Reviewed by: Carrie Rostollan
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe / Director: Victor Fleming
“A little girl is whirled from her home in Kansas by a cyclone which deposits her in the magical land of Oz. There she meets a number of strange companions who accompany her to the city of the Wizard who rules the land, and with his help she returns to Kansas.”—1938 MGM synopsis of L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wizard of Oz.”
I love this movie. I’ve seen it 100,000 times. Who hasn't? It is the movie that launched a thousand cliches into our popular culture, and I would bet that most of us grew up seeing it once a year on television. The principal actors agree (in the book called The Making of The Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz) that the film was not a smashing success at the time of its original release. But almost 60 years after it was made, having been placed constantly before our eyes, it is almost unanimously labeled one of the greatest movie classics of all time.
The plot is well known, so I won’t belabor it. I only deducted one point in my Moral Rating because of the good witch/bad witch philosophy, but “The Wizard of Oz” is a beloved part of America. L. Frank Baum himself wrote of his story, “[It] aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” The sad parts aren’t too sad, and the scary parts aren’t too scary. At one theater I even saw a little boy in a homemade Tin Woodman costume. No matter what your age, if you are one of the Young in Heart to whom the picture is dedicated, you cannot help but enjoy it every time you see it.
It was a tremendous treat to see this film in the theater, and I’ve seen it in two different theaters recently. The only disappointing thing was the soundtrack for this rerelease, which advertisements refer to as a “Special Edition.” The film is supposed to be presented in Dolby Digital, but the sound still seems to come mostly from the front speakers. The music doesn’t surround you as it does on other films, and the cyclone doesn’t blow all around you like the tornadoes of “Twister”. Now, maybe there’s little these Hollywood sound masters could do with the soundtrack of this film, old as it is, but my laserdisc version sounds better at my home than it did in the theater. In my opinion a little digital technology should have been used to update the soundtrack, or the Dolby Digital point of pride in this presentation should have been dropped.
The dialog is witty and flowery, a joy to listen to, as there is not a crude word in the script. All the characters are engaging to watch, and I dare you to resist singing along with the Winkies (the Witch’s guards). See it on the big screen at least once. Take your whole family. Let Hollywood know how much we miss the clean quality family films like MGM Production #1060, “The Wizard of Oz”.
P.S.—Harmetz records in her book that Professor Marvel’s coat, purchased from a second-hand store by the wardrobe department, was discovered to have been made for L. Frank Baum himself by a tailor in Chicago. After the picture was finished, the coat was presented to his widow, Maud.