THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) B/W & C 101m dir: Victor Fleming
w/Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walsh, Frank Morgan
This is it! The Frank Baum fantasy about a Kansas farm girl who's swept into the incredible land of Oz has been transformed by way of MGM magic into an exciting and touching musical entertainment.
From The Movie Guide: "There's no place like home, and there'll never be another movie like THE WIZARD OF OZ. Forget that it's over 50 years old, that here and there it creaks a tiny bit: it stirs in all of us the feeling of wanting to belong, of having security, but wanting enchantment at the same time. OZ gives us enchantment unparalleled for a hundred different reasons, foremost among which is the ageless appeal of young Judy Garland, perhaps the most beloved of all film actresses. Watching her now, we're aware of all the sadness Garland's life would encompass (the consummate showbiz pro, she was quick to milk her suffering), but Dorothy captures her poised on the brink of legend, before the ravages of unhappiness set in. And chances are, for most of us, we first saw her in OZ before life took any serious tolls upon us, before broken hearts, or deaths, or money troubles or career disappointments. Sometimes you watch Garland longingly sing 'Over the Rainbow' and it sweeps you away to somewhere you can't even explain. THE WIZARD OF OZ is a dazzling fantasy musical, so beautifully directed and acted that it deserves its classic status. ...
"Curiously, Garland, forever to be identified with the wide-eyed Dorothy, was not the first choice for the part: both Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin were considered for the role. Had Jean Harlow not died, we'd be watching Temple's forthright moppet, instead of Garland's tender waif. The mind boggles. We could regale you for hours on end with behind the scenes trivia on OZ. Books have been written on nothing but, and they're not hard to find. [Aljean Harmetz's The Making of The Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM --- and the Miracle of Production No. 1060 is, perhaps, the best of them.] But we'll toss you a few: Frank Morgan spent half his time on set drunk. Clara Blandick (Auntie Em) was just as unhappy as she appears; she ended up a recluse who eventually took her own life. Harlow's third and last husband, Harold Rosson, did OZ's cinematography and King Vidor did some uncredited directorial work. L.B. Mayer's nickname for Garland was his "little humpback." The original Wizard was to have been W.C. Fields, the original Tin Man Buddy Ebsen (who fell ill from all the makeup preparation) and the original Wicked Witch was to have been played as an evil siren by Gale Sondergaard. Bolger, Haley, Lahr, and Morgan were not the kindly uncles you might think. All were grizzled showbiz vets not about to give Garland an inch of scene-stealing capacity on screen; when she takes a scene, it's not because anyone let her. See if you can hear the female Munchkin who runs forward to Garland and shouts 'Judy' instead of 'Dorothy' after [Wicked Witch Margaret] Hamilton's first exit. And watch for inconsistencies in Garland's hairstyles during the time she is beautified in OZ."
Some information about the uncredited work of director King Vidor, who took over when Victor Fleming had to rush off to work on GONE WITH THE WIND, appears in the book The Hollywood Professionals: Volume 5: King Vidor, John Cromwell & Mervyn LeRoy. Author Clive Denton reports:
"In February 1973, Mr. Vidor very kindly (and forthrightly) answered certain questions about his career. While writing this essay, I re-saw The Wizard of Oz and the experience reminded me of a rumour I had once heard but since forgotten to the effect that King Vidor had done some shooting on this production. The framing scenes to the fantasy, set in Kansas, and not in colour, had the look of Vidor quite strongly, especially the approach of the cyclone (shades of Galveston, 1913! [an 18-year-old Vidor had shot a cyclone on the Gulf Coast with a homemade camera before ever coming to Hollywood]) with shots of horses rearing and breaking loose in fright and the homely image of Auntie Em standing anxiously by the farmhouse door.
"[Vidor stated,] 'When Victor Fleming, who had directed most of The Wizard of Oz and who received credit as the director, had the opportunity to direct Gone with the Wind, he was about three weeks from finishing The Wizard of Oz. David Selznick, who had also talked to me about taking over Gone with the Wind after Cukor was leaving the film, asked me if I would be willing to take over the remaining part of The Wizard of Oz if Fleming would come and undertake Gone with the Wind. Strange as it may seem, to me the script of Gone with the Wind needed so much work that I was glad to do The Wizard of Oz rather than Gone with the Wind. I spent one day with Fleming in the studio going around and looking at sets that hadn't been used. Fleming left after one day and I took over the film.
"'I do remember that I shot the scene with the very popular song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I also remember shooting the scenes in the house during the cyclone and many of the Kansas scenes. I don't exactly remember at this moment how many or what part. I worked with Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, and with Frank Morgan who was playing the wizard. I remember shooting scenes of the three characters mentioned singing the song, "We're Off to See the Wizard." Each year when the perennial favourite Wizard of Oz is shown and I hear Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" I get a tremendous kick knowing that I shot the scenes, or whenever I hear the record played I remember that I was in on the beginning. I had very much the feeling of adapting the movement of silent films to the staging of a musical number. Previously in most of the sound musicals someone stood up in front of the camera and sang directly to the camera. In directing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" I was able to keep the movement of Judy Garland flowing freely very much in the style of a silent scene. I didn't ask for credit on the film and I did not want it. The Director's Guild, of which I was first President (and probably I was on the board at that time), was very much in the mood to give credit to only one director on a film and mainly this is the director who plans the film in advance and picks the locations and supervises the settings, the costumes and casting, and I never have believed --- and the Director's Guild felt --- that any director coming in and taking over should get credit in any way equivalent with the director who inaugurated the whole project.'"
And, from The World of Entertainment: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals by Hugh Fordin, comes the story of how "Over the Rainbow" was almost cut from the film, but for the insistence of that wonderful producer of MGM musicals, Arthur Freed: "Each time The Wizard of Oz was sneaked, 'Over the Rainbow' was either cut or put back. After each deletion, Freed would storm back into [MGM head Louis B.] Mayer's office; it seemed everybody agreed that it should go except Arthur Freed. A meeting was called by Mayer to decide once and for all; there Sam Katz, executive producer of the musical division, remarked, 'This score is above the heads of children.' Jack Robbins put in his two cents: 'Why, it's like a child's piano exercise. Nobody will sing it --- who'll buy the sheet music?' Freed would have none of it, 'The song stays --- or I go! It's as simple as that.'
"The preview took place on Thursday evening, August 17, 1939, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. 'Over the Rainbow' was in. ...
"Thursday evening, February 29, 1940 --- twelfth annual Academy Award banquet, Cocoanut Grove, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. In spite of the near sweep Gone With the Wind made, the one piece of film that the Metro hierarchy had condemned to the cutting room floor --- had it not been for Freed's tempestuous interception --- took the Oscar for the best song, 'Over the Rainbow.' And the subtle handling by Freed and [Roger] Edens of all the musical elements paid off, and Wizard took a second Oscar for best original musical score."
The Oscars were won by Herbert Stothart for Best Original Score, and the Best Song, "Over the Rainbow," was written by Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harberg. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons & William A. Horning), and Special Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie & Douglas Shearer). A special miniature Oscar was given to Garland "for her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year."