The Wizard of Oz (1939)

G, 102 minutes, Fantasy

Starring: Judy GarlandRay BolgerJack HaleyBert Lahr

There are certain movies that make you believe in a sense of national identity; movies that might make you “un-American” for not having seen them. There can be no question that The Wizard of Oz is one of those films. The American fairy-tale turned Technicolor masterpiece has held a firm grasp on the role of being one of the most iconic Hollywood works of all time.

The story should no longer come as a surprise: Dorothy (Garland) finds herself whisked away from her dreary home in Kansas into the land of Oz via the Mother of All Tornadoes. She is to seek out the Wizard of Oz if she is to ever return home. Along the way she finds like-minded friends while being pursued by the Wicked Witch of the West and her minions.

Yeah, but where does the RED brick road go?

It doesn’t take long to run head-first into the wonder of this film. After a short sequence of a dull black and white existence (and one seriously cool twister effect), Dorothy opens the door of her old life and steps into the magical juxtaposition of a full-blown color fantasy realm. The styles in this new place are different, the rules have changed, and everything is a sight to behold.

Can you just imagine being an audience member during an original screening? Living back in the ’30s you’ve maybe seen a handful of features (unless perhaps you resided in Tinseltown). You sit down to watch another black and white movie when–BAM!–midway through there’s an explosion of color! You’ve just gotten over the wonderment of talking films and here comes the sheer shock of seeing what might possibly have been your first color film. Okay, so just outside there’s already a well-established world of color, but we’re talking about media here, so stay focused!

Saying something smart when everyone around you has no idea what you mean still makes you look stupid.

This film also brings a decent amount of special effects to the table: flying monkeys, burlap skin, crystal balls, curling feet, and non-CG extras. Yes, I find that impressive. People are abundant and it’s nice to see studios not be cheap when it comes to hiring extras. *ahem* And still there is that awe-inspiring tornado scene. If you didn’t see this movie as a kid,  then you’ll never know the feeling of having your mom try to scare the crap out of you by threatening to give you over to the witch and her monkeys. Blugh…

Finally, I’d like to touch on the characters. Our heroes are all searching for something they lack: intelligence, love, bravery, and a place they belong. They all feel like basic human needs.  It’s almost certain that a viewer can relate to one or more of these desires. What’s more our heroes simply agree to go along with the commands of the supporting characters. “You want to go home? Kill the witch.” “Okay…” I’m not sure if that speaks for spirit of the time or if it’s a flaw in the storytelling, but I’ll stick with the former.

Hopefully, dear reader, you are familiar with the story of Dorothy and her companions. If not (or if you’d like a refresher), I highly recommend you set aside a couple of hours to devote to one of the most well-known classics of cinematography.

Rating: Own it.

Watch: Striking use of color.
Don’t watch: If you’re made out of tin.

Images ©MGM

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