For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“The Wizard of Oz” is more than just our #10 on AFI’s Top 100 list, this film is an integral part of American culture. Not a day goes by without a quotation in a magazine, newscast or television show. It all started with the book. In recent years, children (and adults!) have the Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings series. Children in the early 20th century had The Wizard of Oz. Growing up and living in Kansas my entire life, I have a special fondness for this film- I love my state, it feels like home- just as Dorothy refers to it in the film. (However, if you are not from Kansas, or even the Midwest, please don’t tell me ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’- or ask me where Toto is.) Those comments are ignorant and belittle both Kansans and the film, and make you look dumb. I may give you a little complimentary chuckle, because my Midwest parents raised me so well- but please just don’t go there. 🙂 My personal feelings aside, and however misguided or well-meaning those comments may be it just goes to show how far reaching this film really is.
Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) is a farm girl living with her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick), Uncle Henry and their farm hands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke. Her dog Toto is under threat from their neighbor, Miss Gulch, and she runs away with him to save his life. A short way down the road she meets Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), a carnival seer. Marvel, through a quick investigation of Dorothy’s belongings, concocts a story of her worried aunt, stricken with an ailment over her grief over her missing child. Dorothy rushes back home, a storm brewing, and the scariest cinematic tornados bearing down on the farm. The family has already taking cover in the storm cellar- having not been able to find Dorothy, and so she takes cover in the house, not being able to pull the door to the shelter open. Her bedroom window pane comes loose in the storm and flies in, knocking her unconscious.
The tornado lifts up the house, spinning it around ‘Over the Rainbow’ to the land of Oz. It lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her. Dorothy is greeted by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Munchkins, who treat her like a heroine, saying since she has killed the witch, the day will be honored for her in the future. The dead witch’s sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives. As she is about to claim the ruby slippers from her sister’s feet, Glinda transfers them to Dorothy’s feet instead. The Witch of the West swears revenge on Dorothy her little dog too. Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz might be able to help her get back home.
As Dorothy skips down the yellow brick road, she comes across three companions, a Scarecrow (Ray Boger), a Tin Woodman (Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr). Each is desperate to have a brain, a heart and courage respectively. Dorothy’s in need of friendship and help, and her kind heart invites them to join her on her journey. As they travel and encounter various obstacles, including the rude apple-throwing trees, and the narcotic field of poppies, we realize that all three of Dorothy’s companions already have the qualities they hope to get from the Wizard. The Tin Man is sensitive to a fault, the Scarecrow often has a plan and knows things that the other’s do not, and the Lion is usually courageous in spite of himself. Like Dorothy, they already possess what they desire, but often the desired thing is less important than the journey to secure it.
They enter the Emerald City, and are cleaned up to be made presentable for the Wizard. Finally they gain access to see him, and before he will fulfill their request, they are to go on a quest to him to kill the Wicked Witch of the West and bring him back her broomstick. The group heads off to the Witch’s castle, but the Witch sends in her terrifying winged monkeys to kidnap Dorothy and Toto. The Witch wants the ruby slippers, and she’s prepared to kill Dorothy to get them. Toto escapes from the witch and Dorothy urges him on, to save himself. Toto is off to find the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Lion so they can rescue Dorothy. The Witch leaves Dorothy alone with a little time to decide what to do, the red sand in her hourglass counting down the time to her death. The three follow Toto, and overcome three guards to steal their uniforms and sneak in and find Dorothy. They are quickly found out by the Witch and her guards surround them. Again Dorothy, the clear leader, is the one who stands up to the Witch. When the Scarecrow is threatened, Dorothy inadvertently douses the Witch with water, who melts into nothing.
The Wizard of Oz is impressed that they ‘liquidated’ the witch, and gives the three tokens of their knowledge, heart and bravery. He admits to them that he is not really a wizard, but merely a balloonist who was blown off course from a Kansas fair. He landed in Oz and was declared wizard and ruler. He tells Dorothy that he will have to take her back to Kansas himself in the his balloon (Omaha is written on the side, which is not in Kansas but in Nebraska- apparently the film makers didn’t do their homework). The balloon accidently takes off without Dorothy, and she is left to fret for a moment before Glinda shows up. She tells Dorothy that she, like her companions has always had what she was after- the ruby slippers will take her home, with just three heel clicks and a wish. This moment offers a quick moral and a tearful goodbye, but it is all handled so well that the moment could not be more endearing.
Once Dorothy clicks her heels, leaving the technicolor world of Oz, she wakes up in the Sepia toned Kansas back in her bed. Auntie Em is there, and Dorothy is so happy to be back home. Uncle Henry, the farm hands and even Professor Marvel are there, and all chuckle as she explains the magical land that she returned from. They tell her it was just a dream, but she insists that it was real. We are left to choose for ourselves what is real.
“The Wizard of Oz” often flirts with real danger and teeters near the edge of being legitimately scary. It allows children a cathartic moment and gives adults the emotional markers, which open the door to their own childhoods. Judy Garland is perfect in this her most famous role. She is often understated in her theatricality, and there is a genuine sadness that she brings to her character. Even though we all know the story, the insecurity and humanity that Garland pours into the role makes us unsure of whether Dorothy has the substance to overcome her challenges. This uncertainty makes Dorothy’s victory all the more satisfying, when she does succeed.
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns: