Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie and Book – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What can be written about The Wizard of Oz that hasn’t already been said in any of the many, many extras and stories and documentaries on the making and history of it?  Those have covered everything from the happy (impact on children) to the sordid (Garland being on drugs to make it through the long working hours) to the ridiculous (Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon supposedly being written to sync up with it – it wasn’t).  There’s no way to top those, especially the Pink Floyd one, but I can write about the personal aspects of it.  I can also write about the far less well known book upon which it was based.

Note – if you’ve somehow never seen this movie there will be spoilers in this post since I need to compare the ending of the film with the fact that the story in the book continues on to other adventures.

When I was growing up there were only the three basic broadcast channels – NBC, ABC and CBS.  There were some things you could count on with them: they would show cartoons every Saturday morning; they would show Christmas specials every December; and there were a small set of movies they would show once every year.  The Wizard of Oz was one of those.

This meant that an entire generation (and maybe more) grew up seeing the film as children, and watching it year after year.  It would be exciting to know it was coming on in a few nights.  And it was actually broadcast at a time where kids could watch the whole thing before their bedtimes.

What all of this means is that it is impossible for me to be objective with this movie as an adult watcher.  Sure, I can intellectually acknowledge that it really is a simple story just made for kids.  There’s overacting in it, especially with the Cowardly Lion.  There’s not much doubt about what’s going to happen at the end.  None of that means anything to me because when I’ve happened to see it as an adult all the emotional connections made as a child come back to me.

So, if you never saw this film until you were a fully grown and jaded adult cinephile then I can understand if your reaction was along the lines of “That’s it?  That’s the movie that has received all the hype over the years?”

One of the things the film was celebrated for was the fantastic colors. The scene where the door opens to Oz and the films transitions from black and white to color is quite something.  Here’s the thing: most of the years I was growing up watching this I never got to see that.  My family didn’t have a lot of money.  All we had in the house was a black and white TV, so most of the times I have seen this film it was never in color.  When I finally did get to see it in color it was quite something.

I remember one time when I was really little I was scared when they first met Oz and the Cowardly Lion ran away and jumped out through a window.  Apparently my mother thought I was too scared so she made me stop watching it and go to bed.  Note to parents: the worst possible time to put a kid to bed is right after he’s just been scared out of his wits by a movie, especially if you let him watch 5-10 more minutes to see that everything will be okay.

At some point in my later childhood I happened upon a book copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel.  I read a lot growing up so I sat down and made my way through it.  I noticed small differences here and there – the biggest early on being no ruby red slippers – but imagine my surprise when the book came to where the movie ended and I found there was another entire section of the story that the film never showed us.

Either for time or budgeting reasons the film sends Dorothy back to Kansas right after the Wizard has taken off in his balloon.  Glinda shows up, tells Dorothy about the slippers, and we end happily ever after.  In the book Glinda never shows up.  Dorothy and the others now travel to meet Glinda – the Good Witch of the South.  That’s not a typo; in the book it’s someone else who is the Good Witch of the North.  In fact, the recent prequel Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) confused some people by having Glinda correctly presented as the Good Witch of the South.

On their way to Glinda there are other dangers, like Hammerheads – beings who can rapidly stretch their necks to strike people with their heads.  Maybe it was figured there was no way to shoot this in 1939, or maybe the filmmakers just figured the story had gone on long enough and they cut out an entire large piece of the tale.

If you have a child who loves this movie and you want to give them a pleasant surprise (and show them how much more you can get from reading) then give them a copy of this book.  It probably won’t have the impact it does in the movie Zardoz (1974), but it might just get them into reading more.  And if your child likes this book then there is a whole series of Oz novels written by L. Frank Baum.  I have only read the first and most famous one. 

In regards to film versions I have not seen the 1985 movie Return to Oz nor the 1978 film The Wiz, so I cannot comment on them.  I do recommend 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful.  It does a good job with filling in how the man we meet in Emerald City came to be who he is.  Finally, I have seen the 1910 short film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the oldest surviving motion picture version.  I have embedded it at the bottom of this post, if you want to see it. 

If you have children then I highly recommend you introduce them to this film, old as it may be.  I think there’s something in it that most any child, even the most technologically and socially plugged in ones, can appreciate.  And if you’ve never watched it since you were a child yourself, well, just realize that there may be places that you now see it differently as an adult, but hopefully there will also be places where it will be able to recapture the magic for you.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


  1. Right or wrong, I'm of the opinion that you probably shouldn't trust someone who doesn't like The Wizard of Oz at least a little bit.

    For what it's worth, my mom has a complete set of the Oz books. Shame on me that I lived with them for years and never read them.

    1. I can't remember where I ran across the copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that I read. I don't think I knew there were other Oz books until many years later - maybe when The Return to Oz came out.

      In regards to early 20th century book series, I own and have read all eleven of The Martian Tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And years ago I tracked down most or all of the Lensman series by E.E. Doc Smith because Robert Heinlein had often mentioned reading them when he was young. I've never gotten around to reading them myself, though.

    2. I grew up on the John Carter books, not that Carter is the central character in about half of them. I realize as an adult that they are pulp crap, but I love them anyway.

  2. My experience with this film was similar to yours. We had a black and white set when I was small and we watched The Wizard of Oz every year. When we got a color TV, the movie started as usual, but when Dorothy goes to Oz-the movie turned to color and truly became downright magical! In the days before home video, watching it every spring was truly a spring ritual.

    1. I was struggling to remember when it came on every year. Thanks for filling in that blank.

  3. Wizard of Oz (1939) has a special place in my heart as well, so I too cannt be objective. It's a film that makes brilliant use of color and b/w, in how the story plays out. Never knew there was a Wizard of Oz from 1910! Gonna give that a look today

    1. I believe there was also a silent version in the 1920's. If so I haven't seen it. There was also a TV miniseries titled Tin Man that reimagined the story as science fiction, not fantasy. I haven't seen that, either, although it sat in my Netflix Instant queue for some time before disappearing.