The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical-fantasy film mainly directed by Victor Fleming and based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The film features Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch of the North, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Frank Morgan as the Wizard.
The film follows schoolgirl Dorothy Gale who lives on a Kansas farm with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, but dreams of a better place "somewhere over the rainbow." After being struck unconscious during a tornado by a window which has come loose from its frame, Dorothy dreams that she, her dog Toto, and the farmhouse are transported to the magical Land of Oz. There, the Good Witch of the North Glinda advises Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz, who can return her to Kansas. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow, Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, who join her, hoping to receive what they lack themselves (a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively), all of this is done while also trying to avoid the many plots of the Wicked Witch of the West, in her attempt to get the ruby slippers that Dorothy received from the squashed Wicked Witch of the East. For this movie, MGM used trick photography and illusions to make normal size people look like midgets. So although most people thought midgets were used, they were actually all tall people illusioned to be short.
Initially, The Wizard of Oz was not considered a commercial success in relation to its enormous budget, although it made a small profit and received largely favorable reviews. What impact it had upon release was reportedly responsible for the release of two other fantasy films in Technicolor the following year - The Blue Bird and The Thief of Bagdad. The songs from The Wizard of Oz became widely popular, with "Over the Rainbow" receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and the film itself garnering several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
The film received much more attention after its annual television screenings were so warmly embraced, and has since become one of the most beloved films of all time. In fact, The Wizard of Oz is believed to be the most-watched film in history, owing greatly to its television and video screenings. It is often ranked among the top ten best movies of all-time in various critics' and popular polls, and has provided many indelible quotes to the American cultural consciousness. Its signature song, "Over the Rainbow," sung by Judy Garland, has been voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.
A confused Dorothy seems to awaken a few minutes later to discover the house has been caught up in the twister. Moments later, the twister drops the house back onto solid ground. Opening the door and stepping into full three-strip Technicolor, Dorothy finds herself in a village and parkland of unearthly beauty. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), arrives magically. She informs Dorothy that she is in Munchkinland and that she has killed the ruby-slippered Wicked Witch of the East by "dropping a house" on her.
Encouraged by Glinda, the timid Munchkins come out of hiding to celebrate the demise of the witch, while singing "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" and proclaiming Dorothy as their national heroine. The Wicked Witch of the West (also played by Margaret Hamilton), makes a startling appearance claiming the powerful ruby slippers. Glinda magically transfers the slippers from the dead witch onto Dorothy's feet and reminds the witch of the west that her power is ineffectual in Munchkinland. The witch vows revenge on Dorothy before leaving the same way she arrived. Glinda advises Dorothy to seek the help of the mysterious Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City in her quest to return home to Kansas; Glinda explains that she can find Emerald City by following the yellow brick road. She also advises Dorothy that she must never remove the slippers or she will be at the mercy of the Wicked Witch of the West.
On her way to the city, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) with no brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) with no heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) (these are played by the same actors as the farm hands). The three decide to accompany Dorothy to the Wizard in hopes of obtaining their desires. Along the way, they behave in various ways which demonstrate that they already have the qualities they think they lack: the Scarecrow has several good ideas, the Tin Man is kind and sympathetic, and the Lion is ready to face danger even though he is terrified. The group reaches Emerald City, where they are greeted kindly. The group talks to the Wizard of Oz - a disembodied and imposing head with a booming voice - who says that he will consider granting their wishes if they can bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch.
On their way to the witch's castle, they are attacked by a gang of flying monkeys. These carry Dorothy and Toto away and deliver her to the witch. The Witch demands that Dorothy hand over the ruby slippers. After the witch threatens to kill Toto, Dorothy agrees to give her the shoes; but a shower of sparks prevents their removal. The witch says that the shoes cannot be removed unless Dorothy dies. While the witch is distracted, Toto takes the opportunity to escape. The witch then locks Dorothy in the chamber and leaves to consider how to kill Dorothy without damaging the shoes' magic. Toto finds Dorothy's friends and leads them to the castle. Once inside they free Dorothy and attempt an escape. The witch and her Winkie soldiers corner the group on a parapet, where the witch sets the Scarecrow's arm on fire. To douse the flames, Dorothy throws water on them, while accidentally splashing water on the horrified witch, causing her to melt. To the group's surprise, the soldiers are delighted. Their captain (Mitchell Lewis) gives Dorothy the broomstick in gratitude.
Upon their return to Emerald City, Toto inadvertently exposes the great and powerful wizard as a fraud; they find an ordinary man hiding behind a curtain operating a bunch of buttons and levers. They are outraged at the deception, but the wizard solves their problems through common sense and a little double talk, rather than magic. He explains that they already had what they had been searching for all along and only need things such as medals and diplomas to confirm that someone else recognizes it.
The wizard explains that he too was born in Kansas and his presence in Oz was the result of an escaped hot air balloon. He promises to take Dorothy home in the same balloon, leaving the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion in charge of Emerald City. Just before takeoff, Toto jumps out of the balloon's basket; Dorothy jumps out to catch him and the wizard, unable to control the balloon, leaves without her. She is resigned to spend the rest of her life in Oz until Glinda appears and tells her that she has always had the power to return home. Glinda explains that she did not tell Dorothy at first because she needed to find out for herself that "The next time I go looking for my heart's desire, I won't look any further than my own backyard; if it's not there, then I never really lost it to begin with."
Dorothy says a tearful goodbye to the friends she has met in Oz, and then follows Glinda's instructions to get home. Back in sepia tone she awakens in her bedroom in Kansas surrounded by family and friends and tells them of her journey. Everyone laughs and tells her it was all a dream, except Uncle Henry, who says sympathetically "Of course we believe you, Dorothy". Toto appears and jumps onto the bed. A happy Dorothy, still convinced the journey was real, hugs Toto and says, "There's no place like home." No mention is made in the film of the ultimate fate of Miss Gulch.
The script went through a number of revisions before the final shooting. The original producers thought that a 1939 audience was too sophisticated to accept Oz as a straight-ahead fantasy; therefore, it was reconceived as a lengthy, elaborate dream. Because of a perceived need to attract a youthful audience through appealing to modern fads and styles, the script originally featured a scene with a series of musical contests. A spoiled, selfish princess in Oz had outlawed all forms of music except classical and operetta, and went up against Dorothy in a singing contest in which Dorothy's swing style enchanted listeners and won the grand prize. This part was initially written for Betty Jaynes. The plan was later dropped.
Another scene, which was removed before final script approval and never filmed, was a concluding scene back in Kansas after Dorothy's return. Hunk (the Kansan counterpart to the Scarecrow) is leaving for agricultural college, and extracts a promise from Dorothy to write to him. The implication of the scene is that romance will eventually develop between the two, which also may have been intended as an explanation for Dorothy's partiality for the Scarecrow over her other two companions.
A persistent rumor suggests that negotiations took place early in pre-production for Shirley Temple to play the part of Dorothy, on loan out from 20th Century Fox, who in turn was promised Clark Gable and Jean Harlow as a loan from MGM. The tale is almost certainly untrue, as Harlow died in 1937, before MGM had even purchased the rights to the story. Despite this, the story appears in many film biographies (including Temple's own autobiography). The documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, states that Mervyn LeRoy was under pressure to cast Temple, then the most popular child star; but at an unofficial audition, LeRoy listened to her sing and decided that an actress with a different style was needed. Newsreel footage is included in which Temple wisecracks "There's no place like home," suggesting that she was being considered for the part at that time. A possibility is that this consideration did indeed take place, but that Gable and Harlow were no part of the proposed deal.
Rumors that the completed film shows an actor who played one of the Munchkins committing suicide by hanging in the background of one scene have been shown to be false.
The makeup used for Jack Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste makeup; although it did not have the same dire effect on Haley, he did at one point suffer from an unpleasant reaction to it. Despite his near-death experience with the makeup, Ebsen outlived all the principal players, although his film career was damaged by the incident. His career did not fully recover until the 1950s, when he began a string of popular film and TV series appearances that would continue into the 1980s. Although his lungs had presumably recovered from the effects of the powder makeup, he eventually died from complications from pneumonia on July 6, 2003 at the age of ninety-five.
The book The World of Entertainment (1975) by Hugh Fordin, created with the full cooperation of uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed before his death, is said to suggest that Victor Fleming fired the actor when he took over as director. In a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of Wizard of Oz), Ebsen recalled that the studio heads initially did not believe he was ill. No footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released — only photographs taken during filming and test photos of different makeup styles remain.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch. She became unhappy with the role when the witch's persona shifted from sly and glamorous (thought to emulate the wicked queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) into the familiar "ugly hag." She turned down the role and was replaced on October 10, 1938 by Margaret Hamilton. Sondergaard said in an interview for a bonus feature on the DVD that she had no regrets about turning down the part. Hamilton was severely burned in the Munchkinland scene when she was to disappear in a puff of fiery smoke. When she returned from the hospital, Hamilton refused to do the scene where she flies a broomstick billowing smoke, so the directors chose to have a stand-in perform the scene instead. The stand-in was also severely injured doing the scene after a malfunction occurred during filming. Margaret Hamilton plays a remarkably similar role in the Judy Garland film Babes in Arms released that same year. She is a busybody social worker who wants to remove Judy Garland's character from the custody of her parents, much as Almira Gulch wants to remove Toto from the Gale family.
Ironically, on February 12 1939, Fleming replaced Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind. The next day, King Vidor would be assigned as director to finish the filming of The Wizard of Oz (mainly the sepia Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow"). In later years, when the film became firmly established as a classic, King Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until after the death of his friend Fleming.
The Wizard of Oz premiered at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939 and Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on August 15 1939. The New York City premiere at Loew's Capitol Theater on August 17 1939 was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They would continue to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney's case for a second week and in Garland's to three. The movie opened nationally on August 25 1939.
The film grossed approximately $3 million against production/distribution costs of $2.8 million in its initial release. It did not show what MGM considered a large profit until a 1949 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million.
Beginning with the 1949 re-issue, and continuing until the film's 50th Anniversary videocassette release in 1989, the Kansas sequences were printed and shown in ordinary black-and-white, not sepia, and so TV viewers saw them in black-and-white for more than thirty years. However, with the film's fiftieth anniversary restoration, the sepia tone was brought back to the Kansas scenes, and beginning in 1990, the film was shown on television as originally released in 1939.
The film was again re-released in 1955 in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio version, with portions of the top and the bottom of the film removed via hard mattes to produce the effect. The re-release trailer falsely claimed "every scene" from Baum's novel was in the film, including "the rescue of Dorothy", though there is no such incident in the novel.
The film was first shown on television November 3, 1956 on CBS, as the last installment of the Ford Star Jubilee. It was shown in color (posters still exist advertising the broadcast, and they specifically say in color and black-and-white), but because most television sets then were not color sets, few members of the TV audience saw it that way. An estimated 45 million people watched the broadcast. However, it was not rerun until three years later. On December 13, 1959 the film was shown (again on CBS) as a two-hour Christmas season special, and at an earlier time, to an even larger audience. (Commercial breaks were much shorter then, enabling the film to run in a two-hour time slot without being cut.) Encouraged by the response, CBS decided to make it an annual tradition, showing it every December from 1959 through 1962. The film was not shown in December 1963 as might have been expected, perhaps due to the proximity of the John F. Kennedy assassination November 22, 1963. Others say that there was no room on the schedule, due to the fact that by then there were other Christmas specials on television, though not nearly as many as in later years.
Still, the film was shown very early in 1964, and the showings were therefore still only roughly a year apart. The January 1964 broadcast marked the end of the Christmas season showings, but The Wizard of Oz was nevertheless still televised only once a year for more than two decades. In the late 1960s, the film was bought for annual TV showings by NBC, but by 1976, it had reverted to CBS. It is now shown several times a year, on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, Turner Network Television, and the TBS Superstation, often several times during the same week "in rotation" on these three channels.
The Wizard of Oz became the first videocassette released by MGM/CBS Home Video in 1980; all current home video releases are by Warner Home Video (via current rights holder Turner Entertainment). The first laserdisc release of The Wizard of Oz was in 1989, with a second in 1993, and a final laserdisc release on September 11, 1996. The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997, and contained no special features or supplements. It was re-released for its 60th Anniversary on October 19, 1999, with its soundtrack presented in a new 5.1 surround sound mix. The DVD also contained an extensive behind-the-scenes documentary: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, produced in 1990 and hosted by Angela Lansbury. Despite being a one-disc release, outtakes, the deleted "Jitterbug" musical number, clips of pre-1939 Oz adaptations, trailers, newsreels and a portrait gallery were also included, as well as two radio programs of the era publicizing the film. In 2005, two new DVD editions were released, both featuring a newly restored version of the film with audio commentary and an isolated music and effects track. One of the two DVD releases was a 2-disc "deluxe edition", featuring production documentaries, trailers, various outtakes, newsreels, radio shows, and still galleries. The other set, a 3-disc edition, included these features as well as complete copies of the 1925 silent film version of The Wizard of Oz and a 1933 animated short version. Warner has also stated that The Wizard of Oz will be released on BluRay Disc in 2009 for the 70th anniversary of the Motion Picture.
Regarding the original Baum storybook, it has been said: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is America's greatest and best-loved home grown fairytale. The first totally American fantasy for children, it is one of the most-read children's books . . . and despite its many particularly American attributes, including a wizard from Omaha, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has universal appeal. The film itself is widely considered to be one of the most well known, beloved films of all time, and was one of the earliest films to be deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In June 2007, the film was listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. It was placed at number 86 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
All of the film's stars except Frank Morgan lived long enough to see and enjoy at least some of the film's legendary reputation after it came to television. The last of the major players to die was Ray Bolger, in 1987. The day after his death, a prominent editorial cartoonist referenced the cultural impact of this film, portraying the Scarecrow running along the Yellow Brick Road to catch up with the other characters, as they all danced off into the sunset.
Neither director Victor Fleming, nor music arranger Herbert Stothart, screenwriter Edgar Allan Woolf, film editor Blanche Sewell, nor actor Charley Grapewin (who played Dorothy's Uncle Henry) lived to see the film become an icon of cinema and a television tradition. By a curious coincidence, Fleming, Stothart, Sewell, and Morgan all died in the same year - 1949, which was also the year of the film's highly successful first re-release. Costume designer Adrian died in September 1959, only three months before the highly successful second telecast of the film, the one that would persuade CBS to make it an annual tradition. The film's principal art director Cedric Gibbons died in the spring of 1960, after the 1959 telecast, but months before its next TV showing.
In current reviews, The Wizard of Oz is still praised by critics. On the film's Rotten Tomatoes listing, 100% of critics give the film positive reviews, based on 65 reviews.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Wizard of Oz was acknowledged as the best film in the fantasy genre.
The song "The Jitterbug", written in a swing style, was intended for the sequence in which the four are journeying to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. Due to time constraints, the song was cut from the final theatrical version. The film footage for the song has been lost, although silent home film footage of rehearsals for the number has survived. The sound recording for the song, however, has survived, and it is included in the 2-CD Rhino Record deluxe edition of the film soundtrack, as well as on the VHS and DVD editions of the film. A reference to "The Jitterbug" remains in the film; the Witch remarks to her flying monkeys that they should have no trouble apprehending Dorothy and her friends because "I sent a little insect ahead to take the fight out of them."
The songs were recorded in a studio before filming. Several of the recordings were completed while Buddy Ebsen was still with the cast. Therefore, while Ebsen had to be dropped from the cast due to illness from the aluminum powder makeup, his singing voice remained in the soundtrack. In the group vocals of "We're off to See the Wizard," his voice is easy to detect. Jack Haley spoke with a distinct Boston accent and thus did not pronounce the r in wizard. By contrast, Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland, and thus pronounced it. Of course, Haley re-recorded Ebsen's solo parts later.
Lyrics to "If I only had a Brain, Heart, and Nerve"
Scarecrow: Said a scarecrow swinging on a pole, to a blackbird sittin’ on a fence. “Oh, the lord gave me a soul but forgot to give me common sense”. Said the blackbird— Crows: Well, well, well, what in thunder would you do with common sense? Scarecrow: Said the scarecrow. “T’would be pleasin’ Just to reason out the reason of the witchness and whiness and the whence if I had an ounce of common sense”. Crows: If he had an ounce of common sense. Dorothy: What would you do, Scarecrow? Scarecrow: I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers, consulting with the rain. And in my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’ if I only had a brain. I’d unravel every riddle, for any individ’le in trouble or in pain. Dorothy: With the thoughts you’d be thinkin’ you could be another Lincoln Scarecrow: If I only had a brain. Oh, I—could tell you why, the ocean’s near the shore. Dorothy: You could think of things you never thunk before. Scarecrow: And then I’d sit (He sits)…and think some more. I would not be Just a nuffin’, my head all full of stuffin’, my heart all full of pain. I would dance and be merry life would be a ding-a-derry if I only had a brain. Oh, I—could tell you why, the ocean’s near the shore, I could think of things I never thunk before. Dorothy: And then he’d sit – Scarecrow: (He sits)…and think some more. Crows: Caw, caw! Scarecrow: Gosh, it would be awful pleasin’ to reason out the reason for things I can’t explain. Then perhaps I’d deserve you and be even worthy earve you. I would dance and be merry life would be a ding-a-derry— Scarecrow, Crows, Dorothy: if I/you only— Crows: If only—if you only— Scarecrow and Crows: had a brain! Scarecrow: If I only had a brain
Trees: Said a tin man, rattling his Jibs to a straw man, sad and weary eyed. Tin Man: Oh, the smith gave me tin ribs but, forgot to put a heart inside. Trees: Then he banged his hallow chest and cried! Tin Man: When a man’s an empty kettle, he should be on his metal and yet I’m torn apart. Just because I’m presumin’, that I could kinda human, if I only had a heart. I’d be tender; I’d be gentle, and awful sentimental, regarding love an art. I’d be friends with the sparrows and the boy who shoots the arrows if I only had a heart. Picture me a balcony, above the voice sings low. Trees: Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Tin Man: I hear a beat— Dorothy: how sweet. Tin Man: Just to register emotion, Jealousy, devotion, and really feel the part. I would stay young and chipper and I’d lock it with a zipper if I only had a heart. (Instrumental break. He tap dances all around) Oh, I may be presumin’, that I could be kinda human. I’d be friends with the sparrows and the boy that shoots the arrows. Dorothy: You could stay young and chipper. Tin Man: And I’d lock it with a zipper, if I only— Dorothy: If you only— Scarecrow: If you only— Trees: If you only— Tin Man and Trees: had a heart!!!
Lion: Said a lion, poor, neurotic lion. To a miss who’ll listen to him rave. “Oh, the lord made me a lion, but…the lord forgot to make me brave”. Dorothy: Then his tail began to curl and wave. Lion: Life…is…sad believe me, Missy, when you’re born to be a sissy without the vim and verve. But I could change my habits never more be scared of RABBITS if I only had the nerve. I’m afraid there’s no denying I’m Just a dandelion, a fate I don’t deserve. But I could show my prowess be a lion not a mouse if I only had the nerve. Oh, I’d be in my stride, a king down to the core, I could roar the way I never roared before, and then I’d r-r-roof and roar some more. I would show the dinosaurus whose king around the forest a king they’d better serve, why with my regal beezer I could be another Caesar, if I only had the nerve. I’d be brave as a blizzard. Tin Man: I’d be gentle as a lizard. Scarecrow: I’d be clever as a gizzard. Dorothy: If the wizard is a wizard who will serve. Scarecrow: Then I’m sure to get a brain. Tin Man: A heart. Dorothy: A home. Lion: The nerve.
All four: We’re off to see the wizard the wonderful Wizard of Oz. We hear he is a wiz of a wiz if ever a whiz there was. If ever, oh, ever a wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because-because-because-because-because-because-because of the Wonderful things he does. Lion: Because of the Wonderful things he does! All four: We’re off to see the Wizard the wonderful Wizard of Oz!!!