“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity.”
As I write this, The Wizard of Oz is 76 years old. That’s more than three quarters of a century. Which means it would have just been cracking the half century mark around the time I saw it for the first time. It’s one of those movies that I saw young enough and often enough, that I have no clear memory of that first viewing. As far as I’m concerned, The Wizard of Oz has always just been there, and I’ve always just known it. And while I’ve only seen it once or twice in the last 20 or so years, watching it again for this review makes me really hope that kids growing up today can look past its vintage and have a similar experience.
Young Kansan farm girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) is running down a dirt road with her little dog Toto. When they get home, we find out they were running from a mean old woman, Miss Gultch (Margaret Hamilton), whose garden Toto has damaged. When the old woman catches up to Dorothy, she demands the dog be handed over as recompense. Dorothy’s Aunty Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) reluctantly oblige, and Gultch leaves with the dog. When Toto is able to escape and find his way home, Dorothy decides the only way to keep her dog safe is for them both to run away.
When they meet a huckster on the side of the road (Frank Morgan as Professor Marvel), Dorothy realises how worried her aunt and uncle are, and decides to return home. But before she can get there, a tornado strikes. When they can’t spend anymore time looking for Dorothy, her family takes shelter in their storm cellar. Dorothy makes it home just before the storm hits and is in her house when it’s picked up by the twister and carried to the other side of a rainbow. When the house lands, Dorothy is in a strange and wonderful land, discovering that the first thing she’s done on arrival is commit first degree murder by landing her house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East.
Just typing that made me realise how dense The Wizard of Oz is, especially for a kids’ movie. Everything I just mentioned is pure setup. I never even got around to who she meets in this new land, the particulars of the quest she has to go one, or the allies and enemies she meets along the way. On paper, The Wizard of Oz looks kind of convoluted and all over the place.
Which makes it even more impressive that this is a movie generation after generation has consistently latched onto in all the years since. It takes real skill to have so many moving parts, and set them in motion in a way that is easy enough for kids to understand, but entertaining enough for the their parents to watch right along side them.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Gone With the Wind)
Best Performance by a Juvenile – Garland