THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 38: THE WIZARD OF OZ

by Daniel Suddes


 The Wizard of Oz (1939)   Directed by: Victor Fleming (also an uncredited George Cukor, Mervin LeRoy, and King Vidor)  Written by: Noel Langlely, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allen Woolfe (as well as a slew of uncredited writers including Ogdan Nash and Herman J. Mankiewicz). Based upon The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum  Starring:    Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton Oscar Count 2 (Best Original Score, Best Original Song.)

The Wizard of Oz is not the greatest film of all time. However, it is one of the few films that will last forever. It has been a classic film for decades that still manages to draw enormous crowds. It has been re-released, analyzed, sequeled, and used by different cultures seeking comfort. It is also an amazing technical achievement, and created one of the most beloved Hollywood stars.

When people are talking about the good old days of Hollywood, this is usually the film that they are talking about.

Still, it is a miracle that the film exists at all. Every part of the production was mauled with difficulty. The casting was difficult (Judy Garland was far from the first choice to play Dorothy and other actors had to be replaced), many directors were called in to help with certain scenes (although only Victor Fleming is credited in the final cut), the elaborate costuming was time consuming, and the film was cut after its initial premiere. If this film were being made today, it would be pegged as some sort of disaster before its release and may not have been able to even be completed.

Still, The Wizard of Oz was, and it has lasted throughout history. It struck the public’s imagination (a public that was still recovering from the Great Depression and about to enter into history’s costliest war) and is the purest example of cinematic escapism ever. Any fantasy film made since this release are trying so hard to copy this film. They will never equal it, because Wizard of Oz transported its audiences so effortlessly that each generation keeps coming back to it.

I am still not sure why. Most people have no interest in films made before 1980, much less 1940. But then, The Wizard of Oz addresses the primary purpose of cinema.  Films have always been the ultimate form of escapism. When they have succeeded, films transport viewers to new worlds and invite us to share experiences. Everyone takes something out of the film (from political meanings to ideas about puberty) but they also come out humming the songs and talking about how the Witch gave them nightmares as a child.  So much attention has been given to the film that Oz has practically become a real place, that people feel they need to go to for their lives to be complete.

Now, the film is not without flaws. The film’s views of good, evil, and youth have not really aged well. They would be tolerated more by children today, and an entire literary movement was born from the Wicked Witch of the West being recast as a misunderstood woman rather than a cartoonishly malevolent prescence. The make up today looks positively ancient, and most of the performances approach camp. The film was clearly more about spectacle than depth. Granted, the film does not try to suggest otherwise, but this approach still keeps The Wizard of Oz from exploring other territories it certainly could have.

Still, this is all trivial in a discussion of The Wizard of Oz. All of the best art is open for interpretation and may even be flawed –it’s what demonstrates that the film is still the product of human imagination. Like the best fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz will continue to be told from generation to generation. In fact, in some distant future, when someone wants to discover what a film ever was, they will likely look to this one. It is a film that has transcended time, and become so ingrained in the popular mindset that it is almost beyond criticism.

The best scene of the film is the initial entrance into Munchkinland. The mere mention of this probably already has made many people recall the scene. The film abruptly changes from sepia tones to bright Technicolor, and Dorothy wanders around this strange world, before seeing Gilda the Good Witch for the first time. What makes the scene special is that, frankly, it is the one time that the line “we’re not in Kansas in anymore” has actually fit into a film. The contrast between the two worlds the film presents is certainly a marked one. Oz is a masterpiece of studio artificiality, building a location that exists, but manages to still look like an adequate representation of Dorothy’s internal views of a new world. It is at this moment, when Dorothy steps out of her house and into the colorful land of Oz, everyone should realize that they are watching a very special film.

Did You Know: The film, of course, became famous for its numerous quotes, including the oft imitated “I’ve got a feeling that we’re in Kansas anymore.” But many people still misquote the film. The famous line “Fly, my pretties, fly” does not appear in The Wizard of Oz at all. The actual line is merely “Fly, fly, fly.” However, The Wicked Witch does refer to Dorothy as “my pretty” in an earlier scene.


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One response to “THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 38: THE WIZARD OF OZ

  1. One of the most gorgeous looking films ever made. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s one of my great favourites but it has some of the finest cinematic moments ever crafted and like you say it acts as the perfect form of escapism for audiences both then and now. Good read.

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