(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One Sentence Plot Summary: A white girl from Kansa goes to a foreign country and gets away with committing double manslaughter in a foreign country with a scarecrow, tin man, lion, and a bunch of little people as accomplices.
Why It’s on the List: If I ever have children, and that’s looking increasingly unlikely at this point, this would certainly be one of the first movies I’d have them watch. It’s a simple story with a lot of wordplay contained in the dialogue and music. I was a munchkin in a school wide performance so many years ago, so I guess I’m a little biased.
This is still a special piece of filmmaking 80 years later, but I can understand modern audiences would have trouble getting into it. It goes from this almost dream like black and white into full technicolor. There’s lots of theatricality as all the actors feel more like they’re on stage playing to the back row as opposed to being in a film. Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion is especially going for…something in his performance. What always strike me on ever rewatch is how catchy the music continues to be. This is the only live action musical on my top 100, and I think it’s because of the fantastical elements involved.
I can’t go any longer without bringing up Judy Garland because her story is a Hollywood tragedy. She gets to play the lead, and it feels like she’s being gaslight by her family in the black and white portions of the story and only gains relevance when shiny shoes are put on her feet. She’s got a hell of a voice and it shines every time she sings. The best part about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is how simple it is. It’s just one actor singing. No crazy choreography or a million dancers across the screen. I still think it works in 2020.
I’ve probably seen Wizard of Oz more than just about any other film. It’s one I generally watch once a year and have done so since I was a little child. It’s cheesy, goofy, and time has only made some of the “effects” look jenky, but this is a formative film in my love of cinema.
*It’s hard to have this section with older movies because of how much sensibilities have changed, but Dorothy is clearly not taken seriously by her family. That’s true for the beginning when everyone wants her to stay out of the way and the ending of this film.
*One could argue Ms. Gulch was the first Karen filmed on-screen.
*Original author L. Frank Baum probably never could have imagined his political allegory could have mutated where a sitting president would eventually not have a heart, a brain, AND courage.
MVP and Best Performance: In a modern context, I’m not sure one can consider Judy Garland’s performance. It’s a bit theatrical and might not jive with modern sensibilities, yet there’s something very powerful about the way she sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” When one understands the context of her life, it becomes all the more haunting. She was thoroughly abused by the Hollywood system, physically and mentally. It’s remarkable she has a filmography as long as she does given all the drugs and problems she dealt with over the years. This is undoubtedly her most iconic and most seen role. Wizard of Oz continues to be a fixture of holiday viewing and has been for the 80 years it’s existed. Garland is a tremendous singer and captures the wonder as well the mixed emotions quite well. Given everything she has to push through, I would say this is one of the more iconic film performances (even if it’s not Oscar worthy.
Best Quote: Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. -The Wizard of Oz
Is there a sequel? There have been a number of prequels, sequels, spin-offs and off brand versions of this story of varying quality. Too much to get into.