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USA 1939
Directed by
Victor Fleming
101 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
5 stars

The Wizard Of Oz

MGM’s Technicolor classic has not dated despite the huge advances in special effects and computer graphics since it was made. The art direction, including set design, wardrobe and costume, is marvellous and accounts for at least half of the film’s success, the rest being made up of the excellent score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg that includes Judy Garland's wonderful rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", the song that became her signature tune (and which was nearly cut out of the film because it was perceived as slowing the story down). Also memorable is the heavily-corsetted 17 year old Garland’s iconic performance as Dorothy the pre-pubescent runaway from Kansas (Shirley Temple was initially slated for the role but was under contract to 20th Century Fox), not to forget Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch Of The West (many of her scenes being cut because it was felt she was too scary for the littlies, her character being based on the wicked queen in Disney's Snow White of two years earlier).

The troubled production originally began with Richard Thorpe as director. His footage went in the bin, George Cukor briefly stepped up to the plate and notably changed Garland’s makeup changing her from a blond-wigged baby-doll type to the natural country girl we now know. Victor Fleming was brought on board and did the bulk of the film but when he was wanted by Selznick and Clark Gable for Gone With The Wind, King Vidor stepped in, filming the "Somewhere Over A Rainbow", "We're Off To See The Wizard" and some of the cyclone scenes. Producer Mervyn LeRoy also directed some transitional scenes. When MGM bought the rights to the L. Frank Baum children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz it also purchased the rights to the 1902 vaudeville-style stage musical by Baum and Paul Tietjens, and The Wizard Of Oz, a 1925 silent comedy version. From the latter it took Dorothy's companions as farmhands and the it-was-all-a-dream ending and from the former it took the snowstorm that the Good Witch of the North sent to wake up Dorothy in the field of poppies (in the novel, the Scarecrow and the Tinman carry Dorothy out and put Lion onto a truck that is pulled on strings by hundreds of mice).

The film did not do well commercially on its initial release, barely making back its US$3 m budget and only being recuperated via the television generation. Somewhat misguidedly, "We're Off to See the Wizard" became Australia's wartime marching song.




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