The Wizard Of Oz
Rating -

Fantasy (US); 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

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Written by DAVID KEYES

In 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."

Novelists 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."

But 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 of Oz.

There's 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?

Over 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!).

For 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 these days.

And 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.

Today, 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.

Some 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 way.

It's 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.

The 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.

The 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?

That is a future I would not like to picture.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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