The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Garland Goes Over the Rainbow and down the Yellow Brick Road
Come on, get up and fight, ya shivering junkyard! Put your hands up, ya lopsided bag o' hay! - Cowardly Lion
Usually when a movie has had several directors it spells out disaster, a jumbled mismatch of styles and ideas but then "The Wizard of Oz" is the exception to the rule as despite working its way through various directors and a variety of issues in the making it is undoubtedly a classic, a brilliant movie full of wonderment and fun. Although not the first movie to be made of L. Frank Baum's classic Oz stories "The Wizard of Oz" is without a doubt the one that so many are familiar with and more often or not imitated when turned into school plays. It maybe over 70 years old but with wonderful performances lead by Judy Garland and a brilliant series of musical scenes "The Wizard of Oz" is still a great movie.
Having run away from her Uncle and Aunt's Kansas farm after the evil Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) tried to take her pet dog Toto, Dorothy (Judy Garland) returns just as a Tornado hits and is knocked unconscious by a bang to the head. In her dreams she finds herself in the Land of Oz and told to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where the Wizard of Oz should be able to help her to return to Kansas. Along the way she meets a wide range of characters from The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) and The Tin Man (Jack Haley) who join her on her journey but she also has to watch out for The Wicked Witch of the West who wants the magic red slippers that she is wearing.
It actually feels daft reviewing "The Wizard of Oz" because it such a well known story, a tornado hits Kansas and young Dorothy is knocked unconscious and in her dreams transported to a wonderful place called Oz. There cannot be many who don't know the story either through watching the movie or seeing a stage version but it is such a great storyline as it mixes adventure with comedy and music whilst also delivering a deeper metaphor about finding your brain, courage and heart. What is so special is that "The Wizard of Oz" is a movie which appeals to all generations; children will love the whole imaginative adventure side as Dorothy travels through Oz whilst older audiences will take joy from the wonderful songs and that deeper, uplifting meaning.
What is surprising is that considering "The Wizard of Oz" passed through various directors' hands and had a few issues with casting changes, most notably Buddy Ebsen when the makeup used to turn him into a Tin Man hospitalized him causing him to be replaced by Jack Haley, it is a wonderfully crafted movie. I honestly wish I was around when it got its first release and witnessed the awe of the opening scenes as they morph from sepia to colour, it's a clever idea worked brilliantly as Dorothy opens her door to discover the vibrancy of Oz. But that is just one element of a brilliantly made movie which moves at a perfect pace whilst delivering imaginative scene after imaginative scene against a colourful make believe world. No matter what your age it carries you off into this wonderful world of colour, song and fun characters.
Of course "The Wizard of Oz" is also a musical and in many ways it is the musical element which helps it go from a very good movie to an exceptional one. From the early scene which sees Dorothy singing the sweet "Over the Rainbow" right through her journey through Oz with songs such as "We're Off to See the Wizard", "If I Only Had a Brain" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz" every single musical scene is just magnificent. It's no wonder that the songs are so recognizable and in some cases as popular as ever.
Plus of course you have the casting and what is there to say other than it is as perfect as the movie. Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley are brilliant as The Scarecrow, The Cowardly Lion and The Tin Man and the fact they appear as farm hands before the transition to Oz is a clever touch. It's the same clever touch which works for Margaret Hamilton who plays both the wicked Miss Gulch who wanted Toto and the The Wicked Witch of the West as well as Frank Morgan who plays Professor Marvel the travelling entertainer and The Wizard of Oz, as well as numerous other parts such as The Gatekeeper and The Doorman. Not a single one of these actors puts a foot wrong nor does Billie Burke who plays the lovely Glinda and who can forget the legion of wonderful Munchkins.
But of course you think "The Wizard of Oz" and you think Judy Garland as Dorothy. Now I am going to be controversial and say some of the scenes in Kansas, the sepia coloured ones, feel a little over acted but the rest of Garland's performance as Dorothy as she travels along the yellow brick road is absolutely brilliant. Plus of course who can't love Judy Garland when she knocks out the emotional rendition of "Over the Rainbow" or clicks her heels three times and says "there's no place like home".
What this all boils down to is that it maybe over 70 years old, it may not be the first version of L. Frank Baum's classic Oz stories and it may have had a series of directors but "The Wizard of Oz" is a truly great movie. It works on one level feeding children's imagination with wonderful characters and a fantasy journey through Oz yet the wonderful songs and the light hearted tale with its deeper metaphor works just as well for older audiences. "The Wizard of Oz" is still one of the greatest movies to have ever been made.
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