1939; Not Rated; 101 Minutes
Judy Garland: Dorothy Gale
Ray Bolger: Hank (The Scarecrow)
Jack Haley: Hickory (The Tin Man)
Bert Lahr: Zeke (The Cowardly Lion)
Billie Burke: Glinda
Margaret Hamilton: Miss Elmira Gulch (The Wicked
Witch Of The West)
Frank Morgan: Professor Marvel (Oz / Guard / Coachman)
Produced by Mervyn
LeRoy; Directed by Victor Fleming and King Vidor;
Screenwritten by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and
Edgar Allan Woolf
by DAVID KEYES
the midst of all children's literature lived a fabulous
man named L. Frank Baum. In the early 1900s, after the success
of a little book called "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz," Baum
became known to his readers as the "Royal Historian Of Oz,"
writing and publishing 20 novels in chronicles of this 'fairy
land' he had created, all at the command of his young readers.
In numerous prefaces of these widely popular books, he procclaimed
"Their sweet little letters plead to know "more about Dorothy";
and they ask: "What became of the Cowardly Lion?" And some
of them suggest plots to me, saying: "Please have Dorothy
go to the Land of Oz again?" Indeed, could I do all that
my little friends ask, I would be obliged to write dozens
of books to satisfy their demands. And I wish I could, for
I enjoy writing these stories just as much as the children
say they enjoy reading them."
of this stature don't often write at the command of their
readers, but this is what made Baum and his works in the
"Oz" series so tremendously popular. After he died, other
people belonging to the "Historians Of Oz" society continued
writing the stories, eventually ending a series that is
now held as the "famous forty."
perhaps no book will ever be so popular as the first book
in the "Oz" series. "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz" introduced
a 'fairy-land' divided into five kingdoms, surrounded by
an impassable desert, and containing all the fearsome and
extraordinary possibilities of magic and sorcery. Baum details
how young Dorothy Gale from ordinary Kansas was swept up
in a cyclone and carried to the east side of this fairy
kingdom; the Munchkin land, as he called it, and the only
way out was to visit Oz, the land's great and powerful wizard,
who lived in the Emerald City, the center kingdom of all
more to the story than meets the eye, but it's a deliberate
action to leave most of the details out. Perhaps this review's
getting sidetracked. After all, it's not a book review,
now is it?
30 years after it's initial publication, a newly-developed
film industry began swapping rumors and suggestions regarding
a film version of Baum's story. It was tossed at screenwriters,
directors, and several actors, eventually settling down
in late 1938 for official production with a cast that included
Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland, and a directing team
that included Victor Fleming, a prolific Hollywood figure
(at that time!).
the next year, while the movie was in and out of production,
Hollywood was at the peak of it's critical success. Movies
like "Gone With The Wind" and "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"
became all-time favorites, and with "The Wizard Of Oz" finding
its was into release that very year, it was assuredly the
greatest ever for film. That, dear reader, is why 1939 has
been proclaimed the best year for motion picture even in
that year belonged to "The Wizard Of Oz" completely. In
first reaction, it was known as a 'kiddy' movie, but over
the years, syndicated theater showings and eventual release
on television and video proclaimed it a Hollywood masterpiece
for every audience. Anyone who was touched by it fell in
love with it.
it's hard to find someone who does not enjoy it. It's not
simply a magical, whirling experience, but a ground breaker
for visual and technological creativity, combining Hollywood
forces with Hollywood genius to spawn strands of unique
and original elements never before attempted at the movies.
True, at a time like 1939, movies were 'technologically
impaired,' but you must remember, even at that time, movies
like "King Kong" that DID use visual elements onscreen were
considered lifelike, realistic, and completely extraordinary.
Even today it seems hard to believe that such a movie flowing
with visual creativity could have been made that early.
things that the Fleming/Vidor film represented were the
best way to interpret these children's stories, for they
provoked flavored visual style and ambition just as the
books had. We interpret visions in our heads for the ones
that authors describe to us in their novels, and "The Wizard
Of Oz" was a movie of such stunning visual style that it
was as if our imaginations were transformed perfectly to
the screen. The pictures in our heads from Baum's book were
almost simultaneous to the ones on screen. Everyone has
a different mental picture, but here, most mental pictures
were probably almost identical in structure, considering
that Baum's story was written in a brief, straightforward
evident on screen on how far this production was taken.
Filmed entirely on sound stages at MGM, hand-painted backgrounds
went up and the cameras rolled with some new groundbreaking
technology on its hands. 1939, as most say, was one of the
first years for Technicolor. Actually, it existed for quite
awhile, but was never used much until "Gone With The Wind"
used it that same year.
sequences that take place in Kansas are done in the standard
black and white, but when Dorothy lands in Oz with her house
and dog, she emerges from it dazzling in color. "We must
be over the rainbow," as she said, also became some of the
most famous Hollywood words ever spoken.
movie has remained a refreshing and uplifting tale after
all this time. In an effort to renew it to theaters this
November, it feels right to honor it here, in the great
movies, as it always has been. Without it, what would have
become of visual style and creativity in today's movies?
is a future I would not like to picture.
1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.