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The Wizard of Oz

film by Fleming and Vidor [1939]
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The Wizard of Oz, American musical film, released in 1939, that was based on the book of the same name by L. Frank Baum. Though not an immediate financial or critical success, it became one of the most enduring family films of all time.

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Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland), a young girl from Kansas, decides to run away from her aunt and uncle’s farmhouse with her dog, Toto, who is in danger of being put down for biting a neighbour. After an encounter on the road with fortune-teller Professor Marvel, a well-meaning charlatan, Dorothy is persuaded to return home to her family. Before they can be reunited, however, she is knocked unconscious during a tornado. When she awakens, she and her farmhouse, along with Toto, are being transported to the Land of Oz, a magical place inhabited by strange characters, including munchkins, talking trees, and witches. Dorothy’s house lands in the midst of Oz’s Munchkinland, and she soon realizes it has fallen on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, whose powerful ruby slippers are magically transported onto Dorothy’s own feet. Though the munchkins celebrate Dorothy for her inadvertent act, the evil witch’s sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), vows to kill Dorothy in order to avenge her sister and retrieve the powerful ruby slippers. Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke) instructs Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road that runs to the Emerald City, where it is said that a powerful wizard will be able to grant her wish to return home.

On her way Dorothy befriends a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) in search of a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) looking for a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) in need of some courage. They are tormented by the witch on their journey but manage to reach the Emerald City. Before the Wizard of Oz will grant their wishes, however, he demands that they bring him the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick. After battling flying monkeys, they infiltrate her castle, where Dorothy drenches the witch with a bucket of water, causing her to melt into a harmless puddle. Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City with the witch’s broomstick only to discover that the Wizard is a fraud, possessing no real powers. With the help of her magical ruby slippers and Glinda, however, Dorothy is able to return to Kansas, where she is reminded that “there’s no place like home.” In a departure from Baum’s book, her trip to Oz is portrayed as an elaborate dream sequence.

Shirley Temple was the favourite to play Dorothy, but her singing skills were not strong enough. The role was ultimately a big break for Garland, then a contract player at MGM. The film originally featured the Wizard as the central character, and both W.C. Fields and Bert Lahr turned down the part. Buddy Ebsen filmed scenes as the Tin Man but had to be replaced by Jack Haley when he suffered a severe reaction to the silver makeup. While Victor Fleming directed the Technicolor Oz sequences, King Vidor was the director on the film’s black-and-white Kansas scenes. Prior to the film’s release, MGM executives were going to delete the song “Over the Rainbow,” believing it slowed the pace. It has since been voted the number one movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.

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Production notes and credits

  • Studio: MGM
  • Directors: Victor Fleming and King Vidor
  • Writers: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf
  • Running time: 101 minutes

Cast

  • Judy Garland (Dorothy Gale)
  • Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz)
  • Ray Bolger (Hunk/Scarecrow)
  • Bert Lahr (Zeke/Cowardly Lion)
  • Jack Haley (Hickory/Tin Man)
  • Billie Burke (Glinda)
  • Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West)

Academy Award nominations (* denotes win)

  • Picture
  • Cinematography (colour)
  • Special effects
  • Art direction
  • Score*
  • Song* (“Over the Rainbow”)
Lee Pfeiffer
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