Monday, April 7, 2008

Wizard of Oz (1939)

Of course I've seen the Wizard of Oz before - who hasn't? When we were kids they would broadcast it once a year and my mother would make me take a nap so that I could stay up to watch it. And just as obviously, it gets four stars. Duh.

Let's quickly run through why it rocks: musical, pioneering special effects, black-and-white turns to color gimmick (never fails to amuse me), costumes, costumes, costumes - just the munchkin costumes ALONE are worth watching the whole movie - small dog, camp factor of 10 to the tenth power, and the genuinely beautiful song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow - which incidentally is very easy to play on the piano, but very hard to sing. Oh, and the Wicked Witch - she is AWESOME and STILL scary. In fact, the actress who played her was reluctant to reprise the role because she felt it was too scary. Also it has a chant - Lions and Tigers and Bears OH MY! That you will find yourself using now and then, it's very effective. Much better than whistling,I've found, when you're walking through the woods on a dark night.

But now that I've also been enlightened by Angela Lansbury in the Wizard of Oz documentary I also know the following fun facts:

1. There were a total of three - or was it four? - directors who worked on it, including one of my favorites, George Cukor, who was responsible for several key changes to Dorothy's appearance also Victor Fleming, King Vidor, and Richard Thorpe. Yes, four.

2. Shirley Temple was considered for the part of Dorothy. It's easy to see how that would have been disgustingly cute...makes you appreciate the pathos that Judy Garland brings to the movie. It's almost as though she foresaw her own tragic death from an early age while Shirley Temple knew early on that she was going to wind up as a diplomat outliving everyone she ever starred with.

3. The original Tin Man was poisoned by his aluminum dust make-up and had to give up his role. The WORST part of this is that he had been forced to trade roles with the scarecrow. That scarecrow was damn lucky.

4. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, was a single mother. I liked that a lot, makes her seem determined and somewhat victorious, in a way - she was going to be a character actor, and she created the ultimate character. Also, she caught on fire while filming!

It seems like a giant undertaking that must have been hell to work on. Also MGM was determined to outsell Disney's Snow White. I can just imagine the lecture they gave the munchkins about beating the dwarves at their own cute game.

I recommend the documentary (The Wonderful World of Oz: 50 Years of Movie Magic - 1990) because trying to find all the same facts to fact-check it seems like there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Go see it, and then, watch the Wizard of Oz again, I know I will.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

That's so funny that George Cukor was one of the directors. I was just re-watching "Holiday" (big surprise).