101 Min. | Adventure – Family – Fantasy | December 1939
IMDB Rating: 8.1
Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor
Staring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
The Wizard of Oz Review: Where to begin? MGM’s elaborate adaptation of L.Frank Baum’s 1900 fantasy classic the wonderful The Wizard of Oz not only became an institution among itself (and practically defined the concept of modern popular culture), but is reported to be the most viewed film ever made. A sharp screenplay effectively condenses the novel’s text into a workable film, and director Victor Fleming (along with countless other behind-the-scenes technicians) craft a visually stimulating fantasy world that surpasses the expectations of even the most imaginative viewers. Brimming with stunning visual effects (the film’s fierce tornado is an FX feat that has yet to be surpassed by CGI), witty dialogue, and eye-popping Technicolor, The Wizard of Oz truly lives up to it’s reputation as a once-in-a-lifetime film where every element comes together flawlessly.
The cast of The Wizard of Oz could not be improved upon. The quivery-voiced, solemn-faced Judy Garland will always be Dorothy, the little lost farm girl on the road to Oz, clutching her beloved Toto (impressively portrayed himself by the female canine performer Terry, the terrier). It seems inconceivable that MGM had originally wished to cast Shirley Temple in the role, as Temple’s doe-eyed, cutesy-voiced shtick would have been a catastrophic ill-fit for the tone of this picture. Conversely, Garland is perhaps the screen’s quintessential woman/child, always seemingly just one step away from reaching full emotional maturity. It is her sadness that transfixes viewers to the screen, the exact same quality that made the film’s most memorable Harold Arlen/E.Y.Harburg number “Over the Rainbow” into one of the most exquisite marriages between artist and song ever to be recorded.
The remainder of the cast is similarly exceptional, many of whom perform perfectly even under the most debilitating make-up and costumes. Frank Morgan is marvelously versatile in no less than five roles, the insanely energetic Bert Lahr mugs brilliantly, the handsome Jack Haley swoons sweetly, Billie Burke lends the film an ornate ethereality, and Ray Bolger’s gravity-defying physical presence nearly steals the entire picture on several occasions. Perhaps most notable is former schoolteacher Margaret Hamilton’s transformation into the wickedest of wicked witches, which certainly remains among the vilest and most terrifying portrayals of full-throttle evil ever to be seen. No matter how it is analyzed, scrutinized, or satirized, the 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz is a top-notch example of how to turn a great story into a fabulous, milestone of a film.