Mrs. Speculator and I were able to score tickets to the movie that all of Hollywood, and perhaps America, have been gushing over pretty much since it started filming a year ago. As expected, the theater was packed and the audience was murmuring amongst themselves until the lights went down. There was still a silent anticipation as the movie trailers went past, and everyone settled in as the film we had all come to see began.
We were all surprised when the movie began (and ended as it turns out) not in the brilliant Technicolor that all the advertisements promised, but in sepia tones. After a short epigraph, the movie introduces Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog Toto moving quickly down a dirt road through farmland (later we learn this is Kansas). Using the sepia tones, Dorothy's home feels terrifically mundane, if not humdrum, even though events cause her to try to run away from home and sing such wonderfully haunting songs as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." While Garland's acting is pedestrian despite its enthusiasm, she holds absolutely nothing back from her singing, and "Somewhere" is destined to become a classic, especially when given spectacular voice by Garland. Opposed to the sepia tones are the brilliant colors of Oz, which a tornado whisks Dorothy and Toto off to. When the windswept house lands in Oz, Dorothy opens the front door and the fantastic colors come sweeping in.
Dorothy finds herself surrounded by munchkins, a nation of little people who have come together to celebrate Dorothy's inadvertent victory over the Wicked Witch of the East—she had the good fortune of landing her house on the evil witch. Dorothy meets the Good Witch of The North (played delightfully by Billie Burke) and receives awards from the grateful munchkins. The singing and laughter is bright until Dorothy announces her real reward would be a return trip home to Kansas. Glinda the Good Witch advises Dorothy to take the ruby slippers from the fallen Wicked Witch and find the titular Wizard of Oz at the end of the yellow brick road. The Wicked Witch of the West appears (played menacingly by Margaret Hamilton) and threatens Dorothy for killing her sister, but is run off by Glinda. And so Dorothy sets out to find the magical city of Oz.
And so the movie explicitly sets up the comparison between sepia-colored home and the brilliantly Technicolor Oz. As Dorothy wanders through Oz, she makes new friends who look remarkably like her friends back in Kansas, but she never meets her guardians' analogs. Though she meets fantastic characters and makes what appear to be lifelong friends, she still pines for home. Part of the basis of her desire is that, even though she hadn't had such wonderful adventures in Kansas, she also has never been threatened so forcefully as when she is in Oz. For every delightful moment Dorothy has, she also encounters new and terrifying aspects of Oz, and frankly some of them are just weird. Dorothy also places great trust in the stories of the Wizard she has been told, and so her disappointment is that much greater when he initially fails her and her companions, sending them off on a quest in order to earn their wishes.
Those companions are played delightfully by a trio of well-known actors. Ray Bolger is Scarecrow, who is searching for a brain, and his mastery of dance is apparent in every scene he is in. No opportunity to represent Scarecrow as gangly and awkward is missed, and he is a joy to watch. Jack Haley plays Tin Man, who is searching for a heart. And finally Bert Lahr is the Cowardly Lion, who steals every scene he is in. Lions are of course more demonstrative than tin men and scarecrows, so Lahr is given the opportunity to ham it up, which he does with gusto. The Cowardly Lion, of course, wants courage, and to this end, he really is the only one whose theme song varies from the main tune: the others sing "If I Only Had a Brain" and "If Only Had a Heart" while the Lion sings "If I were King of the Forest" making distinctly Lear-ian near-rhymes with words like "hippopotamus." His every scene invokes laughter while the others merely invoke curiosity. The companions also add to the comparison between home and Oz, since each of them has an analog on the farm where Dorothy lives; her friends in Kansas have near-twins in Oz.
The result is a splendidly beautiful movie for children about the importance of valuing what you have and perseverance in the face of adversity. Adults will be entertained by the comic moments and the exquisite scenery, but ultimately, this movie is not very deep nor does it long withstand critical scrutiny. But it is a great deal of fun (especially the Cowardly Lion). Absolutely well worth the time to see.
[on the occasion of my 200th blog entry, I thought I would write about a movie Mrs. Speculator an I did go see—the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. I tried to take on a voice of someone who saw it in 1939, but the heart of the experiment failed me. And seriously, the movie does not take a good deal of examination well. But it is a delight to watch.]