By Marc S. Sanders
The Wizard Of Oz will always be one of the greatest films ever made.
It’s a visually spectacular marvel of filmmaking and creativity. The accomplishments it achieves in performance, fantasy and musical tones work on any generation who has seen it since its debut on August 15, 1939.
Victor Fleming directed the adaptation from L Frank Baum’s successful series of books. Wisely, the picture opens in black and white where we meet Dorothy, one of the best cast roles in film history with the legendary Judy Garland. She lives on her Kansas farm with her dog Toto and her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, along with some friendly farmhands called Huck, Hickory & Zeke. Following an unexpected twister, Dorothy and Toto are sent into the heavens while in their farmhouse. When the house finally lands, Fleming has Dorothy open the door to a kaleidoscope of wondrous color. Dorothy has arrived in Munchkin land located in the Land of Oz. The adventure begins.
Nearly any film of fantasy and adventure can be traced back to The Wizard Of Oz. It features the thoughtful mentor with Glinda The Good Witch, and the lovable sidekicks that Dorothy encounters known as the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) and the Lion (Bert Lahr). It also has one of the greatest on screen villains of all time, The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). The story pursues objects (ruby slippers, a brain, a heart, courage and a broomstick) for the heroes to acquire, years later to be identified by Alfred Hitchcock as “MacGuffins.”
Victor Fleming with Baum’s ingenuity inspired great storytellers of a future in movies yet to come. Authors like JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis absorbed the will to compose never before conceived imagination thanks to The Wizard Of Oz. So many moments throughout the land far away from Kansas are so inventive. There’s endless the candy colored scenery of Munchkin land, along with a dark forest where trees come alive to argue and throw apples at you. The Witch’s foreboding castle with the crystal ball is ominous and frightening. The Emerald City where the great and powerful Oz resides is spectacular in life and cheerfulness. I still look in awe at the scenic design of the film questioning how it was all done. Matte paintings of endless depth for background give off the vastness of the land as the famous Yellow Brick Road stretches infinitely over rolling hills behind Dorothy and her friends as their journey continues.
The Wizard Of Oz is also an inspiration for the movie musical. Every song is unforgettable. Is there a greater song in film history than “Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” Dance sequences are totally engaging. Try not to love the ease of watching Dorothy skip along the road to “We’re Off To See The Wizard.” Ray Bolger’s rubber legged straw man clumsiness during his first scene with “If I Only Had A Brain,” seems to defy the limits of what a human body can do. Bert Lahr’s “If I Were King Of The Forest” is comedically inspired; the number that pauses the story for a moment as an escape among the characters’ adventure. As a kid I loved to roll my tongue on the word “forrrrrrrrrest.”
Margaret Hamilton’s green skinned wicked witch dressed in black with the pointed hat set a standard in villainy. It instilled some of the first fears many children ever experience to this day. Hamilton’s evil cackle with her determination to obtain Dorothy’s ruby slippers never leaves your mind once you see the performance. The Witch inspired any kind of horror film, and terrible villains we love to hate like Darth Vader, Maleficent, Hannibal Lector or Lord Voldemort. Evil queens and bad guys from the Disney vault only began from the seeds that Hamilton laid out.
So many of the greatest achievements in film history are contained in The Wizard Of Oz. It’s an outstanding musical, an incredible adventure and a brilliant fantasy. It’s beautifully cast and so creative on every technical level necessary for its flights of fancy.
More than any other film ever made, every person should see The Wizard Of Oz at least once in their lifetime.