Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Wizard of Oz - 1939

"The Wizard of Oz" - 1939
Dir. by Victor Fleming - 1 hr. 42 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I think you'd be hard-pressed to call yourself an American if you haven't seen "The Wizard of Oz."  That's not to say that it isn't popular elsewhere, but it's hard to imagine someone who grew up in the U.S. and had access to a TV of any kind that hasn't seen this film, to the point where you'd have to be a luddite or a deliberate recluse to have avoided it.  "Oz" isn't a perfect film, but it's enjoyable, and full of lines that everyone knows, even if they don't know that they know them.  It's reached complete cultural penetration (which is less ribald than it sounds), so whatever flaws might be present don't really matter anymore.

Dorothy (Judy Garland) is an irresponsible teen in need of constant attention, and after letting her mongrel Toto run loose in a neighbor's garden, she returns to Auntie Em's (Clara Blandick) Kansas farm and distracts everyone within earshot from their duties, which include securing all the animals, because there is a twister on it's way!  Her acting out reaches a crescendo when she attempts a Superfly Splash into the hog pen, which concusses her so badly that she imagines her farmhouse (with her in it) has been swooped up into the twister, depositing her into a world that is in full color (she had been living a sepia-toned existence until then) and jammed full of singing little people in fanciful costumes.  Unfortunately, Dorothy's house has landed upon a witch, and when the witch's sister shows up, Dorothy steals the corpse's shoes, and the "good" witch Glinda (Billie Burke) taunts the poor Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) about dropping another house on top of her.  This sets Dorothy and Ms. West on a course towards a head-on collision, if only Dorothy had shown a little respect for the recently departed.

I remember when I watched the first "Star Wars" for the first time a few years, I was struck by how whiny and awful Luke Skywalker was.  Re-watching "Oz" for the first time in a while, I had a similar realization about Dorothy.  Her character was absolutely desperate for attention, and freaked out whenever anyone threatened her dog.  I know that this was intended to be an all ages movie, but I just kept thinking that if someone had biked up to my house and demanded that my dog be put down, I might have resorted to physical violence.  At the very least, a very salty stream of language would have been unleashed.  It's neither here nor there, but Dorothy's always flipping out about something.

But ignoring that, it's pretty important to note that I don't generally like musicals or dance movies.  More than that, I don't usually even bother seeing them in the first place.  That's how big "The Wizard of Oz" is culturally.  Even someone like me who is pretty ignorant of those genres knows about "Oz."  Part of this is that this is a really fun movie, from the songs that everyone knows and can sing along with, to the colorful, imaginative, stylized set designs, to the goofy overacting of everyone involved.  Visually, it's got a lot going on, even if the story itself isn't terribly complicated.  At pretty much every turn, you're going to have fun looking at whatever is going on on the screen

Like I said, "The Wizard of Oz" isn't a perfect film, but it is good enough to overcome my prejudices against the musical genre, and good enough to be a common cultural touchstone for pretty much anyone raised within the last eighty years.  I guess that'll have to do, as far as recommendations go.

4 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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