The Wizard of Oz (1939) [Review]

102 min August 25, 1939 | | |

Plot: When a tornado rips through Kansas, Dorothy (Garland) and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to the magical land of Oz. They follow the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City to meet the Wizard, and en route they meet a Scarecrow (Bolger) that needs a brain, a Tin Man (Haley) missing a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Lahr) who wants courage. The wizard asks the group to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton) to earn his help.

Reviewed

When we were trying to think of a classic movie to review, one film kept popping into our heads: The Wizard of Oz. In fact, why wasn’t this the first film in our new #TBT Reviews? With other classic films (like our recently reviewed Planet of the Apes (1968)), time was the big question mark going into this film. Would time have ravaged this classic in the nearly 80 years since it’s release? Or is there just something enduring in the story that would see the magic shine through?

Judy Garland leads the cast in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy. While she was only 16 at the time of shooting, she looks older, and handles herself like a much more experienced actress. She’s the center of the film and manages to carry her way through it with style.

Even so, she still has a lot of help in The Wizard of Oz from Jack Bolger (The Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion) and Jack Haley (The Tin Man). While Jack is decent as the tin man, Jack and Bert nearly steal the show. Jack’s Scarecrow is the comic relief of the film, and his antics still draw the viewer’s eye. Bert, with his distinctive mannerisms, seems to be a Looney Tunes character brought to life, and is probably the inspiration for several (or vice versa).

While she doesn’t get much screen time in The Wizard of Oz (apparently, her scenes were considered to be too scary for children so had to be edited), Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch gets a couple of moments to show off her villainy, and the film is the better because of it. While she went through a lot to play the part (her makeup was toxic, and died her skin green for weeks after shooting ended), Hamilton is in fine form playing up one of the first caricature villains on-screen.

The plot is simplistic and easy to follow, which is what the studio wanted, as The Wizard of Oz was trying to compete with Disney’s (then) recently-released phenomenon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Sure, it’s got plot holes you can spot from miles away (why, for example, does the Wicked Witch keep a bucket of water in her castle?) but the film manages to capture the viewer’s attention and keep it anyway.

That’s probably at least partly due to the vivid Technicolor sequences in Oz. When Dorothy enters the land of Oz in The Wizard of Oz, she steps through a door, and her sepia-toned existence is transformed into a kaleidoscope of colors that are still just as brilliant today. While color is the norm these days, there’s just something about those Technicolor sequences that present this fantasy land in a vividness that’s hard to beat even now. With those colors, the viewers can easily imagine there’s magic to be found in this fantasy land. And sure enough, there is.

While The Wizard of Oz is simplistic and a bit childish – and not without some obvious plot holes – there’s still a magic to the film that can be felt even now, nearly 80 years later. Judy Garland and the rest of the cast are still enjoyable, but it’s the Technicolor brilliance that really continues to breathe life into this story.

Whether you were among the 45 million who watched it on TV when it aired for the first time in 1956, or you are one of the younger generation that has just heard about this classic, you won’t be let down when you re-visit this fantasy adventure. Sure, it may be a bit more childish than you may remember (and a lot less scary), but you still will enjoy every trip you take to see The Wizard of Oz.

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