Saturday, August 07, 2010

Screen Gem Saturdays: The Wizard of Oz

It’s definitely one of my favorite movies; the ethereal glow of Technicolor, the memorable music, the terrifying witch, and the pitch-perfect performance of Judy Garland who anchors the entire film. Each time it has been released on home video, I have been right there with my wallet: from bootleg, to VHS, to DVD, to Ultra-Resolution DVD, and most recently in High Definition on Blu-ray. The screen captures look amazing; plenty of film grain, bright colors, and razor-sharp detail (maybe just a bit too sharp...especially when it comes to the hairs on Margaret Hamilton’s chin!).

In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s shoes were silver; today, the original ruby-version manufactured for MGM back in 1938 can fetch close to $1 million. Would they have caused as much of a collecting furor if they had stayed silver? Even reproductions can fetch $500-$1000 each. And just where the heck would you wear them?!?

How many have marveled over the transition from sepia to technicolor when the movie goes from Kansas to Oz? Whether it was a creative or cost-cutting decision, it is still magical. The colors of Munchkinland leap off the screen even more because our eyes have been conditioned to the drab pallette of Kansas beforehand. Judy’s facial expression says it all:

Judy Garland is such perfection in this movie that not only is it hard to imagine anyone else in the role (even adorable Shirley Temple), but hard to imagine her as a blond Dorothy. That’s right; as this early publicity photo shows, Judy Garland was originally dolled up with a big slab of makeup and curly blond locks. Famous Hollywood Director George Cukor (assigned to the project for a very short time) left a lasting legacy on this 1939 classic by demanding that Judy have her plastic face removed so that she would be the one real element in the film—and boy was that a fantastic judgment call. Almost makes up for him screwing up Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished film “Something’s Got To Give.” Almost.

A few other things changed along the way as well; one was the original casting of Buddy Ebsen as the Tinman. Breathing in the aluminum dust used in his makeup caused Ebsen to have to spend time recovering in an iron lung, giving Jack Haley the opportunity to take over the role and join Garland, Bolger, and Lahr in cinema immortality. Here’s one of the scenes Ebsen filmed before getting ill:

This elaborate musical number featured in the photograph below occurred after the Witch is killed and our favorite quartet triumphantly returns to the Emerald City. The movie was already too long, and this reprise of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” was trimmed. A 1949 theatrical trailer actually has a brief clip (with sound) showcasing this segment.

To see more Wizard of Oz photos, visit my regular website.


G said...

Once in awhile Turner Calssics shows this great film. I sit there and watch it like I have never seen it before.

Connie Moreno said...

My all time #1 favorite film! How I wish I could see the Wicked Witch on the big screen in all her glory! I bought the VHS when it came out - 6 months before I even owned a VCR, lol. Love, love, love the Wicked Witch and when I saw Wicked, I knew I was right for liking her all these years!

Robert Rowe said...

An all time favorite film that I like even better having read all of the original 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum. I'd love to see someone make all of the books into films recreating the wonderful MGM world of Oz.

G said...

A large theater showed it here in Hollywood for it's 50th anniversary. Seeing it on the big screen is like seeing it for the first time.

Daveland said...

Screen-time wise, the witch is a small role...but what an impact Margaret Hamilton had! Robert - as a kid, I devoured all of Baum's original books. Disney owned all of those (except for The Wizard of Oz) for a time; not sure who owns them now. Mike - I caught it on the one day they showed it here; the audience clapped and responded as if it was a live show...amazing for a 70 year old flick!

G said...

That was the surprise pleasure, enjoying the film in a theater filled with fans.