Wizard of Oz, The (1939)

The Wizard of Oz (1939), directed by Victor Fleming.

First review

When I was young my favorite parts were the flying monkeys and haunted wood and witch's castle. That's still the case. The scary bits. The fortress and goblin soldiers now have a sort of Tolkien aspect, a mini-Mordor.

You can keep the Munchkins.

This time I noticed Judy Garland breaking character and starting to smile when she first meets the Lion and he is crying and wiping his eyes. Also how often the ruby slippers reflect off of the polished floors.

When Dorothy is locked in the castle and sees Auntie Em in the crystal ball I had the strangest sensation of having drifted into a David Lynch film. Like Mulholland Dr (2001), where the dreamer is under such stress that she must break out of the dream and awake into the outer reality.

Toto holds it all together. It takes a lot of skill to keep wagging that tail and keep up with the dancers without being trampled. He's really very good, without seeming like a show dog.

Available on Blu-ray.

Second review

A runaway teen with her Cairn Terrier attack dog assault and murder the benevolent Preceptress of the Eastern Provinces. Object: theft of her valuable ruby slippers. With other malcontents she hunts down and murders the sister of the earlier victim, a recluse who ran a winged simian rescue center. They carouse in the opium poppy fields and then riot in Emerald City and extort payments from the feckless mayor of same.

I confess I was not much enchanted by this film as a child. I was very serious minded and this was too silly for me. I did like the scary bits of the haunted forest, flying monkeys and witch's castle, an early glimpse of Mordor. Apparently they had more of this and cut it.

Even today the themes of Home, Friends, Courage, Brain and Heart don't do that much for me. I just marvel at the design and color and sheer audacity of the whole project. There have been other very light stagey fantasy musicals, but nothing else comes remotely close to this.

Judy Garland (Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946), Easter Parade (1948)) is 17, meant to be younger and presented as sexless. I think her velvety contralto singing voice was influential in 1940s music; sopranos like Deanna Durbin fell out of favor, perhaps sounding too formal or high-toned. Watch her struggle to keep from cracking up when the Cowardly Lion is blubbing after she first slaps him.

Toto is a real performer here, expertly choreographing moves with Garland. He does have one vice: chasing cats, which almost proves disastrous. That's a heroic escape from the castle, though. The character is actually played by "Terry", a female with 21 films, this one being her only onscreen credit. Lore is that she became a movie dog after being left at a kennel in lieu of payment. Garland wanted to buy her but the owner wouldn't have it. Which I understand.

Buddy Ebsen was supposed to play the Tin Man but dropped out, partly because of allergic reaction to the makeup but also because of a blowup with the producers. George MacDonald Fraser, who hosted Ebsen in a history and genealogy tour of Scotland, tells the story that whenever Ebsen had a terrible experience like pushing his car out of a ditch, he would walk up to his wife, covered in mud, and say "Boy, I sure told off Louis B. Mayer, didn't I!"


George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog and King Vidor are uncredited directors. The IMDB has 20 writing credits.

Available on a wonderful looking Blu-ray with an edited fact-filled commentary track and a cargo ship of extras.