#246 The Wizard Of Oz

(1939, Victor Fleming)

“There’s no place like home”

It’s Christmas Eve! You know what that means, right? Yes, of course, it’s time to take a look at an appropriately Christmassy movie! But wait, there aren’t actually that many actual Christmas movies on the must-see list (It’s A Wonderful Life was the main one of only two), so like last year, when I reviewed Babe, I’ll instead be pulling up a family-friendly movie.

In other words, the kind of thing you’re likely to stick on when you’re full of turkey and unable to move. The kind of thing that tends to get added to Christmas programming for that very reason. This year, we’ll be looking at The Wizard Of Oz.

You should all know what The Wizard Of Oz is, surely? Judy Garland plays Dorothy, a young girl living on a farm in Kansas. After a run-in with a grumpy neighbour (Margaret Hamilton), Dorothy runs away from home and ends up caught in a tornado, waking up in the mysterious Land Of Oz. Here she is instructed to find the Wizard who will be able to return her home, and along the way she gathers a rag-tag team of friends in the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who wants a brain, the Tin Man (Jack Haley), who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who lacks courage. Throughout their journey they have to watch out for the Wicked Witch Of The West (Hamilton again), who likes to keep trolling them as they move through the land.

Everyone knows about The Wizard Of Oz. It’s cemented its place in pop culture over the years, and has been the subject of many homages and parodies over the years, but has it stood the test of time?

First off, visually it certainly does stand up. Being one of very few movies from the 1930s in full colour, The Wizard Of Oz made great use of its colour palette, presenting a great contrast between the drab sepia of Kansas and the vibrant world of Oz. The transition from sepia to colour was also superb and seamless, performed entirely through a doorway as Dorothy steps out into her new world, and I was genuinely impressed by it.

Some of the effects look a little ropey today, but it’s a movie from the thirties, what do you expect? Despite the obvious man behind the curtain for most of the effects (see what I did there? EH?!?), they do still look pretty impressive, and it’s hard to fault the makeup jobs of Dorothy’s trio of friends, which are a real highlight.

But beyond the visuals, how well does the movie stack up in terms of plot and characterisation? Well, I’m going to be brutally honest here – the plot is ridiculous. Dorothy doesn’t really have much motivation to do anything and her entire job is to stare vacuously at things in amazement. The Good Witch is a persistent Deus Ex Machina that conveniently solves every problem Dorothy encounters. The ultimate meeting with the Wizard results in them getting cop-out rewards for their efforts, and a realisation that none of the movie really needed to happen. And don’t get me started on the logistical issues surrounding the Wicked Witch’s final demise.

But that’s OK. The Wizard Of Oz isn’t even pretending to take itself seriously. The comic performances of the trio prove as much, since they’re all campy and over the top. One liners are thrown about all over the place, including some that still hold up today – I’ll admit I enjoyed the Scarecrow’s “some people without brains do an awful lot of talking” line a little too much. The entire movie just feels too much fun to discredit the plot issues too much, since it’s likely that no one involved particularly cared all that much.

Instead, the awkward plotting and general silliness of the whole thing are the movie’s real charm. It’s a delightful romp of a film that wants to do nothing more than keep you entertained, and does so in a way that so unashamedly happy.

Plus it’s Christmas, so bitching about the movie and saying it’s terrible wouldn’t be in the spirit of the holiday. Instead, it’s a great choice for this time of year, since it’s feel-good silliness which remains charming and lovely and entertaining, even to this day. But you probably watch it every time it’s on TV anyway, so I probably didn’t even need to tell you that.

Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walshe and Terry the dog
Written by L. Frank Baum (novel – The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz) and Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson & Edgar Allan Woolf
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Music by Herbert Stothart (score) and Harold Arlen (songs)
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Edited by Blanche Sewell

Favourite Scene: The aforementioned joke about stupid people talking a lot.
Scene That Bugged Me: “Only bad witches are ugly” What a great message for the kids! Ugly people are vicious monsters that want to murder your pets! Wonderful!

Watch it if: It’s on telly. Which it will be.
Avoid it if: You have a severe phobia of whimsy

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Posted on December 24, 2013, in 1930s, Family, Fantasy, Musical and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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