The Wizard of Oz (1939)
“Mighty Miracle Show Of 1000 Delights “
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
Synopsis: Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that has stood the test of time: it doesn’t let you down when you view it for the first time since you were a child, expectations perhaps unrealistically raised by rose-tinted memories of how it once enchanted — and frightened — you in equal measure. Most films usually fail to make that transition, and leave you feeling a little sad in the process. Maybe that little kid doesn’t live on inside you after all. But then you re-watch a movie like The Wizard of Oz and realise he’s still there, it just takes something special to wake him up…
The story concerns the efforts of farm-girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) to return to her Kansas homestead after somehow being transported to the fantastical land of Oz during a violent windstorm. Judy Garland was seventeen when she made The Wizard of Oz, and despite the efforts of MGM’s costume department — they strapped her breasts, plaited her hair, and dressed her in a gingham blue pinafore — there’s something a little off-centre about her portrayal of an innocent girl who’s supposed to be about fourteen at the most. The vulnerability is there — given Garland’s hang-ups, how could it not be? — but she’s still a little too grown-up for the part, a fact that’s spawned sniggery ‘Surrender, Dorothy!’ fantasies amongst a certain subset of men ever since…
Anyway, Dorothy learns from the good witch of the North that her only chance of getting home is with the help of the Wizard of Oz, who lives far away in Emerald City. And as she doesn’t possess a broomstick, Dorothy’s going to have to walk there. On the way she finds three companions: a scarecrow with no brain (Ray Bolger), a tin man with no heart (Jack Haley), and a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr), and together they travel to the Emerald City in search of the Wizard. On arriving at the City, however, the Wizard (Frank Morgan) refuses to grant their wishes unless they bring him the broomstick belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)…
While the enduring quality of The Wizard of the Oz comes as no surprise, the high musical content certainly does. Pretty early on, it dawned on me that it’s primarily a musical, filled with songs and dances — some memorable, some not so — that take up maybe two-thirds of the running time. Perhaps the sheer colourful spectacle of the production distracted me from the numbers when I was a kid. Or perhaps it was the gruesome darker aspects that caught my eye — a cackling Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch, and her perpetually grinning flying monkeys. It’s a strange combination when you think about it — a bright, glitzy musical and a dark fantasy — but the blending of the two never seems incongruous, and works a lot better than it should.
(Reviewed 6th October 2012)