THE WIZARD OF OZ IS 80 BLOG 25th August 2019

The Wizard of Oz at 80

The Wizard of Oz turns 80 today 25th August 2019. A Hollywood touchstone, it is most clearly remembered for its technicolour wizardry – psychedelia, seemingly, just 25 years early – and for Over The Rainbow. Various political allegories have been attributed to it over the years, too.

Rotten Tomatoes still rates it as the third best movie of all time, and it likely would be higher if the New Yorker hadn’t revived their 1939 hit-job review for the website. “I say it’s a stinkeroo” writes Russell Maloney, somehow happy to use that word while at the same time tearing at MGM’s masterpiece for leaving him ‘cringing’.

Though impossible to be certain of, it’s said to be the most watched film of all time. Certainly, it has some of Hollywood’s most recognisable moments: the sepia world giving way to one of glorious, vivid colour, the red shoes, the yellow brick road. Movie buffs call out Judy Garland’s stifled laughter on meeting the lion as one of cinema’s most famous instances of corpsing.

It could have all turned out markedly different. The film is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 best-seller, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. With the limitations of film-making at the time, coupled with audience expectations and censor standards, it wasn’t an easy task.

Some of the text was simply too difficult, or too violent to commit to celluloid: the Kalidahs – ‘huge and monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers’, according to the cowardly Lion, in the book – simply were left on the page, while the horrifying backstory of the Tin-Man was left alone (in print, he had once been flesh and blood. His axe, cursed by the witch, meticulously hacked off his limbs, torso, and head, and he was saved by the local tinsmith).

The 1939 musical fantasy film was directed by Victor Fleming and starred Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr. It is an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name by Lyman Frank Baum. Out of the six Academy Award nominations, it won two: Best Music – Original Song and Best Music – Original Score.

The Wicked Witch of the West is evil in the 1939 version, but not quite so bad: in the book, she tries to destroy Dorothy with a 40-strong pack of wolves, then crows, then bees. They don’t succeed and their demises are horrid things – the Tin Man cuts the heads off the wolves, twists the necks of every crow, and tricks the bees into stinging him, so they lose their stingers and die. What makes this all worse? In the book, Oz is not a dream; Dorothy actually visits the place. The risks, then, are real.

Not that the adaptation was the only problem, though working the book onto the screen took several scriptwriters. The set was troubled; Margaret Hamilton almost didn’t make it as the Wicked Witch of the West, after her make-up caught fire, nearly killing her. Her stand in spent a week in hospital after falling from her broom during one flight sequence. Health and safety, it seems, was hardly paramount: in the Poppy Field scene, Dorothy nods off and snow begins to fall. For the effect, the producers used chrysotile asbestos, despite medical evidence from the early 1930s which revealed its many harmful effects.

Perhaps the troubled production affected the film’s box office chances: though it was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two, it did little more than break even at the box office. Television saved it, with Oz screened once a year from 1959 until 1991 on American channels, becoming a national treasure in the process.

At 80, that status has long been secure. It is a surreal thing, of its time but curiously far beyond it, too. The acting is of a different age. And still – it compels. Flick through the gallery above for a reminder of the greatest children’s film of all time.

David Ellis, Gareth Richman

Production Budget: $2.8 million       Box office: $25.7 million


Distributor:            MGM

Release Date:       August 25, 1939

Genre:                    Fantasy

Runtime:               1 hrs. 41 min.

MPAA Rating:     G


If you love life don’t waste time for time is what life is made of – Bruce Lee


Happiness is…following the yellow brick road


Did you hear about the flea that went to the moon. Lunatic. – Felix & the Scootermen


Love is… when his/her kisses make you tinglr


Over The Rainbow – Eva Cassidy

Highest Chart Position: No.42 21st April 2001


Sunday 25th August 2019

Kiss and Make Up Day

Banana Split Day

Pony Express Day



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