I don’t remember the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz. It must have been before I was six, because that’s when I read the book for the first time, and I definitely noticed the differences. I have seen it many times since the first, as I sure many people in the United States have. My mom reminisced about how it always used to be on TV on Easter. It’s a classic that I think will never really leave the public consciousness.
So what’s the story? Dorothy Gale is running away from her Kansas farm when she gets caught in a tornado and transported to the magical land of Oz. She sings, dances, makes friends and learns a valuable lesson as she tries to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Good: Watching this as an adult, I was struck by the costumes and makeup. It must have taken serious creativity to make three grown men into a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. And those costumes are fairly convincing. Okay, so the Cowardly Lion walks on two legs instead of all fours, but watch carefully when he first appears; he is on four legs then, and it’s really quite impressive. The flying monkeys also must have taken some serious work. I don’t even want to know how long it took everyone to get into their makeup every day. The fantasy would have failed without those two things, so it’s a good thing they were both excellent.
I was very impressed by Ray Bolger, who plays the Scarecrow. He moves like his legs are really made of straw. It’s just a tiny detail, but I think it shows his ability. Also, I’m going to allow myself to be impressed with Frank Morgan, who plays five roles in this movie, which I didn’t realize until just now when I saw it on IMDb. It’s obvious that he plays the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel, but he also has three other parts. The costumes and makeup helped there, too, but his acting skills also needed to come into play.
I can’t decide how I feel about the music. I feel like just about everyone in the English-speaking world can sing along with many of them, but it is so easy for them to get stuck in your head. I’m not sure if that’s a sign of a good song or a bad song or if it means nothing at all, but it’s annoying. But the songs are fun, even if they don’t usually advance the plot or reveal much character. I’m guess I’m kind of neutral on the subject of the songs in the movie. I do like the background music, though.
The Bad: Some of the acting is hammy by today’s standards. I’m guessing it’s because they were making a movie based on a children’s book and were aiming to appeal to children, but occasionally I cringed.
I was also sad about the screenplay. L. Frank Baum’s book is not only a great adventure story, but it’s also a satire, and there are some lovely lines about people with no brains working in the government, etc. I wish the writers had kept some of those pointed little jabs in.
The Ugly: I hate the ending. It has always made me so mad that it’s just a dream. Why can’t it have been real? What’s wrong with having a little bit of magic in the world? It’s not a dream in the book. Dorothy really goes to Oz and eventually moves there with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. I know it will probably never happen since this is a major classic, but I would love it if someone made another movie version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and stuck a little bit more closely to the source material.
Oscars Won: Best music, original song (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”); best music, original score.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best cinematography, color; best art direction; best effects, special effects.