The Wizard of Oz: Review
One of the most spectacular events in film history happened in the most amazing year of film – The Wizard of Oz premiered in 1939. Arguably the greatest family film of all time, Oz appeals to all moviegoers of all ages in every era. Just ask your grandparents then ask the grand kids and everyone in between. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like this film.
All though the story has been committed to celluloid many times (as early as 1910) and since (an animated version in 1991), it is the 1939 production that remains the quintessential adaptation in the hearts of movie fans. This accomplishment is due in no small part to it’s impeccable timing in re-emerging when the film industry could only do its absolute best to ensure perfection. The technology of the then relatively young art form had sufficiently developed to cater to the fantastical aspects of the story, and the rest was left in the hands of some extraordinary talent.
Simply put, Oz was executed by a tremendous pool of craftsmen (and women) that has never been matched and is unlikely to be again. Made today, Oz would be full of Special Effects and subject to a slew of postproduction manipulation such as computer-generated images (CGI). But fortunately people back in 1939 had little to work with other than their creativity, and they used it for all it was worth when someone came up with an ingenious way to make a woman’s stocking look like a very real tornado. Similar devices abound from trap doors hidden by puffs of smoke to little men dressed as monkeys propelled through the air on wires. It’s hard to believe it’s all so simple, but Oz was completely realized by the magic of good old-fashioned Hollywood labor.
Perhaps the most fortunate aspect of production was that it was Metro Goldwyn Mayer that acquired the rights to the L. Frank Baum novel and not another production company, because it was MGM that had Judy Garland under contract. With all due respect, original choice Shirley Temple would have been fine, but it took someone of Garland’s enormous talent to completely realize the role of Dorothy Gale. It was Garland’s ethereal little-girl-lost personae that contributed greatly to making Dorothy immortal. Her portrayal raised the character above that of a mere child experiencing a cartoon-like (albeit sometimes frightening) dream to that of a young woman with a tangible depth of character who experiences a broad range of emotions in pursuit of her desperate desire to return home. Other than Mickey Rooney, Garland is the only child actor who has ever been able to evoke such sincere pathos without schmaltzy manipulation.
Cap it all off with an impressive supporting cast (Frank Morgan as the Wizard, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Jack Haley as the Tin Man), the ingenious use of sepia and color photography, and a wonderful song that’s become an American standard and The Wizard of Oz is the ideal rendering of the perfect childhood tale. Who wouldn’t like that?