An Appreciation – The Wizard of Oz

Whenever I think about Oz, I tend to move toward the rumors, myths, and background stories that grew alongside it. The production history and tall tales it spun have only piled onto its fascination. The credited director was Victor Fleming, but it is a known fact that he did not oversee the entire process. In fact, no fewer than five directors helmed the production at some point. George Cukor briefly worked as an interim director, and made his biggest contribution by removing Judy Garland’s initial blonde wig and adult makeup. Fleming would work the majority of the film, in particular on the Oz scenes. After he left early to make Gone with the Wind (1939), King Vidor took his place to shoot the remaining Kansas scenes, including the famous “Over the Rainbow” musical number. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf would all be credited for the screenplay, but over a dozen other writers added some level of contribution. With so many hands playing a part, it’s almost a miracle the finished product flows so smoothly and coherently. It seems they all knew what the end point would be, regardless of how many of them worked to get there.

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Some of cinema’s more well-known urban legends were born here. Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” eerily syncs its lyrics to events happening on screen. The ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland have become something of a Holy Grail to collectors. And stories of people committing suicide on set have caused conspiracy theorists to analyze every frame to catch something happening in the background. Of course, the urban legends are all speculation, with most easily disproved or debunked. But that only adds to a film already full of intrigue. Because it was made such a long time ago, it has built this aura of mystery, drawing the curiosity of audiences in the decades since.

Judy Garland worked in films prior to and well after this, but Dorothy was the character she was always most associated with. She wasn’t a big star prior to taking the role. The studio wanted a bigger name, and actually offered the job to Shirley Temple first. It was a wise move to go with Garland. She was sixteen at the time of filming, quite a bit older than Temple was at the time. The added years gave Garland the opportunity to provide a wider range of emotions. She could be the youthful, scared little girl, but also inhabit the strength and fortitude of someone on the brink of becoming an adult. There is a sense of wonder in her tone of voice, but she combined it with a growing level of courage as she continued along. She is so good here that she never truly removed herself from it afterwards. Of all the songs she performed in her career, “Over the Rainbow” was the most requested. Seeing how Garland’s performance has become so remembered only highlights the tragedy of her later life.

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The ending of the film has remained a point of interest for me. Dorothy’s adventure has come to an end: The Wicked Witch has been defeated, her friends are awarded the gifts they’ve longed for, and The Wizard (Frank Morgan) has flown away in his hot air balloon. There’s celebration amongst the Emerald City, The Munchkins, and all the citizens of the land. After Glinda instructs Dorothy to click her heels and say “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy gets sent back to her farm in Kansas, awakened in bed while Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and the rest of her family stand by her side. The color fades away with a return to the sepia film stock. This revelation would suggest that Dorothy’s experience was the product of her being knocked unconscious by the tornado. I’ve never been a fan of the “It Was All A Dream” construct in films, because it negates the importance of all the events prior to its reveal. I suppose this is one of those rare times where it can be forgiven, because of how finely crafted the entire piece is. But what is the ending trying to say? Are we more satisfied returning to Kansas, or would we be happier staying in the fantasy world of Oz? And why do the actors play multiple parts across both sides? One can argue that no matter what type of journey people go through, where they come from will always be fundamental to who they end up growing into, whether positively or negatively.

Sure, Glinda could have told Dorothy to click her heels and say the phrase from the beginning and avoided all the trouble that came, but where would the fun be in that? The fulfillment comes in watching these characters accomplish things they never thought they could, in the same way we see young people build themselves into their own person. The things that frighten us as children are usually nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and sometimes it only takes a small amount of will to discover the truth as it really is. Dorothy would not have matured if it weren’t for her experience. At first, she longed to escape everything she knew, and by the end had a newfound appreciation for what she took for granted. It is at this basic level where The Wizard of Oz places itself as one of the great movies. The themes are pure and innocent, but significant. It’s been said the little things in life are the most important, and that is certainly the case here. Sometimes, as we get older, we lose track of the things dearest to us, but thankfully films such as this exist to help remind us of what those things really are.


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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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