I have seen this 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz countless number of times growing up, and now here in my early stages of adulthood. Despite that fact, the magic the film has never lessens its hold on me. In fact each time I see it, it grows more magical as I appreciate the film even more and more. This is one of those few films that can successfully be handed down from generation to generation. People of all ages loved this magical film since its release in 1939, arguably one of the greatest years in movie history. This adventure story has themes that all children can relate to. Every child has a need for adventure and to discover the world beyond their homes and families. But the movie also shows the world is not always a happy world, as evil can persist beyond the comfort of your home. Other prevalent themes include helping others find a path, and helping others see who they truly are. The movie is good at making symbolisms. For example, Toto (Dorothy’s dog) is a symbol for comfort. As children tend to find comfort in pets. If you take the symbolism and the themes away, you are left with a simple adventure story full of heart, wisdom, and most importantly magic.
Before I discuss my opinion of the film even further, let’s talk about the basic plot of the film. Dorothy (Judy Garland) lives at a Kansas farm with her faithful dog companion Toto, and her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin). However, a tornado strikes the farm and somehow transports Dorothy and Toto to a far-away magical land of Oz. When she lands in Oz, she immediately meets the Munchkins: a group of small people, and Glinda, a good witch (Billie Burke). They claim that her landing accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East, which is caused for celebration. Now Dorothy wants to go home, but Glinda tells her about the Wicked Witch of the West (played beautifully by Margaret Hamilton). In order to go back to Kansas, Dorothy must travel on the Yellow Brick Road towards Emerald City, where the Wizard may be able to grant her wish. Along the way, she meets new pals such as the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and enemies such as the forementioned Wicked Witch of the West.
I absolutely love the story and the themes, but I admire the technical side of the film. Keep in mind that this film is almost eighty years old, so it’s amazing how the visual effects hold up fairly well by today’s standards. The tornado looks very real, and one of the most memorable scene is inside the tornado as Dorothy is being whisked away to Oz. We see images pop outside her window, and it looks so realistic. I also loved the transition of color in the film. The film starts out black-and-white, but once we land in Oz, vibrant colors adorn everyone and everything, which I find to be a symbol for happiness because she’s away from home. I may have had more issues with the costume design. It is plainly obvious how fake the Cowardly Lion’s suit is, and how awkward the makeup is on the Tin Man. But this was back in 1939, long before the days of CGI.
This movie is also accompanied by wonderful music, bolstered by great songs including the Oscar-winning song, “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” It’s a song that routinely plays in my mind because it is such a great song. There are other recognizable songs such as “If I Had a Heart.”
Believe it or not, this film suffered through many production problems ranging from Margaret Hamilton being severely burned to Toto being out of commission for several weeks because he was stepped on. Also, Jack Haley wasn’t the first choice to play the Tin Man. He only got the role because the actor who originally had the part suffered severe allergies to the makeup. There were many more issues the film had while in production. So that attains to the talent of those who put together this film and kept the magic intact.
As for the acting, everyone does a fantastic job. The cast was relatively unknown at the time, with the exception for Judy Garland. She was already a bona fide star, but this film propelled her to superstardom. She does an amazing job in the iconic role as Dorothy. Another standout was Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a known fact that many scenes with her in them were cut because here performance was felt to be too scary for kids. Despite all the cuts, her performance was magnificent and even today, her performance still creeps me out. But on the whole, everyone should be applauded because they did such a great job.
Overall, The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic that will live on for ages and ages. It is not my favorite film of all time, but I am very appreciative of the film and how instrumental it is in cinema history. Bolstered by a wonderful story, great acting, memorable songs, and a colorful production design, this film is a great film from the early days of cinema. The themes are also timeless. But it also shows that while adventures are fun, “there’s no place like home.”
My Grade: A