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|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
|Editing by||Blanche Sewell|
|Running time||101 minutes|
|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
|Editing by||Blanche Sewell|
|Running time||101 minutes|
The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the most well-known and commercial adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The film stars Judy Garland; Terry the dog, billed as Toto; Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, with Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick, and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins, with Pat Walshe as leader of the flying monkeys. Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character make-ups and special effects in a film up to that time.
Although the film received largely positive reviews, it was not a box office success on its initial release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,777,000 budget. The film was MGM's most expensive production up to that time, but its initial release failed to recoup the studio's investment. Subsequent re-releases made up for that, however. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost that award to Gone with the Wind, but it won two others, including Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow." The song was ranked first in both the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs list and the Recording Industry Association of America's "365 Songs of the Century" list.
Television broadcasts of the film began in 1956, re-introducing the film to the public and eventually becoming an annual tradition, making it one of the most famous films ever made. The film was named the most viewed motion picture on television syndication in history by the Library of Congress (who also preserved the film to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year (1989) for being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant"), is often ranked among the Top 10 Best Movies of All Time in various critics' and popular polls, and is the source of many memorable quotes referenced in modern popular culture. It was directed primarily by Victor Fleming. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but there were uncredited contributions by others. The lyrics for the songs were written by Edgar "Yip" Harburg, the music for the songs was composed by Harold Arlen. The incidental music, based largely on the songs, was composed by Herbert Stothart, with borrowings from classical composers.
Dorothy Gale is a young farm girl who lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, in sepia-tinted Kansas in the early 1900s. She is in trouble with a cruel neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, but Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and farmhands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke are all too busy to pay attention to her. Miss Gulch arrives with permission from the sheriff to have Dorothy's dog Toto destroyed for biting her on the leg. He is taken away, but escapes, much to Dorothy's delight. She runs away from home with him to escape Miss Gulch. They meet Professor Marvel, a fortune teller, who realizes Dorothy has run away and tricks her via his crystal ball into believing Aunt Em is ill. As Dorothy returns home, a tornado comes up. Unable to get into the storm cellar, she is hit in the head by a window pane and knocked out. She wakes up to discover the house is being carried aloft by the twister. As she looks out a window, she sees Miss Gulch also caught up in the storm, pedaling her bicycle. To her horror, Gulch transforms before Dorothy's eyes into a cackling witch on a broomstick.
The house lands in the Technicolor world of Oz in Munchkin Land. Dorothy is greeted by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Munchkins, who treat her like a heroine, because her house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives. As she is about to claim the ruby slippers from her sister's feet, Glinda transfers them to Dorothy's feet instead. The Witch of the West swears revenge on her (and Toto). 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, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. (All were played by the actors who played the farmhands.) They decide to join her to ask the Wizard for a brain, heart, and courage respectively, though in truth they each have what they want (the Scarecrow shows signs of wisdom, the Tin Man is very sentimental, and the Lion shows signs of bravery). After some danger, they meet the Wizard (in the form of a flaming head) who agrees to grant their wishes, but not until they bring him the Witch of the West's broom.
On their way to the Witch's castle, the Witch's flying monkeys ambush the four and capture Dorothy and Toto. At the castle, the Witch again fails to get the slippers due to magic, and remembers Dorothy has to be killed first. 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 eventually trap them. After she sets the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy accidentally melts her with a bucket of water as she puts out the flames. The guards unexpectedly rejoice now that she is dead, and give Dorothy the charred broom in gratitude.
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard still refuses to grant their wishes, but Toto exposes the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man (who resembles Professor Marvel) and he admits to being a humbug. He still grants their wishes by giving the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a heart-shaped pocket watch. He then offers to get Dorothy home in his hot air balloon, but Toto runs away and Dorothy follows, and it leaves without her. Glinda soon arrives and tells her that she can still return home by clapping her heels together three times and repeating, "There's no place like home." She "returns" home to her family, with the farmhands and Professor Marvel by her bedside.
Development of the film started when the success of 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 back 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, E. Y. 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. 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, however; it 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 pre-production for Shirley Temple to be cast as Dorothy, on loan out from 20th Century Fox. A persistent rumor also existed that Fox was 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, 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 (later famous for his role as Jed Clampett on the popular 1960s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies) 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 would play 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 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.
Filming commenced October 13, 1938 on the MGM Studios lot in Culver City, California, under the direction of Richard Thorpe (replacing original director Norman Taurog, who only filmed a few early Technicolor tests and was then reassigned). Thorpe initially shot about two weeks of footage (nine 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, ten 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, only realizing the extent of the actor's condition 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.
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 re-filmed. Cukor also suggested that the studio cast Jack Haley, on loan from 20th Century Fox, as the Tin Woodsman. To keep down on production costs, Haley only re-recorded "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 re-recorded as such. At first thought to be lost for over seven decades, a recording of this original version was rediscovered in 2009.
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, at which time 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 four or five in the morning, to be fitted with makeup and costumes, and would not leave until seven or eight 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. 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, each little person was 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 one hundred 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 as she tells the story on the DVD commentary: "There was a little elevator that was supposed to take me down, with a bit of fire and smoke erupting to dramatize and conceal my exit. The first take ran like clockwork, I went down out of my clothes, the fire and smoke erupted and that's the one you see." But for the second take, the timing was off, and she 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 some six weeks in the hospital convalescing, she returned to the picture.
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 Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow"). 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 re-shoots and pick-up shots were filmed throughout April, 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 in order 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 which 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 post-production. 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 re-shoots 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 re-shoots 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 #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 would continue 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 associated 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 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million (approximately $15 million today).
The movie received critical acclaim upon release. Frank S. 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 that "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."
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 ten, 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-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 99 percent of 95 critics gave the film a positive review. 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.
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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. Oz, and Dorothy's time there, is real in the book, not just a dream. 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 are merged into one omniscient character, Glinda the Good Witch of the North. To take advantage of the new vivid Technicolor process, Dorothy's silver shoes were changed to ruby slippers for the movie. Due to time constraints, a number of incidents from the book, including the Dainty China Country and the Hammerheads, were cut. The role of the Wicked Witch of the West was also enlarged for the movie. (In the book, although she is mentioned several times before, she is only present for one chapter in the exact middle of the book.) This was done both to provide more dramatic tension throughout the film and to unify what was otherwise a very episodic plot. The role and character of Dorothy were also transformed: in the film, she is depicted as a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued, while in the novel, she, a little girl, rescues her friends, in keeping with Baum's feminist sympathies.
There are at least 44 identifiable major differences between the original book and this movie interpretation. Nevertheless, the film was far more faithful to Baum's original book than many earlier scripts (see below) or film versions. Two silent versions were produced in 1910 and 1925 and the seven-minute animated cartoon in 1933. (The 1925 version, with which Baum, who had died six years earlier, had no association, made Dorothy a Queen of Oz, rather like the later sci-fi TV miniseries Tin Man.) The 1939 movie interprets the Oz experience as a dream, in which many of the characters that Dorothy meets represent the people from her home life (such as Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel, and the farmhands, none of whom appear in the book). In L. Frank Baum's original novel, Oz is meant to be a real place, one that Dorothy would return to in his later Oz books and which would later provide a refuge for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry after being unable to pay the mortgage on the new house that was built after the old one really was carried away by the tornado. Also in the novel, the four travelers were required to wear green spectacles before entering the Emerald City, whereas in the movie, they were not.
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.) This was done despite the fact that the sepia had been specifically chosen for the picture to help mask the switch to Technicolor. The actual switch occurs before the door is opened from the transported house onto the Land of Oz. In the sepia prints, one does not notice any color until that door is opened, because the door itself is a shade of brown which matches the sepia. In black and white, one cannot help noticing the switch to color before the door is opened, which was precisely what the film's producers wanted to avoid. For the film's 50th anniversary [VHS] restoration, the sepia was brought back to the opening and closing Kansas scenes and beginning in 1990, the film was shown on CBS television in the U.S. as originally released in 1939, with the opening and closing credits and the Kansas scenes in sepia.
The year 1955 saw the release of a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio version to theatres, with portions of the top and the bottom of the film removed via soft mattes to produce a widescreen effect. The re-release trailer falsely claimed that "every scene" from L. Frank Baum's novel was in the film, including the rescue of Dorothy, despite there being no such incident in his novel.
The MGM "Children's Matinees" series re-released the film twice, in both 1970 and 1971.
In 1986, the film was acquired by Turner Entertainment as part of a deal involving a majority of MGM's pre-1986-87 library. In 1996, Turner merged with Time Warner, and since then Warner Bros. Pictures has been handling distribution for all media on Turner's behalf.
The film was re-released again in U.S. theaters by WB on November 6, 1998. The version was a newly restored and remastered print with a remixed stereo soundtrack. It also featured restoration and sound remixing credits at the end. (None of these extra credits have appeared on any home video release.)
In 1999, the film had a theatrical re-release in Australia, in honor of the film's 60th anniversary.
In 2002, the film had a very limited re-release in U.S. theaters.
On September 23, 2009, The Wizard of Oz was re-released 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. However, an encore of this event was re-released in theaters on November 17, 2009.
On June 30, 2012, the film had a theatrical re-release in the U.S. at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. It was hosted by the Los Angeles Conservancy using an original print of the film from the 1939 release. An IMAX 3D theatrical re-release was played in theaters for one week beginning on September 20, 2013, as part of the film's 75th anniversary. Warner Bros. spent $25 million on a campaign, including extensive advertising, for the film's 75th anniversary, which opened the newly restored and remodeled TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the site of the Hollywood premiere of the original film) and was shown as a special presentation at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, as well as 300 locations in North America.
The Wizard of Oz was among the first videocassettes released 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.
The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997, by MGM and contained no special features or supplements. It was re-released 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. Outtakes, 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 Disc 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 discs of the Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Disc 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.
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 E. Y. "Yip" Harburg, both of whom won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow." In addition, Herbert Stothart, who composed the instrumental underscore, won the Academy Award for Best Original Music 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 of the West. 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 2-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 that was 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 2-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 a studio 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 and thus did not pronounce the r in wizard. By contrast, Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland, and thus pronounced it. Haley rerecorded Ebsen's solo parts later.
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.
The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Visual Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer). In the Best Picture category, it lost to another MGM film, Gone with the Wind, another film directed by Victor Fleming. E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen won the award for Best Song (Somewhere Over The Rainbow) and Best Original Music Score; composer Herbert Stothart received the Best Original Score Award. Garland received a special Academy Juvenile Award that year, for "Best Performances by a Juvenile." (The award was also for her role in the film version of Babes in Arms.) The Wizard of Oz did not receive an Oscar for its special effects — that award went to the 1939 film version of The Rains Came. Additional nominations went to Cedric Gibbons, Malcolm F. Brown and William A. Horning for Art Direction, and Hal Rosson for Cinematography (color), but both of those awards were won by Gone With the Wind. There was no award for Best Makeup and Best Costume Design at the time, so Jack Dawn and Adrian could not receive Academy Awards for their respective detailed artistry for the Kansas realistic and Oz fantasy characters.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "10 Top 10"—the best ten American films in ten genres—after polling over 1,500 film artists, critics and historians. The Wizard of Oz was acknowledged as the best film in the fantasy genre.
The film is among the top ten of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
The Wizard of Oz was dramatized as a one-hour radio play on Lux Radio Theater, which was broadcast on December 25, 1950, with Judy Garland reprising her earlier role. An official sequel, the animated Journey Back to Oz, starring Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, as Dorothy, was produced, beginning in 1964, to commemorate the original film's 25th anniversary.
In 1975, the stage show The Wiz premiered on Broadway. It was an African American version of The Wizard of Oz reworked for the Broadway 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.
Walt Disney Pictures made a film called Return to Oz, which starred (and introduced) Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale, in 1985. Based mostly on the books Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz, it fared poorly with critics and in the box office, although it has since become a cult film, with many considering it a more faithful adaptation of the Oz series.
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 stage show also entitled 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 (see The Wizard of Oz (1987 stage play)).
In 2005, The Jim Henson Company produced The Muppets' Wizard of Oz for television, 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 entitled 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.
Another Oz film, Oz the Great and Powerful, was released on March 8, 2013. It was directed by Sam Raimi, stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, and produced and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the second film based on Baum's Oz series to be produced by Disney, and unlike Return to Oz, it was a largely commercial success and more warmly receptive among people, grossing over $493 million worldwide, though it 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", "Fly my pretties, fly, fly!" and, "There's no place like home" can be heard in numerous films such as Field of Dreams, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Spaceballs, The Matrix, Terminator Salvation, "Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame,Titanic, 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. Gilbert 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 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.
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."
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