Rural black and white Kansas: 12 year old Dorothy (Judy Garland) feels
misunderstood at home, especially since nasty neighbour Miss Gulch
(Margaret Hamilton) wants to take her dog Toto away and her foster parents
Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) don't do
anything to help Dorothy ... so eventually Dorothy runs away, and soon
crosses paths with a travelling showman, Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan),
whom she tries to persuade to take her and Toto with him, but instead he
persuades her to return home by consulting his fake crystal ball. However,
returning home, Dorothy has to face a twister that eventually either
knocks her out and makes her dream about or actually takes her to the
wonderful world of Oz - which is in colour of course.
In Oz, Dorothy strikes dead the Wicked Witch of the East immediately,
is celebrated as a national hero by the locals, a tribe of dwarves called
the Munchkins, and is granted the Witch's magic red slippers as a reward.
However, all Dorothy wants is to return home, and the only advice anyone
in Munchkinland can give her to get back home is to follow the yellow
brick road and go to the Wizard of Oz, who is omniscient so he will of
course be able to get her to Kansas.
On her way to the wizard, Dorothy meets a scarecrow with no brains (Ray
Bolger), a tin man with no heart (Jack Haley) and a cowardly lion (Bert
Lahr), all of whom she takes with herself and Toto to seek advice from the
wizard as well. However, they are all pursued by the Wicked Witch of the
West (Margaret Hamilton again), who desperately wants Dorothy's red
slippers and tries to lure them into a variety of traps - but without any
Ultimately, our group of heroes makes it to the wizard ... but he
promises only to help if they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch
of the West - forcing them to fight the witch, her foot soldiers and her
winged monkeys on her own turf, and pretty much losing the fight ... when
Dorothy accidently poures water into her face and makes her disintegrate
With the witch's broomstick, our heroes return to the wizard, but now
the wizard tries to wiggle out of his promise ... until they realize he is
not at all the all powerful wizard but only a travelling showman (Frank
Morgan again) who has just used his tricks-of-the-trade to make himself
larger than life. However, he proves to the scarecrow, the tin man and the
lion that they already have inside them what they thought they were
looking for, then he promises Dorothy to take her back to Kansas in his
hot air balloon - but by accident, he leaves without her, and since he has
got no idea how to steer his balloon, he can't come back and pick her up.
Then though Glinda the good witch of the North (Billie Burke) stops by and
tells Dorothy she had the power to return home all the time, all she has
to do is to click her shoes together and say "There's no place like
home" three times - which Dorothy does, returning home to black and
white Kansas, now having learned that, well, there's no place like home.
Plus, she identifies her uncle's farmhands as her friends from Oz ...
The Wizard of Oz is quite probably the penultimate fantasy film
of the 1930's: It boasts lavish sets, for its time impressive special
effects, an elegant use of Technicolor (not a given in the 1930's), and
some wonderful song-and-dance numbers (back then, fantasy films were more
often than not also musicals). Plus, the direction is very elegant, and
Judy Garland - who was actually 16 to 17 when this was filmed - is
actually able to carry the film, both as an actress and as a singer.
Of course, watching the film almost 70 years later, one might feel
overcome by the massive use of kitsch in everything, from lavish colours
to sets to music to message, and the special effects today do seem of
course far less impressive - that said though, if you do not take this
film too seriously (it wasn't meant to be) and are still in touch with
your inner child, you might still find The Wizard of Oz highly
enjoyable and far preferable to the impersonal computer generated effect
spectacles that make up modern fantasy.
An interesting note: The idea of having Kansas in black and white and
Oz in colour was actually stolen from an earlier adaptation of the story,
the 1933 Canadian cartoon short The Wizard of Oz by Ted Eshbaugh.
However, for other than that reason, the film is pretty unremarkable ...