The Wizard of Oz (1939)
September 21, 2022 12:01 PM - Subscribe

Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl (Judy Garland) kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

Actual plot description:

When a tornado rips through Kansas, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to the magical land of Oz. They follow the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City to meet the Wizard, and en route they meet a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) that needs a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) missing a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who wants courage. The wizard asks the group to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) to earn his help.

The director's credit is given to Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, and King Vidor also all worked on the film. The screenplay is credited to Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf.

98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which feels low, frankly.

Streaming in the US on HBO Max, but also available for digital rental on most outlets, and on clamshell VHS in your grandma's rec room. JustWatch listing.

No snark, just genuine curiosity:
If someone you have never seen this would you consider watching it now and sharing your reactions? That would be fascinating.
posted by DirtyOldTown (39 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
While I'm here, might as well mention that one of the handful of megaposts I have ever made was this one on the long and mostly terrible history of Oz adaptations.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:03 PM on September 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Front page quote by Rick Polito, at TCM.
posted by Marky at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Ah, yes, the movie that gave young me some really dangerous ideas about the likely outcome of personally encountering a tornado, which were just as likely to occur in my stretch of Illinois as in Kansas. (Not understanding the meteorological basis behind twisters, I would often go out in absolutely clear weather, looking for funnel clouds.) TWOO would be broadcast about once a year in my childhood, and there was never any real question about whether or not to watch it, even if I mostly tuned out until they landed in Oz, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" notwithstanding. Now, I'm a bit more sympathetic to Elphaba, having played numerous tabletop and online RPGs where some snotty punk grabs a magical artifact that they couldn't possibly use, and I've long since gotten the joke about a diploma substituting for a brain. (Although at least the Scarecrow knows the Pythagorean theorem, which is handy in RPGs for casters.)

Favorite song? Besides the one that I already mentioned, this one. I missed your megapost the first go-round, but I did find a potato quality YT of "Jitterbug", and it was rightfully cut.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:14 PM on September 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

It wasn’t until the mid-70s that I finally saw this film in color. We only had a b&w tv up til then, so the annual showings were, well, dull. Once I saw it in color, though (even on a small, crappy color VHF tv) I finally got it. The segue into color made all the sense in the world. I never gave a crap for the songs, though.

I’d dearly love to show this to my soon-to-be-five granddaughter, but her mommy says “no.” I think it’s the monkeys. That and melting the witch. She won’t let me show her Bambi, either.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:47 PM on September 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

Was the Horse of a Different Color scene (at the entrance to Oz) edited out of the annual tv showings? Because when I saw it as an adult (after annual viewings as a kid, yes on a b&w tv) I didn't remember it at all.

My nephew never flinched at the flying monkeys but he's made of sterner stuff than me. Around the same time he was being evaluated to go from pre-school to kindergarten and one of the questions was "Name something that melts" and without missing a beat, he said "A witch".
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:19 PM on September 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

(Although at least the Scarecrow knows the Pythagorean theorem, which is handy in RPGs for casters.)

Except he doesn't.
posted by sevenless at 3:50 PM on September 21, 2022

Was the Horse of a Different Color scene (at the entrance to Oz) edited out of the annual tv showings?

No, it wasn't. I, like Thorzdad, first saw the movie on a B&W TV. I thought the whole film was black-and-white. The Horse of Another Color, the Ruby Slippers, the Emerald City: I thought all these references were included so that the audience could *imagine* these colors. I was floored years later when I saw the film on a color set and realized that from Munchkinland on, it's all in color.

And man! The shock when I saw that Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch was green!
posted by SPrintF at 4:41 PM on September 21, 2022 [10 favorites]

I saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) in an IMAX theater a few years ago when they made an HD 3D version. The sound was similarly enhanced. It was stunning, magical! I dragged my kids along, who were like "Why are we here, Dad?" There was no one else in the theater.

You know, after a hundred years, no matter how good something is, it just becomes fodder for academics, and the majority of people can't enjoy it because they don't speak the cultural language. We're coming up on that for this great film, I think.

I sat in a theater once to watch North by Northwest, the Hitchcock / Cary Grant film. I thought, maybe the other people here are film buffs? But I think they were students who were assigned to show up. They spent the entire film chuckling at the mid-Atlantic accents, the wide-lapelled clothing, the old-style film conventions, the rear projection, you name it. They might as well have been looking at 30,000 year old glyphs on a cave wall—it was all alien to them, an alien language.
posted by jabah at 5:02 PM on September 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that I'd mostly absorbed by cultural osmosis long before I sat down and watched the whole thing (The Simpsons being the primary reason for that) so there was a lot of 'oh I get that reference now' moments.
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:13 PM on September 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's always amazed me that they never turned the rest of the books (there's 14 or so of them by Baum alone) into decent movies or tv (i mean they tried, but clearly none of them took).

Next, do the Wiz, DirtyOldTown.
posted by kokaku at 7:12 PM on September 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is one of those movies I can't imagine anyone in the English speaking world not having seen. It's just become such a cultural foundation.

When I was a kid in the 70s, it was a yearly TV airing that everyone seemed eager to tune in to see again. And though I watched like everyone else, I can't really say I was much of a fan. It was an event everyone shared.

As an adult, I find it more enjoyable, though I haven't seen it since my own kids moved on from it (or when the VCR stopped working). At least 10 years. Sure, I still find the acting as corny as I did when I was in grade school. But it's like mother's milk, in how it formed much of my life, and the lives of almost everyone I know.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:48 PM on September 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

For those who came after the yearly broadcast lost relevance, is the film familiar and does it matter? If not, that seems sad to me.

There have been a few other comparable annual cultural touchstones through most of my life, but I don't know if there's any that carry as much nostalgia and emotional heft.

And, my god, Judy Garland is enchanting.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:18 PM on September 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Utterly, eminently quotable
posted by one for the books at 10:06 PM on September 21, 2022

And in the most unexpected ways.
posted by bartleby at 10:27 PM on September 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have long maintained that The Wizard of Oz and not Citizen Kane belongs at the top of the 'best films of all time' list. To think it was made in 1939! What a marvel. When I saw it as a kid in the 1980s I had assumed it was made in the 60s or so.
posted by emd3737 at 10:55 PM on September 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

If you have never seen this would you consider watching it now and sharing your reactions?
Not fellow MeFites AFAIK, but YouTube can help out here. First time watching tWoOz for:
Russian Teenager
Tennessee Redhead
a couch full of Bulgarian models
Romanian/Filipina couple
posted by bartleby at 11:12 PM on September 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

OMG, bartleby, thank you for those links. I’m well acquainted with first time song listening videos, but it never occurred to me there would be first time movie viewings (‘cause, y’know, copyrights) Those are really fun! Interesting to see which scenes get the same reaction from the first-timers. The trees seem to really hit hard.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:47 AM on September 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh wow, I just posted this because I noticed it wasn't up and then today, in my FB memories from nine years ago today was this photo of our kiddo, in his lion mask on the way to see the 3-D re-release. DOT Jr. was such an Oz superfan. I read him maybe 18 of the books, I think.

Now I'm also remembering how the re-release had Happy Meal toys that came out at McDonald's and when we went through the line they would always ask us if we wanted the boy toy or the girl toy, meaning a Transformer or a Wizard of Oz character.

"Boy toy or girl toy?"
"The Wizard of Oz toy."
"So it's for a girl."
"It's for a boy."
"He doesn't want the Transformer?"
"He wants the Wizard of Oz toy."
"He wants the girl toy?"
"The Wizard of Oz toy."
"[muffled, like their hand is over the mic] This boy wants the girl toy. Should I just give it to him?"

Kiddo is now thirteen, 5'8" with pink hair and usually wearing an Evil Dead beanie, even in summer. I wonder how much he remembers of his Oz phase.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

I have long maintained that The Wizard of Oz and not Citizen Kane belongs at the top of the 'best films of all time' list. To think it was made in 1939! What a marvel.

I kind of get that. It’s definitely a spectacular film. Even watching those ‘first viewing’ videos, I can’t help but wonder if the young viewers understand the complexity and craft involved in the production? People today are simply so accustomed to CG effects, that they just accept what they are watching without any real wonder. They know it’s mostly CG.

A like ‘Wizard’ is all practical effects (with a few optical shots) The tornado, for instance, is an amazing effect, and pretty damned believable (the story behind how it was created is pretty cool, and a great example of the craft of the period) It would have certainly amazed audiences in a ‘how the hell did they film a tornado like that?’ way. I kind of feel like the new viewers, while obviously being impressed with the film, are missing-out on that deeper level of shock/immersion, because they’re just so used to almost anything being possible in films now.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:17 AM on September 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

I cherish the memory of driving out of DC, seeing the truly bizarre, glistening white Mormon Temple above the trees in the distance and directly in front of me on an overpass, spray painted, Surrender Dorothy.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:37 AM on September 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

The Blue Bird (1940) was 20th Century Fox's answer to MGM's The Wizard of Oz. It starred Shirley Temple and was filmed in technicolor on a large budget. Seeing it really brings home how magical and brilliant Oz is, as The Blue Bird is cloying, tedious, and pedestrian.

Back then they did radio play versions of current movies, often with the same stars, and (according to Wikipedia) at the live radio performance of The Blue Bird, "a woman arose from her seat and brandished a handgun, pointing it directly at Temple. She froze just long enough for police to stop her. It was later discovered that the woman's daughter had died on the day she mistakenly believed Temple was born, and blamed Temple for stealing her daughter's soul. The woman did not know that Temple was born in 1928, not 1929."
posted by jabah at 8:15 AM on September 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm in the "70s kid, watched it every year" camp. it's fairly embedded in my cultural psyche. I'm pretty much team Witch though (it's not easy being green!!)

also, here to say, that whole Dark Side of the Moon thing? it WORKS. totally freaky.
posted by supermedusa at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

I cherish the memory of driving out of DC, seeing the truly bizarre, glistening white Mormon Temple above the trees in the distance and directly in front of me on an overpass, spray painted, Surrender Dorothy.

Later updated to Surrender Donald.
posted by amarynth at 8:50 AM on September 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

In those ‘first watch’ videos, I was kind of amused by no one understanding why poppies would make the characters sleep, missing the oblique opium connection completely.

At least one of them also questioned why the snow would wake them up, since the poppies were still obviously alive and blooming. The popular reason I always heard was that, while the poppies represented opium, the snow represented cocaine (a helluva drug)

Of course, that is all alt-pop-culture reasoning. Make of it what you will.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've almost definitely seen this movie more times than any other movie by an order of magnitude. I watched it daily for multiple years of my life. As a young child I could recite the script right along with the video, and say big chunks of it from memory without even having the movie to follow along with. I read every Oz book I could get my hands on. I was Dorothy for Halloween. I was Ozma for Halloween. I played Dorothy in my 5th grade school play and made my own ruby slippers with huge quantities of red glitter. I've seen it on the big screen at least twice over the years.

There's definitely a through line from Judy Garland directly to the kind of women I've been attracted to over the years. But beyond that, it's unclear to me how this movie actually shaped me. It feels impossible that it didn't, but unlike so many things I was obsessed with, I can't point directly to it to blame for my many personal idiosyncracies. It's more like bedrock; I literally can't imagine the person I'd be without having steeped my young brain in The Wizard of Oz for years. Would I be less sentimental? More judgmental? I have no idea.

Do I like this movie? God. At this point when I watch it I just cry and cry. I haven't seen it in years; I literally don't need to? I have a TERRIBLE visual memory but I could draw many frames of it from memory. Nothing about it could ever surprise me. When dementia has taken most of me I will still know this movie just like my grandfather could recite poems he had to memorize in grade school when he was having trouble with his grandkids' names.

The weird thing is, I have three kids and they haven't seen it. They are SO sensitive to scary stuff and I think the witch would fuck them up. That part where Dorothy starts crying looking at Auntie Em in the crystal ball and then the witch starts taunting her? Some of the cruelest shit committed to film. I can't deal with the idea of a movie that's given me so much joy giving them nightmares.
posted by potrzebie at 9:35 AM on September 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

Thorzdad, re: poppies=opium, snow=cocaine.
Someone once ran me through how Wizard of Oz was all an elaborate metaphor for the Great Depression Era U.S. economics and politics.

- the Wicked Witch of the East was the big banks, foreclosing on people's mortagages, gets killed by a house dropping on her
- the Wicked Witch of the West was the severe drought, killed by water
- the Scarecrow was the unscientific farming practices that combined with the drought to create the Dust Bowl famines - If I Only Had a Brain (no, dummy, you plow with the land contours, not against them)
- Tin Man was mechanization and automation putting people out of work, If I Only Had a Heart
- the Emerald City wasn't really green, they just made you put on green glasses when you entered. Supposed to be about 'greenback dollars' (fiat currency) vs. the Yellow Brick Road (gold standard, Oz=ounce)
- the Flying Monkeys were supposed to be private police forces like the Pinkerton Agency
And so on and so forth.

Maybe there's a Baum scholar around who can debunk this.
posted by bartleby at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

I believe that is accurate, actually. And the magic slippers were silver in the book, as the debate about the gold standard vs. silver was central to Baum's metaphor.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

The annual broadcasts of this always started a battle royale in our household after my twin and I were old enough to realize we could make choices about stuff. My sister hated the flying monkeys, they scared the everlovin' shit out of her, whereas I was completely unfazed by them. What scared me the most were the trees; man, I just really did not like those guys and they would appear in my nightmares from time to time.

I lived for the annual reappearance of it, and took it really personally when my sister started refusing to watch it. I think my dad also decided that he didn't have to watch it, either, and I don't know if it was his aversion to popular entertainment in general or solidarity with my sister. For a while it was me and Mom, then eventually just me, and by then I was a full-fledged film buff and it was becoming less special, and then videotape came along and we could own our own copy. We were the last people I knew who got a color TV, but I don't remember how I felt when I first saw it in color, which is weird because I do remember how I felt when I first saw a Star Trek episode in color.

I almost feel like I don't want to know what things are supposed to be metaphors for, I don't want to know what other people think or how it's judged. It held (still holds) a very special place in my heart, I could write pages about it, it was probably the impetus for becoming a film buff, and I can still recite most of it by heart. Sometimes it's best to just hold on to things like that yourself, not share them with others, so you don't have to see that luster any further tarnished than what age has already done.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

I am a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan. Easily my favorite movie of all time. I've never found any solid evidence that Baum was writing about the Gold Standard, but it sure is fun to speculate about all the metaphors that are in the book/movie!

7 Theories of What The Wizard of Oz Is Really About
By Bilge Ebiri NYMAG

Pulling back the curtain: Wizard of Oz named most influential film THE GUARDIAN

And believe it or not, it's Salman Rushdie's favorite film too!

Out of Kansas, Revisiting “The Wizard of Oz.”
By Salman Rushdie, May 4, 1992 THE NEW YORKER

posted by pjsky at 5:25 PM on September 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

It never occurred to me before that an entire generation grew up watching The Wizard of Oz in black and white! That's amazing.

When y'all watch this movie, do you get immersed in Oz? Like, do you suspend disbelief and experience it as a "real" world, or are you always aware of the artifice? With something like Star Wars I lose myself in the fantasy - it takes deliberate mental effort to see the props as props, and so on. But with The Wizard of Oz, I'm always very conscious that I'm looking at a film set. I look at this and I see a painted backdrop, not a landscape. (Not that I'm complaining! I love this movie, and the artificiality is part of the charm.)
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:28 PM on September 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m always looking around the characters, admiring the craftwork on display. All the interesting design choices, the sets, and how it all works within the confines of a soundstage.

The lighting is a good thing to watch. Early color movies like this were still being lit in the same manner as b&w films were (albeit using more and brighter lamps, owing to color film being far slower) with attention to shadow and depth. It adds so much the atmosphere and depth to the film, and makes it easier to fall into the spell. Check out the interior scenes of The Adventures of Robin Hood as well as Gone with the Wind, both made in the same period and shot in three-strip Technicolor, as was tWoO. The lighting/shading/shadowing are beautiful.

Compare that to how so many studio films came to be lit by the 1950s...bright and flat, much in the way television productions came to be lit by the 60s.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on September 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

(Although at least the Scarecrow knows the Pythagorean theorem, which is handy in RPGs for casters.)

Except he doesn't. yt

...OK, it's been a while.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:31 AM on September 23, 2022

The scare for me as a kid (iirc it was broadcast around Thanksgiving in the US every year?) was the giant head of the "wizard" with the flames and the sometimes vague image of the head and face appearing and disappearing. I hated those scenes and would hide my eyes and ears every time it was shown.

That and the Witch melting. Something about that messed with my brain.

Interestingly, the flying monkeys never frightened me.
posted by sundrop at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

Interestingly, the flying monkeys never frightened me.

Right? It seems like there was more than enough other stuff to be scared by or filled with a sense of fear. I know what you mean about the wizard's head, and I never wanted to tell anyone when I was young, but the Tin Man gave me this sense of existential dread every time I saw him come on screen. Something about his face and the hat and the way he was begging for oil... I suppose that's one of many reasons I love it so much, that it has such a great balance of just really frightening things with the warm and tender or fun elements.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:17 AM on September 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, my book group read the book. It answered lifelong questions I had about the Tin Man. One of the group members was in her 80's. Not only had she never seen the movie, but she also had no idea that it was a musical.
posted by obol at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Fans of this film should all know the 1990 novel with the impossible-to-Google title, Was... That is all.
posted by Rash at 1:57 PM on September 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

All these comments in a thread about the Wizard of Oz, and not a single Zardoz reference. What has become of you, Metafilter?
posted by bartleby at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

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