WORDS ON FILM
BY NOLAN LAMPSON
Director: Victor Fleming
Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf
Starring: Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley
Release Date: August 15, 1939 (USA)
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT DETAILS**
The Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest American films ever produced, and not just because of dazzling visuals or innovative production artistry and technique--sure, the film's sudden burst of Technicolor wowed audiences back in 1939, but the film ultimately stands on a pedestal compared to other musicals and family films because it has a narrative that is morally convincing and it is a truly triumphant tale. L. Frank Baum dedicated his 1900 original Oz book to the young at heart, as Fleming did for the picture, and this dedication could not be a better display of Oz's inner child, with imagination and creative wonder soaring over everything else.
In a role that gained public notoriety once not given to Shirley Temple, Judy Garland stars as Dorothy, a girl who, like most children, wants to know about the mystifying world outside of her home. She lives on a farm in Kansas, in a very dull home with her aunt and uncle. She dreams of the outside, the realm beyond her own, for her dreams could easily come true in a world where wishes are valued. When Dorothy breaks into song for "Over The Rainbow", still one of the greatest songs written for a film, she is not just dreaming of a place beyond her of endless whimsy and fantasy; she is wishing to go there, looking up at the sky as if she were envisioning herself there. This is an excellent display of childlike imagination that is one of the most enjoyable and respectable aspects of the film.
During production, it would be hard to discern Oz from a horror movie, with cast members becoming burnt and falling from wires. Oz had more production mishaps than action films like The Terminator or Blade Runner. It would seem fair to argue that the controversies on set with the munchkins (Garland reported their debauchery years after) and these onset problems, the film bombed at the box office. But the truth is that Oz's box office flop was probably due to audiences' disinterest in fantasy-like films at the time (see: Hugo, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Pan). Oz, nevertheless, received critical acclaim, and didn't gross a substantial amount until its re-release in the 40s.
Oz's screenplay is a wondrous one; one still used as a template today in screenwriting classes. What could be such a simple, impish road trip film had insurmountable amounts of heart and soul, something the screenwriter could accomplish only through talent. Like almost everything on the Oz production, the screenplay had controversy over who had credit with the writing. People like Herman J. Mankiewicz (co-screenwriter of Citizen Kane), had ideas for the Technicolor transition, while people like Edgar Allan Woolf contributed to the entire screenplay.Oz is still one of the greatest American screenplays, because of its simple premise turned into a heartwarming tale.
Judy Garland had something that her character Dorothy somewhat had, and that millions around the world that love and adore Oz had: a bad childhood. Nevertheless, she is a great presence onset. Her performance, especially considering her age of 17, is angelic in form and execution. Judy Garland is a work of beauty not unlike Marilyn Monroe, never seeming to age and always abundant of grace. The supporting cast is also remarkable, and I am always fascinated with the Cowardly Lion, and how Bert Lahr would have to say in the heated suit all day in Los Angeles weather. All of these performances glimmer on-screen now, because almost all of the actors are experienced and take good care of their roles.
The visuals in the film are absolutely enthralling, and are probably the most distinguished part of the 2-hour whirlwind. Technicolor operatives were exclusive, and some directors said no to preserve black-and-white film, used only now for excellent foreign films like The Artist and Ida. Mankiewicz and Fleming decided on the black-and-white to color transitioning to entrance the audience, an idea now that is unforgettable and original. Now with technology to make every image sharper and every line of dialogue more intricate, The Wizard Of Oz is one of the best films ever to see restored on a big screen.
Oz seems to put viewers in a perpetual childlike state. Is this because the majority of us see it when we are young? I will say that Oz being viewed as a child is much more magical, but as the picture is dedicated to the young at heart, you should enjoy and find its whimsical wonder if you are willing to imagine and escape to Oz. The film is wonderful in its attempt to entertain and entrance both old and young, and uses astronomically special visual effects and audacious costume and production design features to boast a film that remains Hollywood's best fantasy film.
The Wizard Of Oz, however, is not without flaws. Though an impressive spectacle overall, Frank Morgan as Oz/Professor Marvel and Dorothy's Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are dull performances, and ultimately detract from the entire film. They unfortunately stand out here among the other great performances. Other than these performances, the visuals are impeccable, the screenplay is nearly flawless, the choreography is electric, the performances are mostly ecstatic, and the film means well in its meaning and messages.
Films with the daring audacity and boldness of The Wizard Of Oz will usually be disliked by audiences and critics at first, ultimately to be described as pinnacles of American cinema (see: Citizen Kane). Nevertheless, The Wizard Of Oz continues to strike children with an imaginative pulse that can only be offered in American cinema if you seek the outside realms of imagination, somewhere over the rainbow.
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comments on the screen by nolan lampson.