The Wizard Of Oz (1939/Warner 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Set/2009 70th
B- Sound: C+ Extras: B Film: B+
Baum was one of the first independent producers of films and most of the films
he made were based on his book series The
Wizard Of Oz, but 12 film versions all bombed before the one we know of
today became an all-time cinema classic.
Despite the fact that the film was not an immediate smash hit,
especially because fantasy films were highly uncommon (versus now, where we get
too many of them), there are so many reasons this one is the greatest
adaptation we ever have or will get of Baum’s books and characters. Why?
In part, it was 1939, the peak of the Hollywood Studio System and MGM, at
the time the richest, largest and most powerful movie studio in the world,
decided to make it into a big film and go all out to back it 100%. The result is a classic that shows why they
were #1 into the 1950s.
Victor Fleming gets the main credit for directing the film, Producer Mervyn
LeRoy and King Vidor also directed sequences after Richard Thorpe’s work was
jettisoned. Fox turned MGM down to loan
Shirley Temple for the film in one of the biggest mistakes they made at the
time (if a hit, Temple would have returned to Fox and made money off of rival
MGM’s success) and Louis B. Mayer was determined to push three technologies to
new highs that were new to film that keeps the film a classic today: sound,
visual effects and color. As a matter of
fact, he had the money to do the whole film in the then-expensive three-strip
Technicolor, yet the Kansas sequences would be sepia-colored black and white.
is legendary. Judy Garland would replace
Temple as Dorothy, Billie Burke played Glinda – The Good Witch and the other
actors played multiple roles. Frank
Morgan would play no less than five characters, Ray Bolger would play The
Scarecrow and his Kansas counterpart Hunk, Jack Haley (replacing Buddy Ebsen
due to illness) would be The Tin Man (or Tin Woodsman to some) and Kansas
counterpart Hickory, Bert Lahr became The Cowardly Lion and sepia equal Zeke
and as one of the greatest villains in screen history, the great Margaret
Hamilton would be the mean Elmira Gulch in the “real world” and Wicked Witch Of
The West in what has become one of the most quoted and celebrated performances
of all time among so many great ones just in this film.
don’t know the story, Dorothy lives in Kansas and has a potentially good life
if she could just get it together and deal with distractions like Miss Gulch
and (implied) The Great Depression. If
that were not bad enough in the Dust Bowl, the dust really kicks up when a
storm hits town and she barely makes it to back to her house, which is picked
up by the strong winds and suddenly, she’s been transported to another
world. As she goes outside to this
colorful new world, it is so strange, yet so familiar, but new challenges lie
ahead and the rest is history.
does it endure after seven decades where it is, like The Beatles, more popular
than ever? Is it from being quoted to
endlessly in other films and pop culture?
Is it because the songs are so memorable? Or that the actors were at their best all the
time here? Or that the money was really
put in the film? Or is it just because
MGM had the resources to get it right until it worked? That all helps, but it is the energy, comic
timing, great script (primarily by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar
Allan Woolf, but many others also contributed) and energy that all meshes in
some of the greatest big screen movie chemistry ever seen.
this was hard work, these people are having fun and know they are making
something special and like nothing anyone had ever made or seen before or
since, when you really think about it.
MGM added anything they could to make it exciting, even rejecting ideas
that would become popular later (like the Jitterbug sequence) and everyone is
charming. The humor is truly funny
throughout, combining the best of the Screwball Comedy cycle with the comedy
style made famous at the time by the likes of Laurel & Hardy. It plays to the audience’s common sense while
having fun with it.
important are the famous Munchkins who have more than their share of screen
time when they show up early. It is an
extravagant, generous gesture in the film that these otherworldly people
(especially for 1939) would not be treated as the rejectable to-be-feared
“other” but as friends and more important, embracing other who arte different
as a good, positive thing. Sadly, it is
one way in which too many films have gone backwards since, but this aspect of
the films remains one of its greatest triumphs.
greatest thing is how once the film gets going, it always has something new to
offer, yet is able to keep its story going, the surprises always stay fresh
after every viewing and appeals to everyone because unlike today’s
precalculated blockbusters, is as authentic with the audience as it can be by
treating them a people and not marketing targets. This speaks volumes about what separates a
classic from a cold, calculated franchise.
Like any great art or commercial film, The Wizard Of Oz is pure cinema that delivers the goods and will
remain a classic as long as they make films.
X 1 image is clearer than the 1999 and 2005 DVD releases, but despite having
much of the same color schemes based off of an original 1939 Technicolor
dye-transfer print (reissued in three-strip Technicolor when the company
revived the format from 1997 to 2001), red, white and black is still a little
limited and there are still shots that look softer than expected. Some of the limits in fidelity are likely the
DVD format, so we’ll compare to the Blu-ray when we get it. Director of Photography Harold Rosson is one
of the unsung heroes of this film and I would like to personally like to single
him out now as one of the biggest reasons it is a classic. His work here, including moving that heavy
Technicolor camera as well and as smoothly as he did was great on his part and
had been a major cinematographer since the silent era. Versed well in black and white, it turns out
he knew how to make color work, light it when it was so new and helped put the
format on the map permanently. His later
color work on Duel In The Sun, El Dorado and MGM musicals On The Town and Singin’ In The Rain confirm this.
He does not get enough credit and it is time that changed.
Digital 5.1 remix is pretty good for a film this old, yet you can still hear
some background hiss and the sound is a little dated. However, if you switch to the Dolby Digital
2.0 Stereo Music-and-Effects-Only track, you can hear that portion of the
soundtrack better and we highly recommend seeing the film with that track only
all the way through just to see how smart the sound design and great music
(which so many worked on) really was and is here. If you ever tried to sync up Pink Floyd’s
classic album masterpiece Dark Side Of
The Moon to the film, you’ll love this option. A Sing-A-Long and original Dolby Mono track
is also offered, but we’ll have to see how good the 5.1 is when we can hear a
lossless version on the Blu-ray.
are the same as the previous, now out-of-print DVD set and includes a
restoration featurette of the 2005 restoration that is supposed to be here in
5.1 sound, but is only presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Too bad there was not a newer restoration featurette. You also get a feature length audio
commentary track by John Fricke with guest voices and much vintage audio and an
Illustrated Video Storybook on DVD
1. DVD 2 adds a bunch of still sections,
a trailers section, Harold Arlen’s Home Movies, audio jukebox of recording
sessions, radio shows & promos, Outtakes & Deleted Scenes, The Wonderful World Of Oz: The Making Of A
Movie Classic and Memories Of Oz
there are no new extras, we recommend the following link to the Mego Museum
site. There, you will find a nice
collection of materials on the 1975 toy line from the now-defunct Mego Toy
Company. They produced amazing and now
highly collectible action figure type characters from the film, including
several of the Munchkins and a few nice playsets. Among the amazing number of tie-ins to the
film over the last 70 years, they remain some of the best and most desired Oz items ever made. See more at this link:
meantime, Oz is back and if you are
a fan, the last thing you should be thinking is “goodbye yellow brick road”.
want to get it now!
- Nicholas Sheffo