The Wizard of Oz

Movie Information

The Wizard of Oz will be shown by Fathom Events at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14 on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.
Score:

Genre: Musical/Fantasy
Director: Victor Fleming
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke
Rated: G

Well, that venerable—and slightly ossified—American institution The Wizard of Oz is 70 years old. To celebrate the occasion, the Fathom Events people are showing the movie—one-time only—in a local theater. Now, when the film was a mere 60 years old, the studio actually gave it a full-blown re-release in a newly restored, remastered, digitized version, which turned out to be such a lousy job of digitizing (anything that wasn’t in close-up looked awful) that this scaled back celebration is probably wise. (And with advances in technology will almost certainly look better than the 1999 re-issue.)

If you’ve never seen the old TV warhorse on the big screen, you really should. It’s revelatory—though not in a necessarily good way. The cramped nature of the soundstage sets becomes painfully obvious when you can see where the sets end and the painted backdrops begin. Also, the truly ugly color scheme of Munchkin Land (who in the hell picked those colors?) is positively overwhelming when seen large. (Actually, these are not atypical colors for MGM at that time.) Some things, of course, do improve. The Wizard’s receiving room is pretty magnificent-looking, with its bursting flames, distorted imagery and artificially booming voice. The Witch’s castle and her winged monkeys are also impressive. In fact, nearly all of the film’s horrific aspects are pretty terrific on the big screen, while nearly all of its attempts at whimsy are even lamer and heavier-handed than they are on TV.

Let’s face it, the movie is an unassailable “classic,” and we’ve grown to accept it for what it is, boosted by the fact that some of its imagery is truly iconic. But it’s really not a very good movie and it never was. The best thing in it is Garland singing “Over the Rainbow”—a sequence ironically shot by King Vidor and not-credited director Victor Fleming—which is also the only truly distinguished song in the film. (I could happily never hear “If I Were King of the Forest” again, but then I could live without ever encountering Bert Lahr again, if it came to that.) But really, the movie’s such a legendary item that no one is likely to look at it through anything other than the rose- (or ruby-) colored glasses of the nostalgia of our collective childhood. So go see it and celebrate whatever it means to you.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

21 thoughts on “The Wizard of Oz

  1. Dionysis

    I’ve never seen this ‘classic’ in a theatre, and would actually enjoy seeing those (still) creepy flying monkeys on the big screen. When will it be shown that one time?

  2. TonyRo

    Hey Ken….way off base with this review…sorry your view of this wonderful movie is jaded, but your review assumes everyone thinks this movie is awful. I can honestly say that you are the first person I’ve ever read/heard that hates this movie.

    There are a very few movies I would define as perfect or timeless and this movie is one of them. Your dislike of this movie really tells me all I need to know about your qualifications to review movies for the general public to read.

  3. Ken Hanke

    When will it be shown that one time?

    It’s at 7 p.m. Wed. Sept. 23 at the Carolina Asheville.

  4. Ken Hanke

    way off base with this review

    It really never occurred to me that I was going to get a lot of agreement.

    but your review assumes everyone thinks this movie is awful.

    Uh, no, it assumes just the opposite — that everyone just accepts that it’s great.

    I can honestly say that you are the first person I’ve ever read/heard that hates this movie

    Nor did I say I hated this movie.

    There are a very few movies I would define as perfect or timeless and this movie is one of them

    Your call, of course.

    Your dislike of this movie really tells me all I need to know about your qualifications to review movies for the general public to read

    Why? Because I don’t necessarily fall into lockstep with the prevalent opinion? God forbid anybody dare suggest you think about a movie once it’s labeled a classic.

  5. TonyRo

    You know when you hear a teenager that talking about The Clash or Led Zeppelin like they never mattered, just because everyone else treasures them? That’s what this review reminds me of.

    It’s one thing to think about a movie, but it’s another thing to nitpick. Your snarky review says everyone thinks it’s a classic, but then you also assume everyone thinks it’s as half-assed as you think it is.

    “Let’s face it, the movie is an unassailable “classic,” and we’ve grown to accept it for what it is, boosted by the fact that some of its imagery is truly iconic. But it’s really not a very good movie and it never was.”

    Maybe the most idiotic sentiment about any film that I’ve ever read. To say it never was good is to ignore that it was revolutionary in terms of special effects and use of color when it was released. You’re ignoring the true audience it’s intended for..children. Say what you will about Bert Lahr, I’m pretty sure when he was giving the performance of his career he wasn’t assuming it would be whittled down to nothing by some hack bitter critic that refuses to embrace the magic of film and instead begs for realism on screen.
    Out of a movie full of classic songs, all you can choose is the most popular one to say something good about.

    Also you never flatout say you hate the movie, but it’s pretty obvious. Cheer up Ken, maybe Tim Burton will remake it with Scarecrow played by Johnny Depp and then you’ll be able to finally say someone got it right.

    I hope the Mountain Express doesn’t pay too much for this sort of crap.

  6. Ken Hanke

    It’s one thing to think about a movie, but it’s another thing to nitpick. Your snarky review says everyone thinks it’s a classic, but then you also assume everyone thinks it’s as half-assed as you think it is.

    Nice case of projecting, since I assume nothing of the sort.

    Maybe the most idiotic sentiment about any film that I’ve ever read. To say it never was good is to ignore that it was revolutionary in terms of special effects and use of color when it was released.

    Revolutionary in its use of color in what way? And its effects are a mixed bag — and were in 1939. Are you even aware that the movie wasn’t universally praised in 1939? Or that it turned no really significant profit until it was re-issued ten years later?

    You’re ignoring the true audience it’s intended for..children.

    I’m also not writing for children per se.

    Say what you will about Bert Lahr, I’m pretty sure when he was giving the performance of his career he wasn’t assuming it would be whittled down to nothing by some hack bitter critic that refuses to embrace the magic of film and instead begs for realism on screen

    Oh, come on, this has nothing to do with begging for realism (a pretty strange charge if you have any knowledge of my taste). As for Lahr, I doubt seriously that he gave any thought to this being “the performance of his career,” but then nobody gave much thought at all to the idea that these movies would still be watched years and years later.

    Out of a movie full of classic songs, all you can choose is the most popular one to say something good about

    Well, it’s the best one — and that, by the way, is the general view. I also like “Optimistic Voices.”

    Also you never flatout say you hate the movie, but it’s pretty obvious.

    You are projecting. I simply don’t think the film is good, though I do think it has good things in it and I recognize its cultural impact, hence the four star rating (something I have never given to a film I hate). You act like I’ve attacked your childhood by not loving it. How about a little perspective? It’s only a movie and it’s only an opinion.

    Cheer up Ken, maybe Tim Burton will remake it with Scarecrow played by Johnny Depp and then you’ll be able to finally say someone got it right.

    Yes, I “beg for realism” and yet champion Tim Burton’s films. Explain how you can connect the two. In any case, there’s certainly room for someone to do this over and “get it right” in terms of the source book, which the 1939 film most certainly alters in several very significant ways.

    I hope the Mountain Express doesn’t pay too much for this sort of crap

    Who holds the gun to your head and forces you to read my crap?

  7. Dread P. Roberts

    …some hack bitter critic that refuses to embrace the magic of film and instead begs for realism on screen

    No offense, but that has got to be one of the weirdest (and funniest) Hanke insults I’ve ever read on the MountainX movie comment posts.

    Also, if anyone ever gets the chance, the “Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.” off of Merrimon occasionally shows (or has in the past, at least) screenings of Dark Side of the Rainbow (I think that’s what it’s called). For those who are not familiar, this is a wonderful blending of The Wizard of Oz and the great Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon. I just love to see this, but then again Pink Floyd is one of my all-time favorite bands, so maybe I’m a little one-sided in my love. To me, The Wizard of Oz is definitely better this way. I keep waiting for a special (and official) DVD release of both versions together, but it’ll probably never happen.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Also, if anyone ever gets the chance, the “Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.” off of Merrimon occasionally shows (or has in the past, at least) screenings of Dark Side of the Rainbow (I think that’s what it’s called).

    In fact, the last time they did that, I wrote about it — online edition only — and expressed much the same point of view that I did here about the movie itself.

  9. molton

    I’d like to see Ken Russell combine Tommy with a Dr. Seuss book and call it “Horton Hears The Who.”

  10. Ken Hanke

    I’d like to see Ken Russell combine Tommy with a Dr. Seuss book and call it “Horton Hears The Who.”

    I’d be first in line to see that.

  11. ncain

    My favorite description of this film goes like this:

    “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young woman kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.”

    Legend has it this was a tv listing for the film and appeared in a newspaper. No idea if that’s true or not.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Legend has it this was a tv listing for the film and appeared in a newspaper. No idea if that’s true or not

    Well, you can’t say the synopsis is exactly inaccurate, though it perhaps misses something of the flavor.

  13. Tonberry

    I will probably get some slack for this, but… I enjoy “Return to Oz” much more than ‘Wizard of.’ Mind I haven’t seen it in A WHILE (love to, hello amazon) but as much as it freaked me out as a kid, I always thought it was way cooler.

  14. Ken Hanke

    I will probably get some slack for this, but… I enjoy “Return to Oz” much more than ‘Wizard of.’ Mind I haven’t seen it in A WHILE (love to, hello amazon) but as much as it freaked me out as a kid, I always thought it was way cooler.

    I’ve never seen Return to Oz, but I know quite a few people who prize the film highly, despite the fact that it was a pretty large bomb when it came out. I keep meaning to catch up with it, but like so many things I mean to catch up with, it’s just never happened.

  15. Jessica B.

    I’ve never seen Return to Oz, but I know quite a few people who prize the film highly, despite the fact that it was a pretty large bomb when it came out. I keep meaning to catch up with it, but like so many things I mean to catch up with, it’s just never happened.

    Return to Oz was much closer to the books, which was probably why it didn’t do well when it came out. It also has a much darker tone, with Dorothy about to be subjected to primitive electro-shock therapy after coming home to Kansas. The effects and costume designs are excellent, and the film makes good use of Will Vinton’s Claymation talents for the Gnome King. Also has a nice scene near the end with a multitude of Oz characters from the books.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Return to Oz was much closer to the books, which was probably why it didn’t do well when it came out. It also has a much darker tone, with Dorothy about to be subjected to primitive electro-shock therapy after coming home to Kansas.

    I really do need to catch up with this.

  17. brebro

    While I do love this film, I agree about the “King of the Forest” song being a real momentum killer. I really, really hate that whole part of the film and remember as a kid just wishing they would tell him to shut and just get in to see the wizard already. A lot of beloved fantasy/musical/childhood films seem to have that one song too many that drags the whole production to a halt and I wished I could skip over in those pre-Fast Forward days. Two others that come to mind are the “Cheer Up Charlie” song from WIllie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and that pointless “I Could Be Santa Claus” song that Shirley Booth/Mrs. Claus sings in “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”

    I also thought this film should have more repercussions for Glinda for being such a liar and putting Dorothy through all that crap for nothing.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I also thought this film should have more repercussions for Glinda for being such a liar and putting Dorothy through all that crap for nothing.

    Or any repercussions at all.

  19. brebro

    Yes. I meant “more” in the sense that any is more than none.

  20. brebro

    I also thought that SNL sketch brought up a good point about Glinda’s passive-aggressive hostility toward Dorothy.:

    Glinda: “Only bad witches are ugly.”

    Dorothy: ““Oh… Hey, wait a second! You just asked if I was a bad witch! What are you trying to say?”

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.