The Wizard of Oz (1939): United States – directed by Victor Fleming
Not rated by the MPAA – contains scary flying monkeys
How do you start a review for The Wizard of Oz? It is one of the most-beloved and critically lauded films of all time and I doubt I can add anything meaningful to the tomes written on it.
But I am a big fan of the movie, and getting the chance to see it on the big screen, fully restored, was fantastic. The experience afforded the opportunity to know what it must have felt like for those first audiences back in 1939. The enormity of the production and the amazing special effects must have absolutely blown away audiences.
The story is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie, and especially to those who have seen The Wizard of Oz, which is often considered the most-watched movie of all time. The story is probably one of the most often referenced plots in pop culture.
The film begins in Kansas, as young Dorothy (Judy Garland, in the role that made her a star) runs home to her farm. Her dog, Toto, has been threatened by a mean old lady, Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton, who also plays the Wicked Witch of the West.) Gulch has an order from the sheriff allowing her to remove Toto from the home.
However, since Gulch’s picnic basket doesn’t have clasps, Toto finds it easy enough to escape and make his way back to Dorothy. She quickly decides they must run away so Toto can’t be taken away again. However, as she sets out she meets a kindly fortune teller, Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan, who also plays the Wizard and numerous other characters.) He sneakily persuades her to return home. On the way, though, Dorothy stumbles upon a tornado, and after getting hit by a smashed window she finds herself in a brand new land, one unlike anything in Kansas.
The friends and enemies she meets in this new land of Oz provide the backbone of the story. The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) have all been deeply ingrained in popular culture over the past 70 years. The Wicked Witch, Glinda (Billie Burke), the Munchkins, and the people of Oz round out an extremely colorful and memorable cast.
There are a great number of things I like about the film. The color, the change in color (stepping into Oz for the first time must have astounded audiences on its initial release), the characters, and the songs are all fantastic. The direction and choreography are also superb. One thing that impressed me, watching it on the big screen, was how enormous the production was. The sets, the lights, the costumes; all of it took a gigantic amount of time and effort from a large number of talented people, and seeing it successfully displayed on screen is a great treat. The special effects are also very impressive. Watching the tornado spin around reminded me how much better it is to have actual objects on screen as opposed to computer imagery.
The movie is a treat, even after rewatching it time and time again. I think that Aimee has seen it possibly a hundred times over her lifetime, and it still thrills her (she threatened that I better proclaim it the most awesome movie of all time.) Every time I watch it I find fresh nuances to enjoy, both in the production and in the characters and story. The only thing better than enjoying it anew on the big screen would be watching it on the big screen with a sing-a-long audience.