The Wizard of Oz
(United States, 1939)
I don't remember my exact age when I first saw The Wizard of Oz, but I must have been around 7 or 8 - probably within a year or two of when most people first see catch a glimpse of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. I remember my first impressions, and they weren't favorable. (Hey, I was a strange kid - King Kong and Godzilla were more my speed.) I thought the whole thing, from the songs to the costumes, was kind of hokey. In fact, I was so unimpressed that a period of two decades elapsed before I mustered the energy to watch The Wizard of Oz again. On that occasion, I was able to appreciate the film on an "adult" level, but I guess a part of that peevish child still lingered somewhere deep within, dulling my enthusiasm ever-so-slightly. Don't get me wrong - I think The Wizard of Oz is a great film, and I have come to enjoy the movie immensely (including the songs and the costumes), but the "consensus" placement of this film would probably be much higher on a generic Top 100 list. This is, after all, a beloved piece of Americana. For me, there's no nostalgia associated with the movie (my only viewing as a child was unmemorable, and no one in my family was a big fan), so perhaps my perspective is skewed. Yet, although my reasons for liking the film may be a little different from those of many others, the result is the same. By any definition, The Wizard of Oz is a true classic, one of the early Technicolor greats.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The story opens by introducing us to Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a young girl in Kansas who finds her wanderlust stirred by dreams of going "somewhere over the rainbow." When a tornado strikes the farm where she lives with her aunt and uncle, she is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up, she finds herself in the magical land of Oz, where she journeys in the company of a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) and find the all-powerful Wizard (Frank Morgan), who has the power to send her home. But is this a real trip, or is it all a dream? A strong case can be developed for either possibility, although it's ultimately up to each viewer to make up his or her own mind.
The Wizard of Oz belongs in that exclusive category of films capable of equally enchanting children and adults. Over the years, The Wizard of Oz has been subjected to the kind of scrutiny reserved for only the greatest of motion pictures. Volumes have been written about it, analyzing everything from its look to the urban legends that have sprung up around it. Ultimately, however, it doesn't take a lengthy study to understand why multiple generations find the movie so compelling. Not only is it wonderfully entertaining, but the issues it addresses, and the way it presents them, are both universal and deeply personal. And therein lies The Wizard of Oz's true magic.
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