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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Wizard of Oz

A classic from Hollywood's golden era

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 27, 1999 -- I've seen the "Wizard of Oz" numerous times since the days of my youth, yet I've never reviewed it before, why this time? Well, I got a shipment of newly restored version of the film on VHS and DVD from MGM by way of Carl Samrock Public Relations. I figure if people are going to send me tapes, I should review them. This makes it sound like work, but watching "The Wizard of Oz" is never like work, it is always a pleasure. I did delay watching it for a while, however, because, by coincidence, I had just seen the tape, my own copy of the older version, about a week before the tape and DVD arrived.

One of the reasons I haven't reviewed this film before is that the first time I saw it I was young. Now, I am not young anymore and my feelings about the film have changed. As a youngster, I only saw the film on television. I think the first time I had an opportunity to see it in a theater was recently when the film was re-released in its restored version.

Growing up, I looked forward to the annual showing of this film on television. It was magic for me, that colorful, beautiful land of Oz, the fanciful characters, and the wonderful song, "Over the Rainbow." It was, and is, a delightful, enchanting experience.

Now, I am amused by the overacting, the special effects that are so unsophisticated by today's standards and the stagey, corny production. It is not the same. Still, the message comes across loud and clear that you don't have to have a boat, a car or a plane to make a journey of self-discovery and that courage, intelligence and compassion come from within, not through medals, diplomas or testimonials.

The terrific dancing of Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow) and the singing and comedy of Bert Lahr (the Lion) still hold up today, and will forever, along with the outstanding work of that meteoric talent, Judy Garland (Dorothy). You can't have a good movie without a good villain and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) will always be the witch by which other witches will be measured. Frank Morgan is very good as the Wizard of Oz and four other roles in the movie.

The new tape and DVD are clear and sharp and the colors of the film are back to their original depth and vividness. Dolby® surround sound has been added as well. The tape has a very informative 50-minute documentary about the making of the film (which tells how Ray Bolger argued his way out of the Tin Man suit and into the Scarecrow suit) and some rarely seen studio outtakes and the original studio trailer. The DVD has all that and 57 minutes more, including excerpts from previous filmed versions of the story, a portrait gallery and special effects stills, original sketches, storyboards and more. The price on these tapes and disks has also recently come down.

So what do we make of all this? Certainly the film and the books on which it was based have staying power. This is the 60th anniversary of the film and the 100th anniversary of the first book will be coming up next July. Why does a movie, made during the depression still have this hold on people? Sometimes, when I'm feeling down, or just plain tired of petty politics, I like to watch this movie. I like escapism, but it is more than that. It is a remnant of a time of innocence and graciousness that has been lost forever. Like when Dorothy goes into the wagon of Professor Marvel. Instead of assaulting her, which is about all we expect from people these days, the kindly professor persuades her to go home because her mother is worried about her. Everywhere Dorothy goes on her journeys she meets strangers who help her, and in doing so, help themselves.

Not everything is sweetness and light, there's the wicked witch, and a cowardly wizard who hides behind a curtain, rather than trying to help anyone. There are people ruled by fear who wait until a little girl frees them, but overall, it is a positive story of triumph over fear and self-doubt. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]