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The Wizard of Oz (1939)--Re-examing an American Classic

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

I just saw this. The last time I saw this film might have been when I was in elementary school. The film holds up fairly well in my opinion; however, this is one of those films that is hard to evaluate, primarily because I loved this film as a child. I’m curious to hear from people in their early twenties or younger: what do you think of the film? I’m also interested in hearing from hardcore cinephiles.

Here are some other thoughts and questions:

>How do non-Americans feel about the film? Is it a good film or is it something only Americans respond to?

>Why do people think Americans respond to this film?

>For those who think the film is good/great, what makes it so?

>Do people think this is a good film for children? (I’d like to examine some of the ideas in the film, as well.)

>The one thing I really loved about the film was the costumes and make-up. I’m thinking specifically of the Scarecrow, Tin-man and Lion. The filmmakers seem to put a lot of time and care into them, and they stand the test of time in my opinion.

>The music is good, although there are a few numbers that aren’t that strong and seem superfluous (e.g., the munchkin king song and the Lion-as-King song).

Brad S.

about 1 year ago

>>Do people think this is a good film for children?<<

Didn’t we all see it as children and look how well we turned out

>>a few numbers that aren’t that strong and seem superfluou…Lion-as-King song<<

Actually one of my favorite parts of the film and always cracks me up.

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

Didn’t we all see it as children and look how well we turned out

It could have just been luck, though. ;)

Actually one of my favorite parts of the film and always cracks me up.

Really? I didn’t care for the song, and the song and idea just seems thrown in there.

Russ

about 1 year ago

>>Didn’t we all see it as children and look how well we turned out<<

I dunno…I saw it when I was a kid and those flying monkeys scared the bejeebus out me.

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

The monkeys were scary. The film was actually a little too intense and scary for my son, at times. Up until I watched the film, I was under the impression that the film used real monkeys, too.

I’m not American, I’m in my forties, and I return to this magical journey frequently.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
about 1 year ago

I’ve seen this a couple of times with my kids, and I’m just as tranfixed as they are to this day.

You mention the costumes and makeup, and I agree, but the rest of the effects that went into building this world are just as impressive. The tornado sequence in the beginning is very effective and even beats modern CGI work on tornadoes for my money.

And the songs are fun and the performances are all great (Garland grates on me a little bit when she’s acting, but then she sings and I just melt).

As far as the ideas of the film, what is it really saying? That when we feel incomplete or lost, we need to realize that we already have within us the power to become whole or found. “There’s no place like home” can be seen as a metaphor for looking within and finding salvation.

Roscoe

about 1 year ago

I grew up seeing this movie on TV every year, in those far off days pre home video, even when color TV was a luxury. This was the first thing I ever saw on color TV. My affection for the movie has survived my adolescence and adulthood — unlike so many movies I enjoyed as a kid, this one still delights and moves all these years later.

I remember at some viewing or other really hearing for the first time the cynicism in the Wizard’s remarks about education/intelligence and, most remarkably, heroism: “You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away from danger you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom. Back where I come from we have what we call heroes. Once a year they take their fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city.”

And the real savagery of the Wicked Witch of the West never fails to amaze — she’s going to get her hands on that little girl and her little dog, too, and she’s really going to enjoy the terrible things she has in mind.

Christo​fer Pierson

about 1 year ago

delete

Christo​fer Pierson

about 1 year ago

Jazz, I’m kind of shocked that you didn’t get “If I Were King of the Forest.” There’s some very clever versifying there, and the faux operatic style of the song plays perfectly on the lion’s soft core under all his bombast. It’s Yarburg and Arlen at their most playful.

Plus the whole thing leads up to the amusing punchline: “What have they got they I haven’t got?” (Courage. “You can say that again!”)

Budd SFX

about 1 year ago

a tale that has lasted
one of my parents favourite films and ultimately a film about acceptance

Russia might have had Dostoevsky but America had Baum.

Christo​fer Pierson

about 1 year ago

I said Yarburg and meant Harburg—Yip Harburg, Oz’s lyricist (Harold Arlen wrote the music). Harburg also wrote “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

@HoL

The tornado sequence in the beginning is very effective and even beats modern CGI work on tornadoes for my money.

I agree with you. That scene holds up fairly well.

As far as the ideas of the film, what is it really saying?

Well, Roscoe brings up the cynicism of the Wizard, as he’s giving out the awards. Actually, while I think cynicism is part of what he says, I’m not sure that’s all of it. I’m really not sure exactly what the film’s attitude is about the things each of the characters wants. Let me post some of the quotes that contain the ideas I wanted to discuss:

Re: “Brains”

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth — or slinks through slimy seas has a brain! From the rock-bound coast of Maine to the Sun…. oh – oh, no - - ah – Well, be that as it may. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning— where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have…. But! They have one thing you haven’t got! A diploma! Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatum e plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D….Yeah — that…that’s Dr. of Thinkology!

The film seems to be making fun of formal education—taking a populist stance—the wisdom of the common man approach. What is the significance of the Wizard giving a diploma (and other trinkets)? Does it say something cynical about people—namely that we need superficial approval?

Re: a Heart

As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart! You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable. I could have been a world figure, a power among men, a – a successful wizard, had I not been obstructed by a heart. …back where I come from there are men who
do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phil…er — er — phil — er, yes…good-deed-doers. And their hearts are no bigger than yours. But! They have one thing you haven’t got! A testimonial! Therefore, in consideration of your kindness, I take pleasure at this time in presenting you with a small token of our esteem and affection. And remember, my sentimental friend…….that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

Does everybody agree with that last line? Shouldn’t it be the other way around—the heart is judged by how much it loves, more than how much others love you?

And “Dorothy’s Lesson”:

Well, I — I think that it — that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it’s that — if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

I’m ambivalent about this, too. Well, what does this actually mean? Does this mean that her heart’s desire should be the love to and from her family—and that if it’s not there, then it was never lost?

Christo​fer Pierson

about 1 year ago

I’ve never put much stock in the explicitly stated lessons of The Wizard of Oz. The line about “a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others” has always bothered me. It seems patently false. Think of how loved celebrities are compared to teachers and social workers. Does that make celebrities’ hearts more valuable? Of course not. I think these speeches are just show biz. The show was winding down so some “words to that effect” were called for from the screenwriters. They sound good—that’s all they’re meant to do. You don’t watch WoO for philosophical wisdom. The adventure and spectacle are what it’s about. .

Prewitt

about 1 year ago

I just want to pop in with Jazz on the King of the Forest number….an awful moment in a great film. It’s too long and it brings the film to a dead stop…and it’s the only time in the film that that happens….all of the other musical numbers are memorable and charming….and move the plot along to some degree…..King of the Forest should have been an extra on the deleted scenes section of the DVD…

Matt Parks

about 1 year ago

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

or, rather, men . . .

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

@Christopher

Jazz, I’m kind of shocked that you didn’t get “If I Were King of the Forest.” There’s some very clever versifying there, and the faux operatic style of the song plays perfectly on the lion’s soft core under all his bombast. It’s Yarburg and Arlen at their most playful.

It’s not the song or the lyrics—but whether it fits into the movie. As Grimes mentioned, it seems out of place and it does seem like a scene that should have been deleted.

The line about “a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others” has always bothered me. It seems patently false. Think of how loved celebrities are compared to teachers and social workers. Does that make celebrities’ hearts more valuable? Of course not.

I hear you. In fairness, here’s my guess at how the film meant that line. The Tin-man supposedly didn’t have a heart—therefore he couldn’t really love anyone. Yet, other people loved him—that is, they valued him (read: the love wasn’t the same as popularity). But if you apply that as a general philosophy, it doesn’t work so well.

I think these speeches are just show biz. The show was winding down so some “words to that effect” were called for from the screenwriters. They sound good—that’s all they’re meant to do. You don’t watch WoO for philosophical wisdom.

Yeah, that sounds right. But I wonder if children take home any type of message from the film? Actually, if people are like me, I don’t think I really took home any serious message. I think I watched it as an adventure and spectacle as you mentioned.

Clariss​a

about 1 year ago

I thought that the flying monkeys were the best thing in the movie.

Christo​fer Pierson

about 1 year ago

A few more thoughts about “King of the Forest” in its defense: It serves a couple of dramatic purposes. First, it fills the time the guard at the door of the great hall (who resembles the Wizard—maybe even is the Wizard?) must take to announce Dorothy and company. If this Wizard is so “great,” the protocol of his court must be complicated enough that you don’t just say “Oh, Wiz, you have some visitors.” The unseen protocol takes time, and the song provides business to fill that time on “this” side of the door.

More important, the song itself underscores the high expectations the heroes have for this visit, which they will soon learn the Wizard plans to deny them. We later learn he wants to put them off because he’s a humbug and really can’t help them the way a Wizard should be able to help them. But we don’t know that at this point. If there had been no song, the disappointment might not feel so devastating, and the tears Dorothy weeps (which succeed in getting them in because the guard’s conscience is stricken) might not have seemed “earned” without the time lapse between the request and the refusal and the song about how their wishes are almost fulfilled.

Another thought about the “meaning” of the film: The original series has been hypothesized to be a political allegory about the populist movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Wikipedia has an article about this if you’re interested:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_interpretations_of_the_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz

There’s an American style pragmatism at the heart of Oz. This isn’t about a real Wizard who can fix all with magic. It’s about a humbug trying to pass himself off as a Wizard, and it’s about the process of finding that out and learning not to rely on magic and wishful thinking but to develop and appreciate self-reliance. A very (old-fashioned) American fable.

Nadafingah

about 1 year ago

Talk of “King of the Forest” not fiting in the movie is a little ironic when you consider that studio heads wanted to cut “Over the Rainbow” for the same reason. That song has a melancholy tone and yet speaks volumes about the wishes that every child gets when they reach the limits of what a parent can give them. It also has a reflective tone that shows an advancement in the musical. In many ways, THIS is the birth of the mighty MGM musical.

The monkeys never bothered me. Now the Bogeymen from the original Babes in Toyland scared the crap out of me as a kid! But, Oz is just such a magical film. I can pick it up at any point and become glued. In a year of Hawks, Ford and McCarey, this is still the best American film of 1939.

A while back a bunch of us we’re talking about what film we would like to have worked on. Many said Psycho, some said Apocalypse Now. I said this one because even with all the turmoil on the set (John Ford leaving in a huff, Margaret Hamilton almost being burned alive, the original Tin Man being poisoned by silver paint, and to find out if a stage hand really hung himself), it would be fascinating to see how much they had to hide by fake backdrops and different lighting.

Roscoe

about 1 year ago

“The line about “a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others” has always bothered me.”

Never bothered me. I think the point isn’t so much about being adored by millions for the way you have of swinging your hips at the Super Bowl halftime show, but in the love that you are able to inspire in others by the good works you do and how generally good you are — as in the way Dorothy is able to inspire such utter devotion in three total strangers, getting them to drop everything and come on some improbable journey. Interesting to note that this is the one statement the Wizard makes that isn’t turned into a joke.

As for “If I Were King Of The Forest” I rather like that it happens when it does, rather than immediately after the Lion’s first meeting with Dorothy, as it does for the Tin Man and Scarecrow, the interruption of that little formula is very interesting. It’s only fair for Bert Lahr to get his own song, after all, and he plays it for all he’s worth.

Agreed about Dorothy’s “lesson”, which she recites like it was some kind of half-remembered homework assignment. The film’s biggest flaw for me is that I can’t see why on earth she wants to leave magical Technicolor Oz, where she’s a National Heroine surrounded by loving friends, to return to that dreadful farm in Depression era Kansas. I don’t think Baum could understand it either: as I remember Dorothy goes back to Oz in one of the later books, and even brings Aunt Em and Uncle Henry with her.

dumby

about 1 year ago

>For those who think the film is good/great, what makes it so? it is quite simply a well-made film, from the performances to the direction to the musical score to the “special effects.” just as well, it balances well a host of different moods and tones, from light to dark and various shades in between. it feels almost like an epic film, but it’s your basic one hour forty minute runtime. characters are memorable, events are memorable, settings are memorable. the “twist” ending still works well no matter what (and in today’s film culture, if that same ending were applied to a similar film right now, people would argue about how tacked on and lazy and stupid the twist was).

>Do people think this is a good film for children? (I’d like to examine some of the ideas in the film, as well.) well, i can’t say it’s a bad film for children, especially since i grew up watching the film as a young child. there are dark spots in the film, but nothing that lingers. there are Disney movies that have darker moments.

Polaris​DiB

about 1 year ago

I’ve never really considered The Wizard of Oz to be that great but it holds such a luster in the eyes of history and individuals I don’t feel like stepping in its way. It’s certainly an early old school fantasy which there was a relative dearth of, so for cultural purposes where else are we supposed to get our mythos?

I just would like to say for the record that this is an example of a movie that is better than the book. As much as I don’t care for it I can at least see how it’s fun and memorable to many people, whereas the book barely convinced me that Baum knew how to write a complete sentence.

Moving on, anybody ever seen Return to Oz? ‘Cause that movie is AWESOME. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about The Great and Powerful Oz. I kind of doubt I’ll get around to seeing it, honestly…

—DiB

greg x

about 1 year ago

Return to Oz was great, but I can see why it wasn’t a hit with the kids, or more to the point, their parents as it is seriously creepy, much darker than Wizard of Oz, even with the flying monkeys. Undoubtedly the tone people were expecting was that of the Garland film, something shiny and bright for the kids, and Return doesn’t quite fit that bill.

According to some stories from the set, Return to Oz may also partially be the work of a gaggle of big name directors from the time as Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Kaufman and a few others all came in to help Murch with the film when they heard he was having difficulties.

J&K

about 1 year ago

Ha ha, I love Return to Oz! Creepy, magical, and idiosyncratic—though the original is great just because; it never gets old.

Polaris​DiB

about 1 year ago

“Return to Oz may also partially be the work of a gaggle of big name directors from the time as Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Kaufman and a few others all came in to help Murch with the film when they heard he was having difficulties.”

Return to Oz is a mess but a beautiful mess.

—DiB

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

@Christopher

You make some good points in defense of the “King of the Forest” scene as well as the interpretation of the film. I’m not sure if the self-reliance message comes across real well, but as you mentioned, the film is more about adventure and spectacle rather than message.

@Roscoe

Agreed about Dorothy’s “lesson”, which she recites like it was some kind of half-remembered homework assignment.

What, exactly, is the lesson she learns, in your view?

Re: Return to Oz

Those comments make me want to check it out.

Roscoe

about 1 year ago

@Jazz — “What, exactly, is the lesson she learns, in your view?”

I was referring to her little statement about looking for her heart’s desire in her own backyard, because if it isn’t there, she didn’t lose it to begin with, or some such, followed by that very strange question, “Is that right?” And then when she gets home to Kansas and she’s surrounded by everyone and her final little speech about loving them all and never leaving ever again, because there’s no place like home. It just feels like a letdown to have the stated lesson she seems to have learned (basically, never ever leave your home ever) isn’t really the lesson the film teaches via the story and the Wizard’s presentations (basically, you’ve already got everything you need — heart brains and courage).

boyclouds

12 months ago

I actually loved this film as a child, but I just re-watched it and found it hard to sit through. The lines are over-acted, it’s terribly kitsch in terms of its portrayal of Oz, it’s dreadfully sentimental and ultimately, it’s actually quite a poor film. I feel like the only reason why people adore it so much is because it’s been played so many times on the television. But it’s not actually all that worth remembering.

I thought throughout the film that if one thing changed – maybe if someone else starred as Dorothy, or if there was one particular scene more camp than the others – then people might realise just how poor the movie is.

I still feel a little fondness for the film because I liked it as a child. For example, I love the sepia wind sequence at the beginning where Dorothy is hit by the smashing window panes (a dark, serene experience that reminds me of German Expressionist cinema like Caligari and childhood nightmares mixed together in a mischievous, nostalgic blur).

However, upon re-examining Oz, I found it to be overwhelming in atmosphere, insufferably cheesy and, well, overrated.

12 months ago

I’ve never been into Victor Fleming.