Released 25 August 1939, The Wizard of Oz is almost universally considered one of the greatest films of all time. Has anyone not seen this film at least once?! Giving a plot summary seems almost pointless, since everyone’s familiar with it! The Library of Congress says it’s the most-viewed film in history.

The film came out in what many historians and laypeople alike consider Hollywood’s all-time greatest year. So many classic films débuted in 1939. I’d rate 1927 as the next-greatest year for film.

L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been adapted to the silver screen 23 times since 1908, including films about side characters, parodies, sequels, cartoons, and loose adaptations. The most famous is the seventh version discussed here.

The film is famous for starting in black and white, shifting to Technicolor, and ending in B&W. It shows the two artistic modes of filmmaking can exist side-by-side harmoniously, just as many films in the late Twenties (and in some countries into the Thirties) wonderfully blended both silent and sound storytelling.

Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her little dog Toto (a female Cairn Terrier named Terry) live in rural Kansas with Dorothy’s Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Trouble starts when busybody neighbour Almira Gulch complains Toto bit her and gets an order from the sheriff to have Toto euthanised.

Dorothy, bound and determined to protect her furry buddy, bicycles away with Toto, but he jumps out of the basket and runs back to the farm. Dorothy then decides they’ll run away. While on the run, she meets Prof. Marvel, a fortuneteller who shows her a crystal ball image of Aunt Em dying of heartache.

Dorothy, plagued by guilt, bicycles home just as a tornado hits. The storm cellar is inaccessible, so she runs to her room. Dorothy falls unconscious before the house is lifted up and starts spinning in the air.

Dorothy lands in Munchkinland, an area in the magical Land of Oz. The Munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, greet her as a grand conquering hero, since the house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East and killed her. All that can be seen of her are her legs poking out from under the house.

The Wicked Witch of the West presently arrives to claim her sister’s ruby slippers, which Glinda magically transfers onto Dorothy’s feet. Before the Wicked Witch of the West departs in a column of fire, she furiously swears she’ll capture Dorothy, Toto, and the slippers.

Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road which leads to Emerald City, where she can ask the great, mighty, and powerful Wizard of Oz for help in going home.

Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who longs for a brain; the Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley), who wants a heart; and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who desires courage. Dorothy invites them to come with her to Emerald City so they can have their own wishes fulfilled.

Along the way, the Wicked Witch of the West puts many obstacles in their way, but their progress is never thwarted. When they finally arrive, the Wizard of Oz, who appears as a floating head surrounded by smoke and fire, promises to help them if they bring back the witch’s broomstick.

The danger intensifies when they reach the witch’s castle.

This film has more than earned its reputation as one of the greatest of all time. It’s aged so well, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, on different levels. I also highly recommend seeing it on the big screen if you can. I saw it at a local indie theatre in March 2017.

3 thoughts on “The Wizard of Oz at 80, Part I (General overview)

  1. This film is so dear to my heart since I watched it so many times as a child and my children have loved it so. That and the fact that the theatrical troupe that I managed performed our version of Wizard of Oz using most of the film songs) for 3 or 4 seasons. I still love the movie–such a classic!

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  2. Happy 80th Filmiversary WIZARD OF OZ!

    “Has anyone not seen this film at least once?!”

    I hadn’t seen the film until 1996 and I still remember how everything turned in to colour.

    My younger self had read a biography of Baum in the late 1980s from CHILDCRAFT: PEOPLE TO KNOW and I was so impressed with the filing cabinet story about how he named Oz from O and Z on the catalogue.

    It is an exemplar of how a writer can pick up ideas from anywhere especially when bored or frustrated – it was a touchstone.

    Another literary moment with THE WIZARD OF OZ was probably through the Disney taped book and colouring in the castle at the end with markers.

    A more recent literary moment was in 2007 reading ONE CHILD and how the students produced their own WIZARD OF OZ. There was a lot to do even with nonspeaking characters and improvisations.

    Hayden has a reputation for being sceptical about student plays especially for the whole class – they are much more into end-of-the-year parties.

    And surprisingly enough I had seen other Oz books/stories first – the 1985 adaptation of RETURN TO OZ was one of my first VCR viewings on 13 December 1990.

    Good to know 1927 is your 2nd greatest year for film – other 1939 films that stand out would be GONE WITH THE WIND.

    “L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been adapted to the silver screen 23 times since 1908, including films about side characters, parodies, sequels, cartoons, and loose adaptations.”

    Thinking I finally had the privilege to read THE WIZARD OF OZ [what business Scholastic did with the adaptation I did not really investigate until 11 years afterwards when I accessed some Project Gutenberg copies] in 1993 from the library.

    And, yes! So many paths and so much profit and there are lots of Ozverse experts like William Silverman.

    “The film is famous for starting in black and white, shifting to Technicolor, and ending in B&W. It shows the two artistic modes of filmmaking can exist side-by-side harmoniously, just as many films in the late Twenties (and in some countries into the Thirties) wonderfully blended both silent and sound storytelling.”

    and had quite forgotten about Dorothy and her bike. Walking home in a Kansan tornado – twister – not such a great idea!

    That point about blending silence and sound and the techniques and the materials for each – yes, harmony can be found.

    That brief moment of being in Emerald City until Dorothy clicks her shoes.

    And the songs which define each character – Scarecrow; Tin Man; Lion – really make the quartet. The whole “I want” convention.

    Really love the way you pointed out the difference subtly between obstacles and thwarting. There was a young Bharat poet on Quora who talked about “people as obstacles”.

    “Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who longs for a brain; the Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley), who wants a heart; and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who desires courage. Dorothy invites them to come with her to Emerald City so they can have their own wishes fulfilled.”

    Liked the way you used different words to suggest the tone/degree and nature of the wishes and the analysis of Dorothy’s motif/motive. I would have said, “Very Doyleist”.

    [There are Watsonian elements open to the filmic/cinematic mind too].

    And for some reason I seem to be a Munchkinista from way back.

    A good friend gave me a DVD copy in 2006 when I was still recovering from illness.

    Glinda is a great character – and so often I imagine the Witch of the West melting; melting.

    Must have used the WW of the W to inform a witchy performance in a monologue in 2000.

    And we all know the Wizard of Oz is not all that wonderful – in a newer film he was called Great and Terrible. I do not know for sure if that was what other characters called him or if he called himself this. It also had a bit of authorial/directorial licence.

    Lee: Wizard of Oz on stage is really something else especially if you are on or in the ensemble casts.

    Teresa: 1939 was quite the year. Of course I count the Wizard as at least a hundred years old and probably in canon a great deal older [or younger].

    Some of the revelations were on Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas or Easter Bunny level.

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