Saturday, April 16, 2011

What a Woman Won't Do for a Pair of Shoes

Film: The Wizard of Oz
Format: The Egyptian Theater

When I was a kid, The Wizard of Oz was on television once a year. If you were like my family, you planned your week around it. When The Wizard of Oz was on, you stayed home and you watched it. Of course, this was in the days before DVRs, DVDs, and even VCRs, so things like The Wizard of Oz appearing on television was an event. Everyone had that one year when he or she missed it, and it really felt like something missed.

I’m not going to discuss much of the plot here. You’ve seen this movie, or you’re a communist. Of course, my wife had never seen this movie until a few years after she and I were married, so your mileage may vary in terms of your political outlook. Seriously, there’s no question of whether or not this film belongs in the hearts and minds of…everyone. Few films have the sort of cultural relevance of this one, and my guess is that should The List be reduced to 100, or to 10, this film would still make the cut.

So, since you’ve undoubtedly already seen this film, let’s talk about some of the details rather than the plot. And if you haven’t seen this film, go watch it and come back. Seriously. If you’re old enough to use the Internet and find this site and you’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz, only breathing could be more important for your cultural and mental future at this moment. Go watch it.

It always surprises me when I see this movie how long we stay in sepia-toned Kansas. A lot happens in Kansas, really. We meet all of the major players who will come back in Oz. Of course, we’re introduced to Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her dog Toto (who is played by a dog named Toto. Go figure). We encounter the farmhands who work on the Gale family farm: Hunk (Ray Bolger), Hickory (Jack Haley), and Zeke (Bert Lahr), who will show up in Oz as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion respectively.

We also meet Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton), who shows up later as the Witch. And of course, there’s also Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), who is the Wizard and about half a dozen minor characters once we reach the Emerald City. But really, there’s a lot to Kansas—the whole plot with Toto being destroyed by the police, and Dorothy running away, and the twister, and of course “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which is the first we get to hear the angelic voice of Judy Garland.

The moment when Dorothy opens the door into Oz is still one of the most magical moments ever captured on film. I don’t have anything else to say about that.

Like many a good children’s movie, there are some genuinely scary parts of this film. The flying monkeys are really pretty terrifying, especially for little kids. When I was a little kid, the scariest part of the film for me was seeing the Witch’s face appear in the crystal ball when she’s trying to kill off Dorothy in the castle. That moment still gets to me.

As with the length of time in Kansas, I’m always a little surprised at how short this film is. Things happen very quickly. I remember as a kid thinking that it took forever for the Lion to show up, but he’s actually a part of the group relatively quickly. And if you really think about the film, those scenes that you remember don’t have much filler between them. They come one right after the other in pretty rapid succession.

It’s also somewhat in vogue to pick out all of the weird little inconsistencies or problems in this film, and there are a number of them. Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) could have sent Dorothy home right away—but instead she enlisted the girl in her own private war against the Witch of the West, putting Dorothy in harm’s way and forcing her to kill. Yeah, okay. Seen it. But there is one unresolved plot point that bears some thought. Once back in Kansas, Dorothy seems to have forgotten that Miss Gulch has a police order out for the destruction of Toto, which means the little dog should have probably stayed over the rainbow with the Tin Man.

But so what? Sure, it’s a silly movie in many places. It’s overly simplistic, moves too quickly in spots, and even the advice learned by Dorothy at the end of her journey is not only simplistic but possibly dangerously narrow-minded. And I don’t care. It’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s nostalgia and warmth, it’s a cozy blanket on a cold night, it’s home and happiness, and seeing kids smile when Toto escapes from a basket and runs for help. It’s childhood, and it’s special, for all of its faults.

I hadn’t planned on watching this film for quite a few months, but when the opportunity to see it in a classic old movie theater with an interior of pyramids and Egyptian statues arose, how could I not? And how could I not take my girls? And how could I not fall in love with it all over again in that environment?

Why to watch The Wizard of Oz: Don’t be stupid—it’s The Wizard of Oz.
Why not to watch: Because your inner child is dead.


  1. If you've never tried the Dark Side of Oz experiment it is an curiously interesting exercise. I can no longer listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" without seeing them darn munchkins.

  2. I was overjoyed to discover that in my ever cinema studies screening, this was the film we watched!

  3. If you ever meet someone who tells you they don't like this movie, my advice is to run. Run far and fast.

    @Ken--I've seen a bit, but since I don't have a vast supply of cannabis, I haven't had the patience for the whole thing.

  4. Maybe it's just my age, but am I wrong to say that this film has aged wonderfully? I can't think of many films which are this old and are as entertaining as The Wizard of OZ.

  5. Well, if it's your age, it's my age, too. This has aged like a fine wine.

  6. When I watched this again last year (for the first time in seveal years) all I could think of was just how very good it was. Truly deserving of its classic status.

  7. Yes, that. It's a film that for a variety of reasons I shouldn't like. It's goofy, it's a musical, and on and on. And yet I can't resist it. There's so much nostalgia here, so much childhood memory, that it fits like a comfortable old shirt.

  8. I was apparently a communist for quite a long time, but not any more – I promise ;-)

  9. Okay, I am communist and a vampire and probably a lot of other nasty things. I never saw Oz before now. Call it a protest or prejudice, but what is an old musical to a dude? But that is the thing isn't it? You do not even have to see it to be intimately familier with it. It had such a huge cultural impact.
    You got a point with the dog. Maybe Toto was better off staying in Oz.

  10. Very true about cultural impact. This is one of those things you pick up by osmosis until you see it. It's so buried into most of Western culture that it's difficult to not know what's what if you don't see it as a kid for the first time.

    The "communist" comment comes from when I was dating my wife. She had never seen it, either. Or a lot of other kid staples. Or swum in a lake. Or been on a roller coaster. So I called her a communist because it was like she had just moved to this country.