(director: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: Noel Langley/Florence Ryerson/Edgar Allan Woolf/based on the book by L. Frank Baum; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Blanche Sewell; music: Herbert Stothart, with songs by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg; cast: Judy Garland (Dorothy Gale), Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel/Emerald City Doorman/The Cabbie/The Wizard’s Guard/The Wizard of Oz), Ray Bolger (Hunk/The Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (Zeke/The Cowardly Lion), Jack Haley (Hickory/The Tin Man), Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West), Billie Burke (Glinda, the Good Witch of the North), Pat Walshe (Nikko, the Wicked Witch’s Head Winged Monkey), Charley Grapewin (Uncle Henry), Clara Blandick (Auntie Em), Terry (Toto); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mervyn LeRoy; MGM; 1939)

“Deserves its gained reputation as an arty classic with a universal appeal.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This version is the third and by far the best screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy. MGM acquired the film rights to the L. Frank Baum story for $75,000 (a huge sum in those Depression era days). The lavishly produced film (it was made for $2.7 million) lost a bundle on its initial release, but MGM recouped its loses when it became the first feature sold for a prime time TV telecast and its 1956 TV debut was a smash. The Wizard of Oz was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture (losing to Gone With the Wind).

It’s a timeless family drama turned into a musical adventure that made the 16-year-old Judy Garland a star overnight for her joyous performance as Dorothy Gale, an orphaned young girl saddened with her colorless life on her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s dusty Kansas farm. Dorothy yearns to travel “over the rainbow” to a different world, and when Dorothy’s neighbor, Miss Gulch, threatens to take away her adorable little dog, Toto, Dorothy runs away from home. But when she wishes to return a tornado tosses her and Toto to the Technicolor land of Oz. The house lands atop Oz’s Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and making Dorothy instantly a very popular figure. The Wicked Witch of the West, the sister of the deceased witch, takes her place and threatens revenge. Dorothy must escape from Oz and is told by the Munchkins-the little people–to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where the great Wizard of Oz can help her return to Kansas. Along the way, Dorothy picks up some charming new friends including–the heartless Tin Man (Haley), the brainless Scarecrow (Bolger), and the aptly named Cowardly Lion (Lahr), each of whom hopes that the Wizard can offer him the trait he does not possess. The arduous trek to see the Wizard is filled with dangers and traps planted by the Wicked Witch of the West as a good witch, the Wicked Witch of the North, protects them from the bad witch. There are also many great musical numbers along the way including Garland’s Oscar winning solo of “Over the Rainbow.”

On a more subtler and deeper note, it is a take-off on William Jennings Bryan’s fight for the gold standard, the war he waged against those evil eastern Wall Streeters.

Though one of those must see films that has become very well-received through the years, there are nevertheless some misgivings I have. Even though I loved it as a child not so much because it brought me great joy as much as I found its fantasy eerie and ominous (those ‘talking trees’ are hard to forget), nevertheless it’s a bit stiff and its visual effects appear creaky when viewed today. But it still stirs the kid inside me with flights of fancy, and deserves its gained reputation as an arty classic with a universal appeal.

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