The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the most well-known and commercial adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The film stars Judy Garland; Terry the dog, billed as Toto; Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, with Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick, and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins, with Pat Walshe as leader of the flying monkeys. Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character make-ups and special effects in a film up to that time.
Although the film received largely positive reviews, it was not a box office success on its initial release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,777,000 budget. The film was MGM’s most expensive production up to that time, but its initial release failed to recoup the studio’s investment. Subsequent re-releases made up for that, however. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost that award to Gone with the Wind, but won two others, including Best Original Song for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The song was ranked first in both the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list and the Recording Industry Association of America’s “365 Songs of the Century” list.
Telecasts of the film began in 1956, re-introducing the film to the public and eventually becoming an annual tradition, making it one of the most famous films ever made. The film was named the most viewed motion picture on television syndication in history by the Library of Congress (who also preserved the film to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year (1989) for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”), is often ranked among the Top 10 Best Movies of All Time in various critics’ and popular polls, and is the source of many memorable quotes referenced in modern popular culture. It was directed primarily by Victor Fleming. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but there were uncredited contributions by others. The lyrics for the songs were written by E.Y. Harburg, the music by Harold Arlen. Incidental music, based largely on the songs, was by Herbert Stothart, with borrowings from classical composers.
Dorothy Gale is a young farm girl who lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, in sepia-tinted Kansas in the early 1900s. She is in trouble with a cruel neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, but Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and farmhands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke are too busy to pay attention to her. Miss Gulch arrives with permission from the sheriff to have Dorothy’s dog Toto destroyed for biting her on the leg. He is taken away, but escapes, much to Dorothy’s delight. She runs away from home with him to escape Miss Gulch. They meet Professor Marvel, a fortune teller, who realizes Dorothy has run away and tricks her via his crystal ball into believing Aunt Em is ill. As Dorothy returns home, a tornado comes up. Unable to get into the storm cellar, she is hit in the head by a window pane and knocked out. She wakes up to discover the house is being carried aloft by the twister. As she looks out a window, she sees Miss Gulch also caught up in the storm, pedaling her bicycle. To her horror, Gulch transforms before Dorothy’s eyes into a cackling witch on a broomstick.
The house lands in the Technicolor world of Oz in Munchkin Land. Dorothy is greeted by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Munchkins, who treat her like a heroine, because her house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives. As she is about to claim the ruby slippers from her sister’s feet, Glinda transfers them to Dorothy’s feet instead. The Witch of the West swears revenge on her (and Toto). Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz might be able to help her get back home.
On her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion (played by the same actors who play the farmhands). They decide to join her to ask the Wizard for a brain, heart, and courage respectively, though in truth they each have what they want (the Scarecrow shows signs of wisdom, the Tin Man is very sentimental, and the Lion shows signs of bravery). After some danger, they meet the Wizard (in the form of a flaming head) who agrees to grant their wishes, but not until they bring him the Witch of the West’s broom.
On their way to the Witch’s castle, the gang is ambushed by her flying monkeys, who capture Dorothy and Toto. At the castle, the Witch again fails to get the slippers due to magic, and remembers Dorothy has to be killed first. Toto escapes and leads her friends to the castle. After defeating three Winkie Guards and stealing their uniforms, they march inside and free her, but the Witch and her guards eventually trap them. After she sets the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy accidentally melts her with a bucket of water as she puts out the flames. The guards unexpectedly rejoice now that she is dead, and give Dorothy the charred broom in gratitude.
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard still refuses to grant their wishes, but Toto exposes the “Wizard” as a normal middle-aged man (who resembles Professor Marvel) and he admits he’s a humbug. He still grants their wishes by giving the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a heart-shaped pocket watch. He then offers to get Dorothy home in his hot air balloon, but Toto runs away and Dorothy follows, and it leaves without her. Glinda soon arrives and tells her that she can still return home by clapping her heels together three times and repeating “There’s no place like home”. She “returns” home to her family, with the farmhands and Professor Marvel by her bedside.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
First Published: Apr 14, 2012 – Last Updated: Apr 16, 2014