The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)
|The Wizard of Oz|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
|Produced by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Based on||The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
|Edited by||Blanche Sewell|
The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical comedy-drama fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the most well-known and commercially successful adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. The film co-stars Terry the dog, billed as Toto; Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton, with Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick, and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins.
Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and unusual characters, over the years, it has become an icon of American popular culture. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost to Gone with the Wind. It did win in two other categories, including Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow". However, the film was a box office disappointment on its initial release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,777,000 budget, despite receiving largely positive reviews. It was MGM's most expensive production at that time, and did not completely recoup the studio's investment and turn a profit until theatrical re-releases starting in 1949.
The 1956 broadcast television premiere of the film on CBS reintroduced the film to the wider public and eventually made the presentation an annual tradition, making it one of the most known films in cinema history. The film was named the most-viewed motion picture on television syndication by the Library of Congress, which also included the film in its National Film Registry in its inaugural year in 1989. Designation on the registry calls for efforts to preserve it for being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant". It is also one of the few films on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.
The Wizard of Oz is often ranked on best-movie lists in critics' and public polls. It is the source of many quotes referenced in modern popular culture. It was directed primarily by Victor Fleming (who left production to take over direction on the troubled Gone with the Wind production). Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but uncredited contributions were made by others. The songs were written by Edgar "Yip" Harburg (lyrics) and Harold Arlen (music). The incidental music, based largely on the songs, was composed by Herbert Stothart, with interspersed renderings from classical composers.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Release
- 5 Reception
- 6 Differences from the novel
- 7 Rereleases
- 8 Television
- 9 Home media
- 10 Music
- 11 Awards and honors
- 12 Sequels and reinterpretations
- 13 Cultural impact
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 External links
The film starts in sepia-toned Kansas in the early 1900s. Dorothy Gale lives with her dog Toto on the farm of her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Dorothy and Toto get in trouble with a ruthless neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, when Toto bites her. However, Dorothy's family and the farmhands are all too busy to pay attention to her. Miss Gulch arrives with permission from the sheriff to have Toto euthanized. He is taken away, but escapes and returns to Dorothy; she then decides to run away from home with Toto to escape Miss Gulch.
They meet Professor Marvel, a phony fortune teller, who realizes Dorothy has run away and tricks her via his crystal ball into believing that her aunt is ill so that she must return home. She races home as a powerful tornado develops. Unable to get into her family's storm cellar, she seeks safety in her bedroom. A wind-blown window sash hits her head and she falls unconscious on her bed. She begins dreaming, seeing the house spinning in the air, held aloft by the twister. In the storm outside the window, she sees an elderly lady in a chair, several farm animals, two men rowing a boat, and Miss Gulch (still pedaling her bicycle), who transforms into a cackling witch flying on a broomstick.
The farm house crashes in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz, where the film changes to Technicolor. Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins welcome her as a heroine, as the house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, leaving only her feet exposed. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives to claim the magic ruby slippers worn on her sister's feet. Glinda transfers them off her feet to Dorothy's feet, instead. The Wicked Witch of the West swears revenge on Dorothy and Toto for her sister's death. Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz might be able to help her get back home.
On her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, the Tin Woodman, who desires a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who is in need of courage. Dorothy invites each of them to accompany her. After encountering the Witch, who attempts to deter them from their destination, they finally reach the Emerald City. Inside, after being initially rejected, they are permitted to see the Wizard (appearing to them in the form of a large head surrounded by fire), who agrees to grant their wishes when they bring him the Witch of the West's broomstick.
On their quest to the Witch's castle, the group passes through the Haunted Forest while the Witch views their progress through a crystal ball. She then sends her winged monkeys to ambush the four and capture Dorothy and Toto. At the castle, the Witch fails to get the slippers off Dorothy due to a magical electric barrier, remembering that Dorothy must first be killed. Toto escapes and leads her friends to the castle. After defeating three Winkie Guards and stealing their uniforms, they march inside and free her, but the Witch and her guards trap them. The Scarecrow drops a chandelier onto the Winkies, and the group is chased across the battlements, before being trapped on both sides. The Witch sets fire to the Scarecrow and Dorothy splashes a bucket of water onto the flames; the Witch, also hit by it, melts. The guards rejoice that she is dead and give Dorothy the charred broomstick in gratitude.
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard delays their requests to grant their obviously well-deserved rewards. As the outraged group argues, Toto pulls open a curtain and exposes the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man who has been operating and controlling the image of the wizard; he then admits to being a humbug. Nonetheless, he reinstates it when he gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a ticking heart-shaped watch, granting their wishes and convincing them that what they sought has been achieved. He then prepares to launch his hot air balloon to take Dorothy home, but Toto chases a cat, Dorothy follows, and the balloon leaves without them. Glinda arrives and tells her that she can still return home by tapping her heels together three times and repeating, "There's no place like home". After bidding a tearful goodbye to her friends, Dorothy taps her heels together and awakens from her dream, surrounded by her family, the farmhands, Professor Marvel, and Toto.
- Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale
- Frank Morgan as Professor Marvel / The Wizard / Doorman / Cabbie / Guard / Doctor
- Ray Bolger as Hunk / Scarecrow
- Jack Haley as Hickory / Tin Man
- Bert Lahr as Zeke / Cowardly Lion
- Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch of the North
- Margaret Hamilton as Miss Almira Gulch / The Wicked Witch of the West
- Clara Blandick as Aunt Em
- Charley Grapewin as Uncle Henry
- Pat Walshe as Nikko (the Winged Monkey King)
- Terry as Toto
- Mitchell Lewis as the Winkie Guard Captain (credited only in the IMAX version)
- Charlie Becker as Munchkin Mayor
- Meinhardt Raabe as Munchkin Coroner
- Jakob "Jackie" Gerlich as Lollipop Guild/Munchkin
- Jerry Maren as Lollipop Guild/Munchkin
- Billy Curtis as Braggart Munchkin
- Harry Monty as Soldier/Winged Monkey
- Mickey Carroll as Fiddler/Town Crier/Soldier
- Karl Slover as Lead trumpeter/Soldier/"Sleepyhead"/Villager
- Olga C. Nardone as the Littlest Lullaby League
- Margaret Pellegrini as "Sleepyhead"
- Ruth Duccini as a Villager
- The Doll Family as Munchkin Villagers
- The Singer Midgets as the Munchkins
Development and preproduction
Development of the film started when Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs showed that films adapted from popular children's stories and fairytale folklore could be successful. In January 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to the hugely popular novel from Samuel Goldwyn, who had toyed with the idea of making the film as a vehicle for Eddie Cantor, who was under contract to the Goldwyn studios and whom Goldwyn wanted to cast as the Scarecrow.
The script went through a number of writers and revisions before the final shooting. Originally, Mervyn LeRoy's assistant William H. Cannon submitted a brief four-page outline. Because recent fantasy films had not fared well at the box office, he recommended that the magical elements of the story be toned down or eliminated. In his outline, the Scarecrow was a man so stupid that the only way he could get employment was to dress up as a scarecrow and scare away crows in a cornfield, and the Tin Woodman was a hardened criminal so heartless he was sentenced to be placed in a tin suit for eternity. The torture of being encased in the suit had softened him and made him gentle and kind. His vision was similar to Larry Semon's 1925 film adaptation of the story, in which the magical element is absent.
After that, LeRoy hired screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to work on a script. Despite Mankiewicz's notorious reputation at that time for being an alcoholic, he soon delivered a 17-page draft of the Kansas scenes, and a few weeks later, he handed in a further 56 pages. Noel Langley and poet Ogden Nash were also hired to write separate versions of the story. None of the three writers involved knew anyone else was working on a script, but it was not an uncommon procedure. Nash soon delivered a four-page outline, Langley turned in a 43-page treatment and a full film script. He turned in three more, this time incorporating the songs that had been written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. No sooner had he completed it than Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf submitted a script and were brought on board to touch up the writing. They would be responsible for making sure the story stayed true to the Baum book. However, producer Arthur Freed was unhappy with their work and reassigned it to Langley. During filming, Victor Fleming and John Lee Mahin revised the script further, adding and cutting some scenes. In addition, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr are known to have written some of their own dialogue for the Kansas sequence.
The final draft of the script was completed on October 8, 1938, following numerous rewrites. All in all, it was a mish-mash of many creative minds, but Langley, Ryerson, and Woolf got the film credits. Along with the contributors already mentioned, others who assisted with the adaptation without receiving official credit include: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Arthur Freed, Yip Harburg, Samuel Hoffenstein, Jack Mintz, Sid Silvers, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, and King Vidor.
In addition, songwriter Harburg's son (and biographer) Ernie Harburg reported:
So anyhow, Yip also wrote all the dialogue in that time and the setup to the songs and he also wrote the part where they give out the heart, the brains, and the nerve, because he was the final script editor. And he – there was eleven screenwriters on that – and he pulled the whole thing together, wrote his own lines and gave the thing a coherence and unity which made it a work of art. But he doesn't get credit for that. He gets lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, you see. But nevertheless, he put his influence on the thing.
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 sequence. Because of a perceived need to attract a youthful audience through appealing to modern fads and styles, the score originally featured a song called "The Jitterbug", and 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 her 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. This plot idea was never totally dropped, but is especially noticeable in the final script when Dorothy, just before she is to leave Oz, tells the Scarecrow, "I think I'll miss you most of all."
In his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum describes Kansas as being "in shades of gray". Further, Dorothy lived inside a farmhouse which had its paint blistered and washed away by the weather, giving it an air of grayness. The house and property were situated in the middle of a sweeping prairie where the grass was burnt gray by harsh sun. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry were "gray with age". Effectively, the use of monochrome sepia tones for the Kansas sequences was a stylistic choice that evoked the dull and gray countryside. Much attention was given to the use of color in the production, with the MGM production crew favoring some hues over others. Consequently, it took the studio's art department almost a week to settle on the final shade of yellow used for the yellow brick road.
Mervyn LeRoy had always insisted that he wanted to cast Judy Garland to play Dorothy from the start; however, evidence suggests that negotiations occurred early in preproduction for Shirley Temple to be cast as Dorothy, on loan from 20th Century Fox. A persistent rumor also existed that Fox, in turn, 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, MGM musical mainstay Roger Edens listened to her sing and felt 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 not part of the proposed deal.
Actress Deanna Durbin, who was under contract to Universal Studios, was also considered for the part of Dorothy. Durbin, at the time, far exceeded Garland in film experience and fan base and both had co-starred in a 1936 two-reeler titled Every Sunday. The film was most notable for exhibiting Durbin's operatic style of singing against Garland's jazzier style. Durbin was possibly passed over once it was decided to bring on Betty Jaynes, also an operatic singer, to rival Garland's jazz in the aforementioned discarded subplot of the film.
Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man and Buddy Ebsen was to play the Scarecrow. Bolger, however, longed to play the Scarecrow, as his childhood idol Fred Stone had done on stage in 1902; with that very performance, Stone had inspired him to become a vaudevillian in the first place. Now unhappy with his role as the Tin Man (reportedly claiming, "I'm not a tin performer; I'm fluid"), Bolger convinced producer Mervyn LeRoy to recast him in the part he so desired. Ebsen did not object; after going over the basics of the Scarecrow's distinctive gait with Bolger (as a professional dancer, Ebsen had been cast because the studio was confident he would be up to the task of replicating the famous "wobbly-walk" of Stone's Scarecrow), he recorded all of his songs, went through all the rehearsals as the Tin Man, and began filming with the rest of the cast.
Bert Lahr was signed for the Cowardly Lion on July 25, 1938; the next month, Charles Grapewin was cast as Uncle Henry on August 12.
W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, a role turned down by Ed Wynn as he thought the part was too small, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over Fields' fee; instead, another contract player, Frank Morgan, was cast on September 22.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch. She became unhappy 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, just three days before filming started, by MGM contract player Margaret Hamilton. Sondergaard said in an interview for a bonus feature on the DVD that she had no regrets about turning down the part, and would go on to play a glamorous villain in Fox's version of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird in 1940; that same year, Margaret Hamilton played a role remarkably similar to the Wicked Witch in the Judy Garland film Babes in Arms.
According to Aljean Harmetz, when the wardrobe department was looking for a coat for Frank Morgan, they decided that they wanted a once-elegant coat that had "gone to seed". They went to a second-hand shop and purchased a whole rack of coats, from which Morgan, the head of the wardrobe department, and director Fleming chose one they thought had the perfect appearance of shabby gentility. One day, while he was on set wearing the coat, Morgan allegedly turned out one of the pockets and discovered a label indicating that the coat had once belonged to Oz author L. Frank Baum. Mary Mayer, a unit publicist for the film, contacted the tailor and Baum's widow, who both verified that the coat had indeed once belonged to the writer. After filming was completed, the coat was presented to Mrs. Baum. Baum biographer Michael Patrick Hearn disbelieves the story, it having been refuted by members of the Baum family, who never saw the coat or knew of the story, as well as by Margaret Hamilton, who considered it a concocted studio rumor.
Richard Thorpe as director
Filming commenced October 13, 1938, on the MGM lot in Culver City, California, under the direction of Richard Thorpe (replacing original director Norman Taurog, who filmed only a few early Technicolor tests and was then reassigned). Thorpe initially shot about two weeks of footage (9 days, total) involving Dorothy's first encounter with the Scarecrow, as well as a number of sequences in the Wicked Witch's castle, such as Dorothy's rescue (which, though unreleased, comprises the only footage of Buddy Ebsen's Tin Man).
According to most sources, 10 days into the shoot, Ebsen suffered a reaction to the aluminum powder makeup he wore; the powder he breathed in daily as it was applied had coated his lungs. Ebsen was hospitalized in critical condition, and subsequently was forced to leave the project; in a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of The Wizard of Oz), Ebsen recalled the studio heads initially disbelieving that he was seriously ill, realizing the extent of the actor's condition only when they showed up in the hospital as he was convalescing in an iron lung. Ebsen's sudden medical departure caused the film to shut down while a new actor was found to fill the part. No full footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released – only photographs taken during filming and test photos of different makeup styles remain. MGM did not publicize the reasons for Ebsen's departure until decades later, in a promotional documentary about the film. His replacement, Jack Haley, simply assumed he had been fired. Author and screen-writer George MacDonald Fraser offers an alternative story, told to him by Burt Lancaster's producing partner Jim Hill, saying Ebsen had refused to be painted silver and was fired.
George Cukor's brief stint
Producer Mervyn LeRoy, after reviewing the footage and feeling Thorpe was rushing the production, adversely affecting the actors' performances, had Thorpe replaced. During reorganization on the production, George Cukor temporarily took over, under LeRoy's guidance. Initially, the studio had made Garland wear a blond wig and heavy "baby-doll" makeup, and she played Dorothy in an exaggerated fashion; now, Cukor changed Judy Garland's and Margaret Hamilton's makeup and costumes, and told Garland to "be herself". This meant that all the scenes Garland and Hamilton had already completed had to be discarded and refilmed. Cukor also suggested that the studio cast Jack Haley, on loan from 20th Century Fox, as the Tin Man. To keep down on production costs, Haley only rerecorded "If I Only Had a Heart" and solo lines during "The Jitterbug" and "If I Only Had the Nerve"; as such, Ebsen's voice can still be heard in the remaining songs featuring the Tin Man in group vocals. The makeup used for Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste, with a layer of clown white greasepaint underneath to protect his skin; although it did not have the same dire effect on Haley, he did at one point suffer an eye infection from it.
In addition, Ray Bolger's original recording of "If I Only Had a Brain" had been far more sedate compared to the version heard in the film; during this time, Cukor and LeRoy decided that a more energetic rendition would better suit Dorothy's initial meeting with the Scarecrow (initially, it was to contrast with his lively manner in Thorpe's footage), and was rerecorded as such. At first thought to be lost for over seven decades, a recording of this original version was rediscovered in 2009.
Victor Fleming, the main director
Cukor did not actually shoot any scenes for the film, merely acting as something of a "creative advisor" to the troubled production, and, because of his prior commitment to direct Gone with the Wind, he left on November 3, 1938, when Victor Fleming assumed the directorial responsibility. As director, Fleming chose not to shift the film from Cukor's creative realignment, as producer LeRoy had already pronounced his satisfaction with the new course the film was taking.
Production on the bulk of the Technicolor sequences was a long and cumbersome process that ran for over six months, from October 1938 to March 1939. Most of the actors worked six days a week and had to arrive at the studio as early as 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, to be fitted with makeup and costumes, and would not leave until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Cumbersome makeup and costumes were made even more uncomfortable by the daylight-bright lighting the early Technicolor process required, which could heat the set to over 100 °F (38 °C). According to Ray Bolger, most of the Oz principals were banned from eating in the studio's commissary due to their costumes. Margaret Hamilton's witch makeup meant that she could not eat solid food, so she practically lived on a liquid diet during filming of the Oz sequences. Additionally, it took upwards of 12 takes to have Dorothy's dog Toto run alongside the actors as they skipped down the yellow brick road.
All of the Oz sequences were filmed in three-strip Technicolor. The opening and closing credits, as well as the Kansas sequences, were filmed in black and white and colored in a sepia-tone process. Sepia-toned film was also used in the scene where Aunt Em appears in the Wicked Witch's crystal ball.
The massive shoot also proved to be somewhat chaotic. This was most evident when trying to put together the Munchkinland sequences. MGM talent scouts searched the country far and wide to come up with over a hundred little people who would make up the citizens of Munchkinland; this meant that most of the film's Oz sequences would have to already be shot before work on the Munchkinland sequence could begin. According to Munchkin actor Jerry Maren, the little people were each paid over $125 a week for their performances. Munchkin Meinhardt Raabe, who played the coroner, revealed in the 1990 documentary The Making of the Wizard of Oz that the MGM costume and wardrobe department, under the direction of designer Adrian, had to design over 100 costumes for the Munchkin sequences. They then had to photograph and catalog each Munchkin in his or her costume so that they could correctly apply the same costume and makeup each day of production.
Filming even proved to be dangerous, at times. Margaret Hamilton was severely burned in the Munchkinland scene, and Hamilton provided context that was later included in the DVD commentary. Hamilton was required to ride an elevator that was supposed to take her down while a bit of fire and smoke erupted to dramatize and conceal her exit. The first take ran like clockwork; however, in the DVD commentary, Hamilton states, "I had to stand on this dual elevator, that went down slowly or went down fast, and in this case it dropped out from under me, it left my feet and I followed it." The fire and smoke then erupted. However, for the second take, the timing was off, and Hamilton was exposed to the flames. The grease in her copper-based makeup caught fire and had to be completely and quickly removed before the ensuing second-degree burns on her hands and face could be treated. After spending six weeks in the hospital convalescing, she returned to filming.
King Vidor's finishing work as director
On February 12, 1939, Victor Fleming hastily replaced George Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind; the next day, King Vidor was assigned as director by the studio to finish the filming of The Wizard of Oz (mainly the sepia-toned Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow" and the tornado). In later years, when the film became firmly established as a classic, Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until after the death of his friend Fleming in 1949.
Principal photography concluded with the Kansas sequences on March 16, 1939; nonetheless, reshoots and pick-up shots were filmed throughout April and May and into June, under the direction of producer LeRoy. After the deletion of the "Over the Rainbow" reprise during subsequent test screenings in early June, Judy Garland had to be brought back one more time to reshoot the "Auntie Em, I'm frightened!" scene without the song; the footage of Clara Blandick's Auntie Em, as shot by Vidor, had already been set aside for rear-projection work, and was simply reused. After Margaret Hamilton's torturous experience with the Munchkinland elevator, she refused to do the pick-ups for the scene in which she flies on a broomstick that billows smoke, so LeRoy chose to have stand-in Betty Danko perform the scene, instead; as a result, Danko was severely injured doing the scene due to a malfunction in the smoke mechanism.
At this point, the film began a long arduous postproduction. Herbert Stothart had to compose the film's background score, while A. Arnold Gillespie had to perfect the various special effects that the film required, including many of the rear projection shots. The MGM art department also had to create the various matte paintings for the background of many of the scenes.
One significant innovation planned for the film was the use of stencil printing for the transition to Technicolor. Each frame was to be hand-tinted to maintain the sepia tone; however, because this was too expensive and labor-intensive, it was abandoned and MGM used a simpler and less expensive variation of the process. During the reshoots in May, the inside of the farm house was painted sepia, and when Dorothy opens the door, it is not Garland, but her stand-in, Bobbie Koshay, wearing a sepia gingham dress, who then backs out of frame; once the camera moves through the door, Garland steps back into frame in her bright blue gingham dress (as noted in DVD extras), and the sepia-painted door briefly tints her with the same color before she emerges from the house's shadow, into the bright glare of the Technicolor lighting. This also meant that the reshoots provided the first proper shot of Munchkinland; if one looks carefully, the brief cut to Dorothy looking around outside the house bisects a single long shot, from the inside of the doorway to the pan-around that finally ends in a reverse-angle as the ruins of the house are seen behind Dorothy as she comes to a stop at the foot of the small bridge.
Test screenings of the film began on June 5, 1939. Oz initially was running nearly two hours long. LeRoy and Fleming knew that at least a quarter of an hour needed to be deleted to get the film down to a manageable running time, the average film in 1939 running just about 90 minutes. Three sneak previews in Santa Barbara, Pomona, and San Luis Obispo, California, helped guide LeRoy and Fleming in the cutting. Among the many cuts was "The Jitterbug" number, the Scarecrow's elaborate dance sequence following "If I Only Had a Brain", a reprise of "Over the Rainbow" and "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead", and a number of smaller dialogue sequences. This left the final, mostly serious portion of the film with no songs, only the dramatic underscoring.
One song that was almost deleted was "Over the Rainbow". MGM had felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being far over the heads of the target audience of children. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard. Producer Mervyn LeRoy, uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed, and director Victor Fleming fought to keep it in, and they all eventually won. The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song of the Year, and came to be identified so strongly with Garland herself that she made it her theme song. In 2004, the song was ranked no. 1 by the American Film Institute on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs list.
After the preview in San Luis Obispo in early July, The Wizard of Oz was officially released in August 1939 at its current 101-minute running time.
The film's first sneak preview was held in San Bernardino, California. The film was previewed in three test markets: on August 11, 1939, at Kenosha, Wisconsin and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, on August 12.
The Hollywood premiere was on August 15, 1939, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The New York City premiere, held at Loew's Capitol Theatre on August 17, 1939, was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They continued to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney's case for a second week and in Garland's to three (with Oz co-stars Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr replacing Rooney for the third and final week). The movie opened nationally on August 25, 1939.
According to MGM records, during the film's initial release, it earned $2,048,000 in the US and Canada and $969,000 in other countries throughout the world, resulting total earnings of $3,017,000. While these were considerable earnings, the high production cost, in association with various distribution and other costs, meant the movie initially recorded a loss of $1,145,000 for the studio. It did not show what MGM considered a profit until a 1949 rerelease earned an additional $1.5 million (about $15 million today). However, for all the risks and cost that MGM undertook to produce The Wizard of Oz, the picture was considered at least more successful than anyone thought it would be. According to Christopher Finch, author of the Judy Garland biography Rainbow: The Stormy Life Of Judy Garland, "Fantasy is always a risk at the box office. The Wizard of Oz had been enormously successful as a book, and it had also been a major stage hit, but previous attempts to bring it the screen had been dismal failures." Finch also writes that after the success of The Wizard of Oz, Garland signed a new contract with MGM giving her a substantial increase in salary, making her one of the top-ten box office stars in the United States.
The Wizard of Oz film mostly received universal acclaim upon its release. Frank Nugent considered the film a "delightful piece of wonder-working which had the youngsters' eyes shining and brought a quietly amused gleam to the wiser ones of the oldsters. Not since Disney's Snow White has anything quite so fantastic succeeded half so well." Nugent had issues with some of the film's special effects, writing, "with the best of will and ingenuity, they cannot make a Munchkin or a Flying Monkey that will not still suggest, however vaguely, a Singer's Midget in a Jack Dawn masquerade. Nor can they, without a few betraying jolts and split-screen overlappings, bring down from the sky the great soap bubble in which the Good Witch rides and roll it smoothly into place." According to Nugent, "Judy Garland's Dorothy is a pert and fresh-faced miss with the wonder-lit eyes of a believer in fairy tales, but the Baum fantasy is at its best when the Scarecrow, the Woodman, and the Lion are on the move."
Writing in Variety, John C. Flinn predicted that the film was "likely to perform some record-breaking feats of box-office magic," noting, "Some of the scenic passages are so beautiful in design and composition as to stir audiences by their sheer unfoldment." He also called Garland "an appealing figure" and the musical numbers "gay and bright."
Harrison's Reports wrote, "Even though some persons are not interested in pictures of this type, it is possible that they will be eager to see this picture just for its technical treatment. The performances are good, and the incidental music is of considerable aid. Pictures of this caliber bring credit to the industry."
"Leo the Lion is privileged to herald this one with his deepest roar - the one that comes from way down - for seldom if indeed ever has the screen been so successful in its approach to fantasy and extravaganza through flesh-and-blood," wrote Film Daily, adding that this "handsomely mounted fairy story in Technicolor, with its wealth of humor and homespun philosophy, its stimulus to the imagination, its procession of unforgettable settings, its studding of merry tunes should click solidly at the box-office."
Not all reviews were positive. Some moviegoers felt that a 16-year-old Judy Garland was slightly too old to play the little girl who Baum originally intended his Dorothy to be. Russell Maloney of The New Yorker wrote that the film displayed "no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity" and declared it "a stinkeroo," while Otis Ferguson of The New Republic wrote, "It has dwarfs, music, Technicolor, freak characters, and Judy Garland. It can't be expected to have a sense of humor, as well - and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet."
Roger Ebert chose it as one of his Great Films, writing that "The Wizard of Oz has a wonderful surface of comedy and music, special effects and excitement, but we still watch it six decades later because its underlying story penetrates straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood, stirs them and then reassures them."
Writer Salman Rushdie acknowledged The Wizard of Oz was my very first literary influence" in his 2002 musings about the film. He has written: "When I first saw The Wizard of Oz, it made a writer of me." His first short story, written at the age of 10, was titled "Over the Rainbow".
In a 2009 retrospective article about The Wizard of Oz, San Francisco Chronicle film critic and author Mick LaSalle declared that the film's "entire Munchkinland sequence, from Dorothy's arrival in Oz to her departure on the yellow brick road, has to be one of the greatest in cinema history – a masterpiece of set design, costuming, choreography, music, lyrics, storytelling, and sheer imagination."
On the film-critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 99% of 105 critics gave the film a positive review, with the critics consensus: "An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old.". At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the movie received the maximum score of 100, based on four reviews, indicating "[u]niversal acclaim".
Differences from the novel
Several changes were made to the story told in Baum's original novel when making The Wizard of Oz. Many details within the plot are omitted or altered, while many of the perils that Dorothy encountered in the novel are not at all mentioned in the feature film. The Land of Oz and Dorothy's time there, is all real in the book, not just an elaborate dream caused from unconsciousness. According to Baum, Oz is just an undiscovered continent that is hidden and surrounded by a harsh desert (officially called the Deadly Desert in later Oz books) that is much too dangerous to successfully cross, thus keeping the realm and its inhabitants safe from global discovery and unwanted invasion. In the book, on Dorothy's first night in Oz, she attends a lavish banquet at the local estate of a wealthy Munchkin man named Boq who is celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the East with his closest friends and five fiddlers. In the movie, a celebration is thrown upon Dorothy's arrival, but with all the Munchkin citizens of Munchkinland instead. In the book, the Tin Man, (mostly referred to as the Tin Woodman by Baum) has a rather tragic backstory, while in the movie, his backstory is never revealed in detail. The characters of the Good Witch of the North (who has no name in the book), Glinda the Good Witch of the South, and the Queen of the Field Mice who helps to rescue the Cowardly Lion from the deadly poppies are merged into one omniscient character, instead: Glinda the Good Witch of the North, who saves the entire group from the Wicked Witch's curse on the poppies, while the original Witch of the North and the Mouse Queen's roles are eliminated. To take advantage of the new vivid Technicolor process, Dorothy's charmed Silver Shoes were changed to magic ruby slippers for the movie. Due to time constraints, a number of incidents from the book—such as encountering the flesh-eating Kalidah beast while halfway on the yellow brick road; the adventures that take place towards the end of the novel while traveling in the country of the southern Quadlings; the enclave of Dainty China Country; the hill of the Hammer-Heads; and the Cowardly Lion officially becoming the King of the beasts after killing a giant, monstrous spider terrorizing the animals of the forest—were completely cut from the script. Also in the novel, upon arriving to the Emerald City, Dorothy and her companions are forced to wear green-tinted spectacles by the Guardian of the Gates before entering to protect their eyes from being blinded by the brightness and glory of the city's beauty and brilliance. The wizard also appears to each member of Dorothy's group separately in different forms each day and asks each of them individually to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, whereas in the movie he appears to them all at the same time as a giant, green head levitating above a throne (only one of the many forms he took in the book) and asks them to bring back the Wicked Witch's broomstick to prove themselves worthy of his assistance regarding their request. When the Wicked Witch of the West's character is introduced, no mention is made of her having greenish skin. Instead, she has only one eye, yet Baum says it is as powerful as a telescope, enabling the witch to see what was happening all throughout her western kingdom in Oz's Winkie Country.
Beginning with the 1949 reissue, and continuing until the film's 50th anniversary VHS release in 1989, the opening Kansas sequences were shown in black and white instead of the sepia tone as originally filmed. (This includes television showings.)
The MGM "Children's Matinees" series rereleased the film twice, in both 1970 and 1971.
For the film's upcoming 60th anniversary, it was given a "Special Edition" rerelease in the fall of 1998, digitally restored and with remastered audio.
In 2002, the film had a very limited rerelease in U.S. theaters.
On September 23, 2009, The Wizard of Oz was rereleased in select theaters for a one-night-only event in honor of the film's 70th anniversary and as a promotion for various new disc releases later in the month. An encore of this event was released in theaters on November 17, 2009.
An IMAX 3D theatrical rerelease played at 300 theaters in North America for one week only beginning September 20, 2013, as part of the film's 75th anniversary. Warner Bros. spent $25 million on advertising. The studio hosted a premiere of the film's first IMAX 3D release on September 15, 2013, from the newly remodeled TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the site of the Hollywood premiere of the original film) in Hollywood. The film was the first to play at the new theater and served as the grand opening of Hollywood's first 3D IMAX screen. The film was also shown as a special presentation at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
The Wizard of Oz was among the first videocassettes (on both VHS and Betamax format for the 1980 release) 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 1982, with two versions of a second (one from Turner and one from The Criterion Collection with a commentary track) for the 50th-anniversary release in 1989, a third in 1991, a fourth in 1993, a fifth in 1995, and a sixth and final LaserDisc release on September 11, 1996.
Prior to the wide-home-video release in 1980, The Wizard of Oz was also released multiple times for the home-video commercial market (on a limited scale) on Super 8 film (8 mm format) during the 1970s. These releases include an edited English version (roughly 10 minutes, and roughly 20 minutes), as well as edited Spanish versions of the classic. Also, a full commercial release of The Wizard of Oz was made on Super 8 (on multiple reels) that came out in the 1970s, as well, for the commercial market.
In addition to VHS (and later, LaserDisc), the classic has been released multiple times during the 1980s on the Betamax format, beginning in 1980 simultaneously with the VHS release.
The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997, by MGM/Turner and contained no special features or supplements. It was rereleased by Warner Bros. for its 60th anniversary on October 19, 1999, with its soundtrack presented in a new 5.1 surround sound mix. The monochrome-to-color transition was more smoothly accomplished by digitally keeping the inside of the house in monochrome while Dorothy and the reveal of Munchkinland are in color. [clarification needed] The DVD also contained a behind-the-scenes documentary, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, produced in 1990 and hosted by Angela Lansbury, which was originally shown on television immediately after the 1990 telecast of The Wizard of Oz; it had been featured in the 1993 "Ultimate Oz" LaserDisc release. Out-takes, 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 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 "Two-Disc Special Edition", featuring production documentaries, trailers, various outtakes, newsreels, radio shows and still galleries. The other set, a "Three-Disc Collector's Edition", included these features, as well as the digitally restored 80th-anniversary edition of the 1925 feature-length silent film version of The Wizard of Oz, other silent Oz movies, and a 1933 animated short version.
The Wizard of Oz was released on Blu-ray on September 29, 2009, for the film's 70th anniversary in a four-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition", including all the bonus features from the 2005 Collector's Edition DVD, new bonus features about Victor Fleming and the surviving Munchkins, the telefilm The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story, and the miniseries MGM: When the Lion Roars. For this edition, Warner commissioned a new transfer at 8K resolution from the original film negatives. This restored version also features a lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track. A DVD version was also released as a Two-Disc Special Edition and a Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition.
On December 1, 2009, three Blu-ray discs of the Ultimate Collector's Edition were repackaged as a less expensive "Emerald Edition", with an Emerald Edition four-disc DVD arriving the following week. A single-disc Blu-ray, containing the restored movie and all the extra features of the two-disc Special Edition DVD, also became available on March 16, 2010.
Also, multiple special editions were released in celebration of the 75th anniversary in 2013, exclusively by both Best Buy (a SteelBook of the 3D Blu-ray) and another version that came with a keepsake lunch bag released by Target stores.
The Wizard of Oz is widely noted for its musical selections and soundtrack. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, and the lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, both of whom won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow". The song was ranked first in two lists: the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs and the Recording Industry Association of America's "365 Songs of the Century".
In addition, Herbert Stothart, who composed the instrumental underscore, won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Georgie Stoll was associate conductor and screen credit was given to George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Ken Darby, and Paul Marquardt for orchestral and vocal arrangements. (As usual, Roger Edens was also heavily involved as an unbilled musical associate to Freed.)
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. 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, is intact and was included in the two-CD Rhino Records 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've sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them."
Another musical number cut before release occurred right after the Wicked Witch of the West was melted and before Dorothy and her friends returned to the Wizard. This was a reprise of "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" (blended with "We're Off to See the Wizard" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz") with the lyrics altered to "Hail! Hail! The Witch is Dead!" This started with the Witch's guard saying "Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!" and dissolved to a huge celebration of the citizens of Emerald City singing the song as they accompany Dorothy and her friends to see the Wizard. Today, the film of this scene is also lost and only a few stills survive, along with a few seconds of footage used on several reissue trailers. The entire audio still exists and is included on the two-CD Rhino Record deluxe edition of the film soundtrack.
In addition, a brief reprise of "Over the Rainbow" was intended to be sung by Garland while Dorothy is trapped in the Witch's castle, but it was cut because it was considered too emotionally intense. The original soundtrack recording still exists, however, and was included as an extra in all VHS and DVD releases from 1993-onwards.
The songs were recorded in the studio's scoring stage 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 (as noted in the notes for the CD Deluxe Edition). In the group vocals of "We're Off to See the Wizard", his voice can be heard. Jack Haley spoke with a distinct Boston accent, thus did not pronounce the r in wizard. By contrast, Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland, and pronounced it. Haley rerecorded Ebsen's solo parts later.
- "Over the Rainbow" – Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale
- Munchkinland Sequence:
- "Come Out ..." – Billie Burke as Glinda, and the Munchkins
- "It Really Was No Miracle" – Judy Garland as Dorothy, Billy Bletcher, and the Munchkins
- "We Thank You Very Sweetly" – Frank Cucksey and Joseph Koziel
- "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" – Billie Burke as Glinda (speaking) and the Munchkins
- "As Mayor of the Munchkin City"
- "As Coroner, I Must Aver"
- "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" (Reprise) – The Munchkins
- "The Lullaby League"
- "The Lollipop Guild"
- "We Welcome You to Munchkinland" – The Munchkins
- "Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You're Off to See the Wizard" – Judy Garland as Dorothy, and the Munchkins
- "If I Only Had a Brain" – Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Judy Garland as Dorothy
- "We're Off to See the Wizard" – Judy Garland as Dorothy, and Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow
- "If I Only Had a Heart" – Jack Haley as the Tin Man
- "If I Only Had a Heart" - Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man (original recording)
- "We're Off to See the Wizard" (Reprise 1) – Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man
- "If I Only Had the Nerve" – Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Judy Garland as Dorothy
- "We're Off to See the Wizard" (Reprise 2) – Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man, and Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion
- "Optimistic Voices" – MGM Studio Chorus
- "The Merry Old Land of Oz" – Frank Morgan as Cabby, Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, and the Emerald City townspeople
- "If I Were King of the Forest" – Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Jack Haley as the Tin Man
- "The Jitterbug" – Although this song was removed from the final film, it is still available on some extended edition CDs.
An arranged version of "Night on Bald Mountain" is played during the scene where the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West's castle.
Excerpts from Schumann's "The Happy Farmer" are heard at several points in the film, the first being when Toto runs away from Miss Gulch.
Awards and honors
- Best Song – E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen for "Over The Rainbow"
- Best Original Score – Herbert Stothart
- A special Academy Juvenile Award for "Best Performances by a Juvenile" – Judy Garland (The award was also for her work in Babes in Arms.)
- Best Picture nomination (lost to Gone with the Wind, Directed by Victor Fleming as well)
- Best Art Direction nomination – Cedric Gibbons and William A. Horning
- Best Cinematography (Color) nomination – Harold Rosson
- Best Special Effects nomination – A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer
American Film Institute lists
The American Film Institute (AFI) has compiled various lists which include this film or elements thereof.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – No. 6
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – No. 43
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- Wicked Witch of the West – No. 4 villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." (Dorothy Gale) – No. 4
- "There's no place like home." (Dorothy) – No. 23
- "I'll get you, my pretty – and your little dog, too!" (Wicked Witch of the West) – No. 99
- AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – No. 3
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – No. 26
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 10
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – No. 1 Fantasy film
- 1999: Rolling Stone's 100 Maverick Movies – No. 20.
- 1999: Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Films – No. 32.
- 2000: The Village Voice's 100 Best Films of the 20th Century – No. 14.
- 2002: Sight & Sound's Greatest Film Poll of Directors – No. 41.
- 2005: Total Film's 100 Greatest Films – No. 83.
- 2005: ranked among the top ten of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
- 2007: Total Film's 23 Weirdest Films – No. 1.
- 2007: The Observer ranked the film's songs and music at the top of its list of 50 greatest film soundtracks.
Sequels and reinterpretations
The Wizard of Oz was dramatized as a one-hour radio play on Lux Radio Theatre, which was broadcast on December 25, 1950, with Judy Garland reprising her earlier role. In 1964, a one-hour animated cartoon, also called Return to Oz, was shown as an afternoon weekend special on NBC. An official 1974 sequel, the animated Journey Back to Oz starring Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, was produced to commemorate the original film's 25th anniversary.
In 1975, the stage show The Wiz premiered on Broadway theatre. It was an African American version of The Wizard of Oz reworked for the stage. It starred Stephanie Mills and other Broadway stars and earned Tony awards. The play's financing was handled by actor Geoffrey Holder. The play inspired revivals after it left the stage and an unsuccessful motion picture made in 1978, starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.
In 1985, Walt Disney Productions released the live action fantasy film Return to Oz, which starred (and introduced) Fairuza Balk as a young Dorothy Gale. Based loosley on The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907), it fared rather poorly with critics who were unfamiliar with the Oz books and wasn't successful in the box office, although it has since become a popular cult film, with many considering it a more loyal and faithful adaptation of what L. Frank Baum envisioned.
In 1995, Gregory Maguire published the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was adapted into the Broadway musical Wicked. The story describes the life of the Wicked Witch and other events prior to Dorothy's arrival.
For the film's 56th anniversary, a 1987 stage show also titled The Wizard of Oz was based upon the 1939 film and the book by L. Frank Baum. It toured from 1995 to 2012, except for 2004.
In 2005, The Muppets Studio produced The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, a television film for ABC, starring Ashanti as Dorothy, Jeffrey Tambor as the Wizard, David Alan Grier as Uncle Henry, and Queen Latifah as Aunt Em. Kermit the Frog portrayed the Scarecrow, Gonzo portrayed the Tin Thing (Tin Man), Fozzie Bear portrayed the Lion, and Miss Piggy portrayed all the Witches of the West, East, North, and South.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote a musical based on the film, which is also titled The Wizard of Oz. The musical opened in 2011 at the West End's London Palladium. It features all of the songs from the film plus new songs written by Lloyd Webber and Rice. Lloyd Webber also found Danielle Hope to play Dorothy on the reality show, Over the Rainbow. Another production of the musical opened in December 2012 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. A reality TV show, also titled Over the Rainbow, found a Canadian girl, Danielle Wade, to play the role of Dorothy. The Canadian production then began a North American tour in September 2013.
In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures released a spiritual prequel titled, Oz the Great and Powerful. It was directed by Sam Raimi, and starred James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. It was the second film based on Baum's Oz series to be produced by Disney, after Return to Oz. The film was a commercial success and received a mixed critical reception.
Regarding the original Baum storybook, it has been said that "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 also has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, which selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989. In June 2007, the film was listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. The film placed at number 86 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In 1977, Aljean Harmetz wrote The Making of The Wizard of Oz, a detailed description of the creation of the film based on interviews and research; it was updated in 1989.
Quotes from the film such as, "I'm melting! I'm melting!", "We're not in Kansas anymore", "I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog too" and "There's no place like home" can be heard in numerous films such as Field of Dreams, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Spaceballs, The Matrix, Terminator Salvation, Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Avatar, and Twister, as well as in numerous television shows, and have become common phrases.
When Ray Bolger, the last survivor of the major players, died in 1987, Chicago Tribune artist Dick Locher portrayed the Scarecrow running over the rainbow to catch up with the other characters.
The second stanza of the 2013 single by Bridgit Mendler titled Hurricane contains the lines, "That's what Dorothy was afraid of. The sneaky tornado" and "There's no place like home" in reference to The Wizard of Oz.
Because of their iconic stature, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz are now among the most treasured and valuable film memorabilia in movie history. The silver slippers that Dorothy wore in the book series were changed to ruby to take advantage of the new Technicolor process. Adrian, MGM's chief costume designer, was responsible for the final design. A number of pairs were made, though no one knows exactly how many.
After filming, the shoes were stored among the studio's extensive collection of costumes and faded from attention. They were found in the basement of MGM's wardrobe department during preparations for a mammoth auction in 1970. One pair was the highlight of the auction, going for a then unheard of $15,000 to an anonymous buyer, who apparently donated them to the Smithsonian Institution in 1979. Four other pairs are known to exist; one sold for $666,000 at auction in 2000. A pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and remains missing.
Another, differently styled pair not used in the film was sold at auction with the rest of her collections by owner actress Debbie Reynolds for $510,000 (not including the buyer's premium) in June 2011.
An urban legend claimed that, in the film, a Munchkin could be seen committing suicide by hanging by the neck from behind a prop tree and swinging back and forth in the left background, while Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man are singing "We're Off to See the Wizard" and skipping down the yellow brick road into the distance. The object in question is actually a bird borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo, most likely a crane or an emu, one of several placed on the indoor set to give it a more realistic feel.
Impact upon LGBT culture
Attempts have been made to determine the film's impact on LGBT-identified persons: Editors Corey K. Creekmur and Alexander Doty, in their introduction to Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture (1995, Duke University Press), write that the film's gay resonance and interpretations depends entirely upon camp. Some have attempted a more serious interpretation of the film: for example, Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Lore quotes therapist Robert Hopcke as saying that the dreary reality of Kansas implies the presence of homophobia and is contrasted with the colorful and accepting land of Oz;" they state that when shown in gay venues, the film is "transformed into a rite celebrating acceptance and community." Queer theorists have drawn parallels between LGBT people and characters in the film, specifically pointing to the characters' double lives and Dorothy's longing "for a world in which her inner desires can be expressed freely and fully."
- List of films considered the best
- Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- Wizard of Oz festival
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- Note: All actors share equal billing; the Singer Midgets are listed in the credits as "The Munchkins".
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John Fricke, a historian who has written books about The Wizard of Oz, said that MGM executives arranged advance screenings in a handful of small communities to find out how audiences would respond to the musical adventure, which cost nearly $3 million to produce. Fricke said he believes the first showings were on Aug. 11, 1939, one day before Oconomowoc's preview, on Cape Cod in Dennis, Massachusetts, and in another southeastern Wisconsin community, Kenosha.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Cisar, Katjusa (August 18, 2009). "No Place Like Home: 'Wizard of Oz' premiered here 70 years ago". Madison.com. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
Oconomowoc's Strand Theatre was one of three small-town movie theaters across the country where "Oz" premiered in the days prior to its official Hollywood opening on Aug. 15, 1939...It's possible that one of the other two test sites – Kenosha and the Cape Cinema in Dennis, Massachusetts – screened the film a day earlier, but Oconomowoc is the only one to lay claim and embrace the world premiere as its own.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Instead of the Wizard of Oz sequel that its title suggests, Return to Oz ...is more of a grim variation. This time, in a story derived largely from L. Frank Baum's The Land of Oz [sic] and Ozma of Oz, a pint-sized Dorothy has been brought to the screen with a different set of sidekicks; for instance, instead of traveling to Oz with Toto, Dorothy is this time accompanied by a different Baum creation, Billina the Chicken. Once there, she meets a whole new set of friends....<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road by Meinhardt Raabe and Daniel Kinske (Back Stage Books, 2005), ISBN 0-8230-9193-7
- The Ruby Slippers of Oz by Rhys Thomas (Tale Weaver, 1989), ISBN 0-942139-09-7, ISBN 978-0-942139-09-9
- The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry And Magic of the 1939 MGM Classic – Revised and Expanded by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (Applause Books, 2004), ISBN 0-517-20333-2, ISBN 978-0-517-20333-0
- The Munchkins of Oz by Stephen Cox (Cumberland House, 1996) ISBN 1-58182-269-3, ISBN 978-1-58182-269-4
- "Did these stories really happen?" by Michelle Bernier (Createspace, 2010) ISBN 1-4505-8536-1
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- The Judy Garland Museum
- The Wizard of Oz at the TCM Movie Database
- The Wizard of Oz on IMDb
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- The Wizard of Oz at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Wizard of Oz at Box Office Mojo
- The Wizard of Oz on Lux Radio Theater: December 25, 1950
- Character drawings for The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences