The Wizard of Oz is a classic Hollywood musical released by MGM in 1939. It was directed by Victor Fleming and was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. The songs were written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and one of them, "Over the Rainbow," won the Oscar for "Best Song of the Year."
PlotThe film begins in sepia tone. Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, run to their farm in Kansas after an encounter with Miss Gulch, who hit Toto on the back with a rake. No one at the farm seems interested in this, however. Miss Gulch arrives and announces that she will have Toto destroyed because Toto bit her, and got the sheriff to give her an order for it. She takes Toto away in a basket on her bike, but Toto escapes and runs back to Dorothy. Realizing Miss Gulch will return for him, Dorothy and Toto decide to run away. There, she meets Professor Marvel and asks if she can come with him and see the crowned heads of Europe. He guesses correctly that she is running away and pretends to consult a crystal ball (in reality looking at a photo of Aunt Em) and makes up a story about her being ill, so Dorothy heads back. However, by this time a tornado has arrived. Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the three farm hands, Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke, hide in the storm cellar. Dorothy is unable to get in and goes inside her house with Toto. Miss Gulch was riding in her bike at the time; and suddenly she turned into the Wicked Witch. Dorothy and Toto were watching the whole thing!
The twister lifts up the house, and soon it lands. When Dorothy goes outside, the film is suddenly in color. Dorothy is now in the land of Oz. Glinda, the good Witch of the North, appears and tells Dorothy that her house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and now the Munchkins in Munchkinland are free of her. Soon after, the Wicked Witch of the East's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, appears, and is instantly angry at Dorothy for killing the Witch of the East. Then Glinda reminds her of the Ruby Slippers, but before the wicked witch can take them, Glinda magically teleports them onto Dorothy's feet. She reminds the Wicked Witch of the West that she has no power in Munchkinland, and so the wicked witch teleports away. Dorothy asks Glinda how she is supposed to get back home, and Glinda says that only the Wizard of Oz can help. He lives in Emerald City, which is a long journey from Munchkinland, and to get there, Dorothy must follow the Yellow Brick Road.
Along the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow who doesn't have a brain. He decides to come with her because the wizard might give him some brains. After tricking some evil trees and getting some apples, they meet a Tin Woodman who doesn't have a heart, and comes with them so the wizard can give him one. In the forest, they meet a Cowardly Lion who comes with them so the wizard can give him some courage. The Wicked Witch of the West creates several poppies to put Dorothy and the lion to sleep, but Glinda makes it snow to stop the poppies' power. Dorothy and the gang all reach the Emerald City, and soon after meet the Wizard of Oz in the form of a giant head. He tells them he is willing to grant their requests if they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, which would require them to kill her.
While making their way to the witch's castle, they are attacked by her army of flying monkeys. The monkeys take Dorothy and Toto to the castle. The Wicked Witch tries to take the slippers by threatening to drown Toto (even putting him in a basket in a very similar manner to Miss Gulch), but the slippers will not let her take them, so she decides she has to kill Dorothy to get it. She locks Dorothy in a room with an hourglass while she determines how to kill Dorothy without damaging the slippers' power, but Toto escapes first and goes to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, and takes them to the castle. They beat up three of the guards and take their uniforms to enter the castle. They get Dorothy out of the room she is locked in, but are attacked by the Wicked Witch shortly after. After a chase scene, the guards have them cornered. The Wicked Witch decides to kill everyone else first and Dorothy last. She starts with the Scarecrow and sets his arm on fire. Dorothy throws a bucket of water to put out the fire, which splashes all over the Witch and causes her to melt. The guards are delighted that the wicked witch is dead and give Dorothy her broomstick.
The wizard is surprised to see Dorothy and the gang return, and tells them to come back tomorrow. Toto pulls back a curtain, revealing a man behind it, and that he is really the Wizard of Oz, using machines to project a giant head. He tells the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man that thay actually have what they have been searching for, and gives them items such as medals and diplomas so others will recognize them. He tells Dorothy that he is also from Kansas and came to Oz by a hot air balloon that was caught in a storm. He tells Dorothy he will take her back in it, and tells everyone that the Scarecrow will rule Emerald City until he returns, but at the last second before the departure, Toto jumps off after a cat, and Dorothy goes off after him, and the balloon takes off without them. Glinda appears and tells Dorothy that she always had the power to return to Kansas by using the ruby slippers, and didn't tell her before because she needed to find out that she didn't have to run away to find her heart's desire. To return to Kansas, Dorothy clicks her heels three times and says "There's no place like home."
Dorothy awakens back in her bedroom in Kansas. Aunt Em says that the whole thing was a dream, but Dorothy is convinced that her adventures in Oz were real. Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke reappear (whom she notices resemble the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion), and Professor Marvel (who resembles the wizard) shows up at the window. Toto jumps up onto the bed, and Dorothy says "There's no place like home".
Miss Gulch is nowhere to be seen, nor is she mentioned, nor does she ever return to get Toto. It was revealed in the RSC's musical production that she was injured by a telegraph pole during the twister and her leg was in plaster.
- Judy Garland: Dorothy Gale
- Frank Morgan: Professor Marvel, The Doorman, Cabby, Guard, and the Wizard of Oz
- Ray Bolger: Hank, Scarecrow
- Bert Lahr: Zeke, Cowardly Lion
- Jack Haley: Hickory, Tin Woodman
- Billie Burke: Glinda the Good Witch of the North
- Margaret Hamilton: Miss Gulch, Wicked Witch of the West
- Charley Grapewin: Uncle Henry
- Clara Blandick: Auntie Em
- Terry: Toto
- The Singer Midgets: Munchkins
- Munchkin mayor: Charley Becker
- Munchkin coroner: Meinhardt Raabe
- Lollipop Guild: Jackie Gerlich, Jerry Maren, Harry Doll
- Lullaby League: Nita Krebs, Olga Nardone, Yvonne Moray
- Pat Walshe: Nikko
- Mitchell Lewis: Captain of the Winkie guards
- Art directors: Cedric Gibbons, William A. Horning
- Associate art director: Jack Martin Smith
- Assistant conductor: George Stoll
- Assistant directors: Al Shenberg, Wallace Worsley
- Choreographer: Bobby Connolly
- Assistant choreographers: Arthur "Cowboy" Appell, Dona Massin
- Color direction: Natalie Kalmus, Henri Jaffa
- Costume design: Gilbert Adrian
- Directors of photography: Harold Rosson (color), Allan Darby (black and white)
- Makeup: Jack Dawn
- Recording director: Douglas Shearer
- Set decoration: Edwin B. Willis
- Special effects: A. Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie
- Vocal arrangements: Ken Darby, Roger Edens
- Orchestral arrangements: George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Paul Marquardt
See also: LeRoy's List.
The makers of The Wizard of Oz were strongly influenced by the success of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which showed that a fantasy film could attract an enthusiastic adult audience — a trick that earlier Oz films, including those made by Baum's Oz Film Manufacturing Company, had failed to master. Many of the changes made in Baum's original story were designed to recreate the success of Disney's movie; some of these, like a beautiful Wicked Witch of the West (to be played by Gale Sondergaard), did not survive into the finished film.
As a negative example, the filmmakers could look to the 1933 Paramount version of Alice in Wonderland, a notorious critical and popular flop. The film had boasted a distinguished cast of stars and character actors, including Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Edna May Oliver, Charlie Ruggles, Sterling Holloway, and Edward Everett Horton — who were generally unrecognizable under their heavy makeup. For The Wizard of Oz, care was taken so that the actors in heavy costume and makeup remained recognizable.
(Fantasy was a tough genre for Hollywood. A year after the Oz film, an adaptation of Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird that starred Shirley Temple would prove another notable flop, and ended Temple's career as a film star.)
Making the film
Mervyn LeRoy produced the film, with Arthur Freed as assistant producer. Its genesis was complex, employing multiple directors and screenwriters. Fleming had the director's credit, though George Cukor, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, and King Vidor also worked on the project. An early plan to have Busby Berkeley direct the musical numbers never panned out.
Noel Langley is credited with adapting the original book, and Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf are credited as the authors of the screenplay — though more than a dozen individuals, including Herman Mankiewicz, were involved in various ways. The multiple versions of the film's script have been preserved; they make a stack five feet thick.
Jack Dawn designed the makeup for the characters. Makeup man Jack Young had the daily job of turning Margaret Hamilton into the Wicked Witch, while Charles Schram was responsible for the Cowardly Lion. By August 1938, the studio had set up a special annex where personnel drafted from the mail room and messenger service were trained in makeup; some of these people remained in the craft afterward. Still, so many actors and extras needed makeup in some scenes that the studio issued an open call to the local craft unions for free-lance hairdressers and makeup men.
Special effects for the movie were created by Buddy Gillespie and filmed by Max Fabian. Warren Newcombe created shots involving matte paintings for backgrounds, using techniques he originated. Sixty-five sets were used; the most complex was the Munchkinland set. As many as 150 painters may have worked on the film. Four separate horses were tinted for the Horse of a Different Color sequence.
Betty Danko, Hamilton's stunt double, was badly injured in an accident on the set; Hamilton suffered burns in another incident. Two of the flying monkeys were hospitalized after falling from the wires that made them "fly." Ray Bolger wore a suit protected with asbestos for the scene in which the Witch sets the Scarecrow on fire. Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Woodman, but endured a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup the character wore; he had to be replaced by Jack Haley.
The film was edited by Fleming and Blanche Sewell; Fleming worked in the editing room in the evening, after directing Gone With the Wind during the day.
MGM studio records placed the cost of making the movie at $2,769,230.30 (in 1939 dollars) — half a million dollars over its budget. Production occurred between 12 October 1938 and 16 March 1939. (The movie had originally been scheduled to begin filming in the Spring of 1938 and to be completed by the end of that year; but delays in virtually every aspect of the production rendered that original schedule moot. See: Timeline.) Test screenings began in June; final editing was completed by 5 July, and the musical score finished on 9 July. The movie premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on 15 August 1939.
The film won two Academy Awards in 1940: in addition to Harburg and Arlen's award for Best Song, Herbert Stothart won the award for Best Original Score. The movie was nominated in four other categories too, losing the Best Picture Oscar to Gone With the Wind. (Judy Garland received a miniature Oscar for the best performance by a juvenile.)
The Wizard of Oz was a major hit with audiences; the film earned $3,017,00 for MGM during its initial exhibition. This, however, was not enough to equal the production costs plus the million dollars spent on distribution and advertising. The film did not make a profit until it was re-released, ten years after its original showing; in 1949 it earned another $1,500,000 at the box office.
The first television broadcast of the film took place on 3 November 1956 on the CBS network; the audience of this initial broadcast has been calculated at over 44,000,000 viewers. A second TV broadcast of the film in 1959 (at an earlier hour) won an even larger audience. Annual broadcasts of the film followed through the ensuing decades, leading to the film's reputation as a classic.
By 1983, the movie had earned somewhat under $6,000,000 at the box office, and $13,000,000 from television broadcast rights. Ted Turner bought the MGM film library, including The Wizard of Oz, in 1985; by 1988, worldwide television sales had increased to $34,500,000, plus $16,700,000 from the sales of 850,000 video cassettes.
The film has been restored using new technology more than once, including a major effort for a 1998 theatrical re-release and the 2009 release of the film on Blu-ray Disc.
- Wizard of Oz Collector Plates
- Toys and Collectibles
- The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition DVD.
- 75th Anniversary Edition Boxset.
Billie Burke played a beautiful witch, at the age of 55; Margaret Hamilton played an ugly witch, at the age of 36. Hamilton found it unpleasant to eat while in costume: her green makeup got onto her food.
During the Tin Woodman's solo dance, a puff of "steam" is emitted from his funnel hat. MGM technicians simulated the steam with a puff of talcum powder.
For the poppy-field scene, stagehands planted 40,000 artificial flowers into the floor of the set on Stage 29 at the MGM studio.
More than 300 extras were used for the Emerald City scenes.
Despite the remarkable aspects of the production, the MGM publicity department perpetrated wild exaggerations of the relevant facts. MGM publicity director Howard Strickling released a 32-page memo that claimed that 9200 actors "faced the camera" in the film, that 3200 costumes were created, and 6200 personnel "on all branches of production" worked on the project. His numbers were nonsense (yielding one costume for every three actors, for example). In fact, about 500 performers appeared in the film, and a thousand costumes were created. MGM had fewer than 4000 employees in total in the late 1930s, and not all of them worked on The Wizard of Oz.
Differences from the Book
- The Farmhands (Hunk, Hickory and Zeke), Miss Gulch and Professor Marvel.
- Glinda being the Witch of the North (Glinda was the Witch of the South in the book and the Witch of the North was named Locasta)
- The shoes being ruby and not silver
- The Wicked Witch of the West is The Witch of the East's sister
- The Witch being the main villain
- The Tin Man always being made of tin
- The Wizard sees Dorothy and her friends all at once
- Boq, The Golden Cap, The Hammer Heads, and The China Village are all absent
- Oz never happened and was a dream
References in other productions
The dub of the Digimon anime makes a great deal of references to The Wizard of Oz. These include:
- Myotismon tells Kari "I've got you my pretty and your little cat too." The Wicked Witch of the West once says to Dorothy "I'll get you my pretty and your little dog too!"
- When LadyDevimon is destroyed by Angewomon, she says "I'm melting!" like the Wicked Witch of the West does.
- In the next episode after that, Sora says "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."
- Piedmon mentions flying monkeys, referring to the Vilemon, his servants.
- An episode in Season 2 is entitled "If I Only Had A Heart".
Other programs that have parodied The Wizard of Oz in an episode include:
- Earthworm Jim - "The Wizard of Ooze"
- VeggieTales - "The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's"
- Futurama - "Anthology of Interest II"
- Phineas and Ferb - "Wizard of Odd"
- The Fresh Beat Band - "The Wizard of Song"
- The Suite Life On Deck - "Twister: Part 2"
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - "Minnie's The Wizard of Dizz"
- That's So Raven - "Soup to Nuts"
- Victorious - "April Fools Blank"
- Hugh Fordin. M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press, 1996.
- John Fricke, Jay Scarfone, and William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History. Warner Books, 1989.
- Aljean Harmetz. The Making of the Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM and the Miracle of Production #1060. New York, Knopf, 1977.
- Paul Nathanson. Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America. Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 1991.
- Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and Magic of the 1939 M-G-M Classic. New York, Random House, 1999.