Sunday, October 4, 2009

THE WIZARD OF OZ (Victor Fleming, 1939, USA) Dorothy is spirited away by a vicious gale and transposed to the magical Land of Oz, where she must discover the secret power within herself to return home. Adapted from the wonderful L. Frank Baum book, the film differs greatly from the source but Director Victor Fleming has captured the beautiful quicksilver essence of the tale, a story of self-discovery concerning friendship and courage in the face of constant danger. If understood in the context of the era, as the threat of Nazi Germany looms large upon a land on the brink of a great World War, this film acts as both escapist entertainment and a parable concerning the need for allies to defeat a wicked despot. The film begins in sepia tones, a dusty rural life of hardship and trauma, her beloved dog Toto court ordered to be destroyed by her devilish neighbor, while we meet the other farmhands and a mystical marvelous stranger. Then the finger of god wreaks destruction and Dorothy is knocked unconscious to wake in a saturated Technicolor world somewhere over the rainbow. The musical numbers and vivid landscapes are now stuff of cinematic legend, gorgeously rendered with grand set designs and painted backdrops that give an illusion of depth and dreamlike reality. But the screenplay portrays Dorothy “the small and meek” as reactionary, a little girl whose face is awash in tears and seems to be confounded by difficult decisions, always relying on her friends to save her, while Baum’s book portrays our little protagonist as a feminist ideal, a girl who takes action and becomes a leader and it’s her friends who rely upon her. Judy Garland’s freckled innocence imbues Dorothy with perfect grace and naiveté, and her lovely voice is like an ethereal melody. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion supply the slapstick humor and amusing alliteration, while a nightmarish thread is woven into this tapestry of imagination. A good children’s story must have moments of dread and fear otherwise it becomes mawkish, and the green visage of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys, or the fiery image of Oz the Great and Terrible are moments of mature apprehension. Finally, the humbug wizard grants the wishes of our champions, but his magic is only in his keen insight as they have already displayed the very traits they believed lacking: he only gives them awards to reflect their accomplishments. Dorothy also discovers that the power to go home was always within her grasp, and with three clicks of her ruby slippers she discovers that there is indeed no place like home. (B+)

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

It is starkly different from the novel...but I like it anyway.

Alex DeLarge said...

Beatiful film, but the "sequel" RETURN TO OZ has always gotten a bum rap. Check out my review for Murch's film: it is much more true to Baum's vision and the darkest Disney film ever made!

smarthotoldlady said...

Another movie that tells little girls to stay close to home. That is the only place they can find happiness.