The Wizard of Oz (G)
AFI Catalog; IMDb; Kindertrauma; Oz Wiki; Rotten Tomatoes; TCM; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Max; Movies Anywhere; Vudu; YouTube
This 1939 movie is based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (the first in a series, none of which I've read, though I've always wanted to). The story has been retold in lots of different mediums, countless times over the years. I've seen numerous adaptations, but this... oh, this is by far the best-known and for many people the best-loved version of the story.
When I was a kid, it aired annually on CBS, and it was always a big event, a tradition. I vaguely recall having an imaginary box which I think I'd pretend to take out of my closet before watching the movie, probably for a few years running, in which I had imaginary items I wanted to have with me while watching the movie on TV... but I can't for the life of me think what any of those items could have possibly been. Yeah, I was just a weird, imaginative child. (And now I'm a weird, imaginative adult, but my weirdness is somewhat different, and my memory sucks.) I do remember one time my father talking about... um... I think the first time he watched the movie on a color TV or whatever, he was disappointed to see that the movie was in black & white, so he was surprised when it suddenly changed to color. And I remember asking him if any time he'd previously seen it on a black & white TV he hadn't noticed any change at all. I think I was annoying about that. Oh well, whatevs. Incidentally, it's more accurate to call the opening and closing scenes of the movie "sepia-toned" than simply black & white. However, reading Wikipedia before writing my review, I see that there were several releases in theaters and on TV that were actually black & white. I probably saw such TV presentations when I was a kid, but I don't really remember it being anything other than sepia-toned. I do wonder, though, if the time my father first watched it was one of those black & white presentations.
Um, gosh, but there are so many things I could say about this movie. Like the fact that Judy Garland, at 16, was much too old to be playing Dorothy, but... I think she did a good job with her performance, with the character's emotions and actions much more consistent with those of a child than of a teenager. Plus I don't expect any actresses of a more appropriate age would have had nearly as good a singing voice as Garland. The movie has a bunch of great, iconic songs by each of the main characters. (And at some point I had a soundtrack on cassette, which must have included a song that didn't make it into the movie.) And... oh, I don't know. It's just such a monumentally classic and wonderful movie. Alas, the last time I watched it must have been several years before I ever had a website or wrote reviews. In 2009, a 3-disc "Emerald Edition" Blu-ray was released, which I think I must have read a glowing review of at the time, and decided that's the version I wanted to get. But it wasn't until 2021 that I finally got a Blu-ray player, and bought the movie, which I watched on Thanksgiving of that year. I definitely think it was worth the wait. Oh, and later (in December) I watched one of the bonus features, the 1990 TV movie The Dreamer of Oz.
Anyway... spoilers start here, though I don't really consider any revelation of plot points true spoilers, since I believe virtually everyone has probably seen the movie numerous times, already. It begins in Kansas, where Dorothy Gale lives on a farm with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. There are also a few farmhands, named Hunk (Ray Bolger), Hickory (Jack Haley), and Zeke (Bert Lahr). I think watching the movie again after you've seen it before makes the scenes with those three characters more amusing, because then you'll know the other characters that the actors play when Dorothy gets to Oz, and how similar their Kansas traits are to those of their Oz counterparts. (I wouldn't count on myself to make that connection the first time I saw the movie, even if I hadn't been a young child at the time.) Dorothy is upset because a woman named Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) wants to have Dorothy's dog, Toto, destroyed. (Pretty dark for a kid's movie, right?) So Dorothy decides to run away with Toto (but not before beautifully singing one of the most iconic songs ever, "Over the Rainbow"). She soon meets a fortune-teller called Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), who convinces her to return home. Unfortunately, a tornado is heading straight for the farm, and it's too late for Dorothy to join everyone else in the storm cellar. She gets knocked unconscious by a flying window, but soon wakes up to find herself inside the tornado, with various people and things passing by outside the window. Then the house lands in the Land of Oz and she emerges from the house to find the world is now in Technicolor.
She meets little people called Munchkins, and a good witch named Glinda, who informs her that her house had landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her. (Again with the dark plot points.) The Munchkins are thrilled by this, but soon the Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton) shows up seeking revenge for her sister's death. But apparently she has no power to exact that revenge then and there. Also, Glinda magically transfers a pair of ruby slippers from the feet of the dead witch of the East onto Dorothy's feet, and the witch of the West wants to obtain them for their magical powers, whatever they may be. (We don't see the slippers work any magic until the end of the film, and I'm sure they must have more uses than what we see.) Anyway, the witch leaves, and Glinda advises Dorothy to seek help from the Wizard of Oz, in the Emerald City, hoping he would know how to send her back to Kansas.
Along her journey, Dorothy befriends a Scarecrow (Bolger) who wants a brain, and she invites him to come with her in the hope that the wizard could give him one. They later meet a Tin Woodman (Haley), who wants a heart. So he joins them. Then they meet a Cowardly Lion (Lahr), who wants courage. So he joins them, too. Throughout the journey, there are at least a couple of times the Witch of the West shows up, and I'm not sure why she didn't try to kill Dorothy at those times, but it's good that she didn't, of course. The four travelers (plus Toto) finally arrive in the Emerald City, but the Wizard, who is pretty scary, refuses to help them unless they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. So they set out to do that, but Dorothy ends up being caught by the witch's army of flying monkeys, and imprisoned in the witch's castle. The witch plans to kill her once the sand in an hourglass run out; I have no idea why she didn't do so immediately, but again, it's good that she didn't. Dorothy's friends eventually show up to rescue her, but that doesn't go so well. But eventually Dorothy inadvertently kills the witch (in a manner that I can't help but consider ridiculous). So they take the broomstick back to the wizard, who turns out not to be quite what he seemed, at first. (This is when we first see him played by Morgan.) He doesn't have the power to give them exactly what they want, but he at least provides suitable substitutes for the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. However, his plan to help Dorothy goes awry, and Glinda shows up to tell her how to get home. (She had the power all along, but Glinda wanted her to learn a lesson before telling her how to do it. It's a fairly simple lesson, which I don't think necessitated all the trouble Dorothy went through, but whatever. There wouldn't have been much of a movie if Dorothy had gone home right after arriving in Oz.)
Well, Dorothy finally wakes up back home, where it seems as if all her experiences in Oz had been a dream. I mean, she's convinced it was all real, and I think viewers are meant to think so too, or at least have some doubt. I can't quite believe it wasn't a dream, considering her family must have been watching over her for some time before she woke up, which seems to indicate she couldn't have really been anyplace else. Still, I prefer to ignore that and go along with the idea that Oz was real. In any event, Dorothy is happy to be home.
There, that's the whole story. I've left out some details, but I've told more than I really wanted to. Still, I hope I'm not forgetting anything I wanted to say. Oh, yeah... there was one line in one of the Lion's songs that I think sounded like a gay slur, but I could be mistaken. I hope I'm mistaken. In any event, for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed all the songs in the movie. The whole story is, well, a bit simple, but incredibly memorable and fun (even the dark bits), as are all the characters. It's sweet, and amusing, and heart-tugging, and scary in some bits. And I feel like there's so much more I should be saying. Maybe someday I'll think of something to add, but for now I guess this is good enough.
movies: The Wizard of Oz * Journey Back to Oz * Return to Oz * Oz the Great and Powerful * Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
TV: Tales of the Wizard of Oz * The Wizard of Oz in Concert * The Muppets' Wizard of Oz * Tin Man * Once Upon a Time * The Wiz Live! * Emerald City
web: Lost in Oz
comics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz