The complementary Blu-ray that Warner Brothers sent to me of this beloved classic is a treasured gift. The print is so clear, the color so vibrant, I feel as though I have re-discovered a new version. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. Blu-ray discs are often promoted for science fiction spectaculars with lots of special effects. That’s a valid genre, but to me, the most convincing benefits concerning the Blu-ray format is re-visiting the past and watching these masterpieces in a way not appreciated since the original release. I cannot overstate how beautiful this film looks.
If ever there was a movie that was better than the book, The Wizard of Oz is it. I have nothing against the 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It’s a classic in it’s own right, but this dramatic adaptation is simply one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s difficult for me to independently assess its merits because, like the rest of us, I first watched it when I was very very young and continued to watch it throughout the years. As much a part of my childhood as Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Cub Scouts and school. But right there is a validation of the picture’s virtue. No other production save for perhaps It’s a Wonderful Life, The Ten Commandments or The Sound of Music, represents such a defining example of movies shown regularly on TV. It’s pretty much a shared reality as humans on planet Earth. Virtually everyone has seen this film.
As with any fantasy, the visual displays are important, but would be nothing without a cast that can engage the emotions. Judy Garland is perfection and it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the character. Sorry Shirley Temple. Garland had an incredibly successful career in Hollywood as she was recognized for many roles. For the rest of the actors, these are the parts for which they are primarily known to modern audiences: Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and Billie Burke are memorable. If I have a quibble with anything, I’d have to say that Bert Lahr plays the cowardly Lion almost like he’s the 4th stooge. He’s likable. I don’t begrudge him that, but his song “If I Were King of the Forest” is my least favorite in a musical score full of winners. Preceding their introduction to the Wizard, it’s a bit of a drag on the narrative at a point where we are on the edge of our seat. The Munchkins are a captivating delight, the flying monkeys give me the creeps, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the villain. Along the way Dorothy encounters a particularly nasty individual known as The Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal is so iconic I believe we underestimate the brilliance of her performance. I still have trouble believing that the sum of her appearances only amount to 12 minutes of screen time. She is the very definition of what it means to be a witch.
The story is as familiar as your own name. A young girl from Kansas, bored with her life, yearns for a more exciting one “over the rainbow.” A horrific tornado, which continues to amaze, hits her cherished farm and whisks her, house and all, to the wonderful world of Oz where she meets a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion. They join forces to help her get back to Kansas by visiting the Wizard who they’ve heard can reunite her with her family. The spectacle was expensive for its time and it shows. Even though it was a success, it did not show a large profit until the 1949 re-release. Regardless it was obviously money well spent. The production design is beyond compare. That early shot where she steps out of her black and white sepia toned existence into a land of color is practically a religious experience the way it’s presented here. You’ve seen it before but think back to when you first witnessed the transformation and it’s one of the most exhilarating moments in movies. Seven decades later, everything continues to dazzle: the performances, the sets, the costumes, the music. It is such a force of goodness. There may very well be people who dislike this film, but I have no desire to meet them.