‘The Wizard of Oz,’ which springs from Metro’s golden bowl (production cost is reported close to $3 million), is likely to perform some record-breaking feats of boxoffice magic. Given a sufficient period of pre-release showings in selected major spots, favorable word-of-mouth on the unique and highly entertaining features of the film should spread rapidly. It’s a pushover for the children and family biz.
There’s an audience for ‘Oz’ wherever there’s a projection machine and a screen. L. Frank Baum’s story is an American fairy tale, a nursery saga of nearly 40 years. It comes to the films already tested as a fine piece of theatrical property. Older theatergoers remember the musical comedy version, in which Dave Montgomery, Fred Stone and Anna Laughlin played for several years up and down across the land. It’s a mixture of childish fantasy and adult satire and humor of a kind that never seems to grow old.
Nothing comparable has come out of Hollywood in the past few years to approximate the lavish scale of this filmusical extravaganza, in the making of which the ingenuity and inventiveness of technical forces were employed without stint of effort or cost. Except for opening and closing stretches of prolog and epilog, which are visioned in a rich sepia, the greater portion of the film is in Technicolor. Some of the scenic passages are so beautiful in design and composition as to stir audiences by their sheer unfoldment.
Whether ‘Oz’ will pay out on its heavy production investment is useless speculation, wholly dependent upon the breadth of its appeal and the effective showmanship of its handling. Fantasies and fairy stories are way out of the groove of run-of-the-mill film entertainment. ‘Snow White’ reached the peaks of commercial success and drew to theatres a vast casual public which skyrocketed receipts. In some respects, ‘Oz’ possesses the same qualities of technical perfection and story appeal. At popular prices it’s a bargain package for eye and ear.
Such liberties that have been taken with the original story by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf have vested the yarn with constructive dramatic values. Identification of characters is easily followed, despite transformation of humans into imaginative hybrids. Underlying theme of conquest of fear is subtly thrust through the action. Fairy stories must teach simple truths. ‘Oz’ has a message well timed to current events.
What is on the screen is an adventure story about a small girl who lives on a Kansas farm, which is unfortunately in the path of a mid-summer tornado. She and her dog, Toto, are caught in the twister and whisked into an eerie land of her own imagination in which she encounters strange beings, good and evil fairies, and prototypes of some of the adults who comprised her farm world. Then ensues the long trek to the mighty wizard’s castle, where she and her companions, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion, each seeks fulfillment of desire. Dorothy wishes only to return home. The plot is as thin as all that.
In the playing of it, however, Judy Garland as the little girl is an appealing figure as the wandering waif. Her companions are Ray Bolger, as the Scarecrow; Jack Haley, as the Woodman; and Bert Lahr as the cringing lion. Frank Morgan appears in sundry roles as the wizard, and the good and evil fairies are Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton.
Behind the scenes are Mervyn LeRoy, in the role of the producer, and Victor Fleming, director. These two, with the assistance of Harold Rosson, cameraman, and a host of technical assistants, carry the load of production responsibility. Of the half-dozen musical numbers by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, ‘Over the Rainbow’ already is prominent on the air. ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ also is a lively tune.
Film presents an ever-changing panorama of scenic vesture, of which the village of the Munchkins is perhaps the most elaborate. Novelty is supplied in this sequence by appearance of Singer’s Midgets in grotesque attire. Bobby Connolly staged the musical numbers, which are gay and bright.
‘Oz’ is aimed for the masses and will require heavy advance buildup in all spots and out of routine approach.
1939: Best Original Score, Song (‘Over the Rainbow’).
Nominations: Best Picture, Art Direction, Special Effects