The Wizard Of Oz

*****

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"The Wizard Of Oz has something fresh and intangibly pure for me every time I see it."

Great movies are to me what the past is to Willy Loman, a burst of the purest emotional memory, shaped by events involved in its creation. Like Casablanca three years later, The Wizard of Oz is a nigh-on faultless example of the right director, the right cast and the best kind of studio collaboration fused into the production of a great American classic.

Looking back on Oz more than 65 years later, its charm, its cheer and its sublime sense of quality storytelling have not diminished, and to me, perhaps, never could. The movie cannot change, burned into three-strip Technicolor forever thanks to numerous restorations, re-releases and video incarnations. But I have changed over the years - and in spite of that, my emotional memories always stir as I am sucked up into its tornado. The Wizard of Oz has something fresh and intangibly pure for me every time I see it.

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The film is as tersely written and evocatively performed as any ever made - and yet we can apply almost any kind of allegory we wish towards the story. A young girl, Dorothy (Judy Garland in a timeless performance), is swept away in a storm to the jawdropping primary coloured land of Oz, a land of fantasy and opportunities. She is sent on a quest to ask the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City for help to return home. Along the way she meets three new friends: the brainless, floppy-limbed Scarecrow; the surprisingly wet and weepy Tin Man (who wants a heart); and the Cowardly Lion (who wants courage). Also introduced quickly is a scary enemy in the form of the Wicked Witch of the West. And, of course, the ultimate magical McGuffin - the enigmatic ruby slippers.

The real reason the film works is due to its unfettered belief in itself. Each of the actors takes a genuine joy in the performance, whether it be dance - I defy any viewer to not grin as the Tin Man quick-steps across frame - cheery corniness, or cold-blooded villainy. Garland is the model of small-town innocence - even if she is a crybaby in the first reel - every bit the romanticised ideal of 1930s Americana.

Back to Oz: the music is glorious, fun, well integrated into the storytelling and not the least bit irritating. It's all cheery gobbledygook of course, the cynical are neither wanted nor invited. The opening dedication text makes sure of that.

Just over halfway through, the film abandons its musical schema in favour of a straightforward but perfectly formed action-adventure film. Cheerful and lively fantasy is given vigour by the exciting and dangerous quests. They evoke the human qualities that we associate with the holidays, both friendship and defeating evil through personal triumph. This evolved beautifully into George Bailey's wholesome and human goodness in It's a Wonderful Life. No small wonder they're both indelibly a part of most film lovers' Christmas season.

Quite simply, The Wizard Of Oz is among the greatest films ever made, and if I don't mention much of the plot in this review, it's because any summary is almost academic, to the point of nausea. Always much better to get it from the source, and so you should. It's an enduring fable, and deserves every bit of its reputation.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2006
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Swept away to a magical land, young Dorothy sets out to find the wizard who can help her get home, meeting some unusual friends along the way. Out on IMAX reissue.
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Director: Victor Fleming

Writer: Noel Langley, based on the book by L Frank Baum

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick

Year: 1939

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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