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Wizard of Oz, The (1939)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Fairy Tale and Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: August 25th, 1939 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Victor Fleming Actors: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin

P

erhaps the most famous children’s escapist fantasy of all time, “The Wizard of Oz” features stunning sets and costumes, sagacious character designs, and several of the most memorable and catchy songs in film. Many of the concepts, such as ruby slippers, flying monkeys, the Yellow Brick Road, Emerald City, and quotes like “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too,” “There’s no place like home,” and “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” are so unforgettable that they surpass the significance of the fairytale story itself. But every realization is a welcome part of the celebrated singing, dancing, and nonstop gaiety, which contribute to one of the most treasured of all movie musicals.

Running home after a frightful encounter with the nasty neighbor who snapped at her beloved dog Toto, Dorothy (Judy Garland) frets to her Aunt and Uncle’s farm hands. They’re careful to express meaningful emotions, including cowardice, brainlessness, and heartlessness. Moments later, Elmira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton), the ruthless old hag who chased after Dorothy’s normally docile pooch, arrives with an order from the sheriff to take the animal away for judgment. When Toto narrowly escapes, Dorothy decides that running away is the only way to save her shaggy friend – journeying to a newfound freedom somewhere over the rainbow. After meeting a kindly traveling performer, Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), Dorothy gets caught in a disastrous twister that yanks her house right off the ground and into a strange land.

Prominently starting in black-and-white (actually Sepiatone) before revealing the Land of Oz in vivid Technicolor, Dorothy’s adventure is only about to begin. Her home has crash-landed onto the Wicked Witch of the East, greatly upsetting her power-hungry sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (also Margaret Hamilton), who plots a devious revenge. The good witch Glinda (Billie Burke), along with miniature “munchkin” inhabitants, joyously guide Dorothy down a yellow brick road in the hope of finding the wonderful wizard who can return her to Kansas. During her trip, she joins forces with three very familiar figures – a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) without a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) without a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who just wants a bit of courage.

Many of the ideas, such as apple-flinging trees, evil spells, crystal balls, and spooks in the Haunted Forest would normally be downright creepy. But in the capable hands of a talented crew, based on the classic book by L. Frank Baum, it’s a delightful, family-friendly event. Resonating with the themes of friendship, conspicuous bravery, looking for the heart’s desire, understanding the value of home, and proving one’s worth, all with a generous amount of creativity, the film has achieved a legendary, timeless status. Even though Garland appears too old for the part, the Lion is especially silly, and much of the dialogue is generically playful, “The Wizard of Oz” is entertaining, adventurous, unbelievably iconic, unexplainably influential, and perfect to sing along to.

– Mike Massie

 



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