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The Wizard of Oz Reviews

There's no place like home, and there will never be another movie like this one, a dazzling fantasy musical so beautifully directed and acted that it deserves its classic status. Forget that it's nearly 60 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. It 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 encompasses (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. Dorothy (Garland) is a schoolgirl living in Kansas with family and her little dog, Toto. One afternoon, a twister sucks up Dorothy's house and she and Toto are dropped beyond the rainbow into Munchkinland. With a pair of magical red slippers and some advice from Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke), Dorothy, Toto and three new friends--the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)--follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where they must ask the all-powerful Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) to get Dorothy and Toto back home. The Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton), however, is determined to get her hands on the slippers, and sends out her flying monkeys to capture the group--as if you needed to know any of this. Curiously, Garland, forever to be identified with the wide-eyed Dorothy, was not the first choice for the part; both Shirley Temple (who was under contract to 20th-Century Fox) and Deanna Durbin were considered for the role. If not for Jean Harlow's untimely death, which invalidated the loan-out deal that would have sent her to Fox to make IN OLD CHICAGO, it would have been Temple's forthright moppet singing and skipping her way through MGM's fantasy-musical, 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. 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, was the film's cinematographer and King Vidor, George Cukor and Richard Thorpe all 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 one might think: All were grizzled showbiz vets not about to give Garland an inch of scene-stealing capacity onscreen. 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 Hamilton's first exit. And watch for inconsistencies in Garland's hairstyles.