather bumbling, amiable one who you can’t help but like. Again I couldn’t help thinking about how James Franco approached the role in Oz The Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013) and it gave his character added depth he hadn’t had before.

Glinda remains as sickly sweet as ever and is the one character I have never warmed to. She is one of the elements of the film that annoys me the most and I can’t ever see that changing really. She’s just so pink and sparkly and I find her extremely insipid!

I love the trio of rag-tag misfits that Dorothy picks up along the way, made up of the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) and of course the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr). They are all such marvelous characters it’s hard to decide who my favorite is – although when I think about it I come down on the side of the Cowardly Lion – and the actors embody them all perfectly. Ray Bolger has a very fluid movement as Scarecrow which highlights his being made of straw with little in the way of support. As the contrast Jack Haley’s Tin Man is quite a stiff performance indicative of him being rusted still for many years. He is the most obviously emotional character with the others forever telling him to stop crying before he rusts up again. Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion combines comedy and cuteness, creating one of the most affable characters within the film. And I do love the pretty red bow on his tail!

Now onto the subject of the most important character, that of Dorothy Gale played by Judy Garland of course. Like Glinda I have never really like Dorothy. I find her whiny and completely unable to appreciate all the wonder that surrounds her in Oz. I also always got the feeling that she isn’t really in control of her own journey – she kind of gets pulled along from one event to the next collecting people as she goes.

I’ve kind of avoided The Wizard Of Oz over the last few years because I had been so unimpressed with it the last time I watched it. I’m glad I have watched it recently and found myself rather unexpectedly enjoying the experience. Having said that I still think this is one of those films I will only watch once in a blue moon and even then only if I’m in the right mood.

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