From the opening views of the farm in sepia tones to the incredibly short closing credits, you have to admit: there’s no other movie like The Wizard of Oz. They knew it then, too. Could be that’s why no one has ever attempted a remake.
I bought the 70th Anniversary Edition the other day, which WB just released this year. Kay came over to watch it with me last night. So many memories…I remember going to Mary Sue and Wendy’s house next door one year; they were the only people we knew at the time who had a color TV set. I’ll never forget it. The musical motif for the witch’s entrances, her laugh, when Miss Gulch turned into the hag during the tornado, when she turned to the camera and laughed at Dorothy through that magic glass thingy, when she wrote “SURRENDER DOROTHY” in the sky** — it all frightened me to death. Anyway…
You won’t believe the picture quality. I took a screen shot from the Flash movie on the Warner Bros. website that shows the comparison between the 2005 restoration and the latest one.
Such clarity. The way her shoes sparkled, the greens (especially the greens, yikes) — all incredibly bright. The groundbreaking techniques MGM used to incorporate Technicolor — then a brand new effect — into a black and white film made the movie even more of an elite fantasy; something no one had ever seen before.
The accompanying bonus disc was quite interesting. Many of us know the basic trivia (Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man but was hospitalized for weeks for breathing in the aluminum dust from the makeup; Shirley Temple was asked to play Dorothy, but Fox wouldn’t loan her out; Bert Lahr’s lion costume weighed 90-some lbs.), but here are some facts you may not know:
- Richard Thorpe, the film’s first director, had Judy Garland wearing a long, wavy blond wig, and heavy “baby doll” makeup. When he was fired, George Cukor came in and declared that Dorothy should “just be herself.” The resulting look is what you see today.
- “Over the Rainbow” was cut from the original 1939 release; Louis B. Mayer feared it slowed the pace of the movie, and that it was undignified to have a movie star sing such a beautiful song in a barnyard. Thank the gods (and exec producer Arthur Freed) it was added back into the rerelease in the 40s. Kay and I are both amazed to this day by how a 16-year-old girl pulled off that gorgeous song as no one else has since. She could teach all the American Idol teenyboppers — and the rest of us, too — a huge lesson in professionalism and style. I think few really realize how talented she was.
- Ray Bolger was originally slated to play the Tin Man. He just couldn’t see himself in the role, being a dancer, and, in his mind, perfect for the part of the Scarecrow. He went personally, with his wife for moral support, to the producers and lobbied his case. (He won.)
- There were entire sections of the plot that never made the final cut, although some lines that refer to these scenes remain in the film.
- Ray Bolger and Jack Haley (the Tin Man) were the highest-paid stars on the set. They each got $3,000 a week. (Judy Garland made $500 a week.)
- Judy was put on diet pills in order to keep the weight off before and during production. One has to wonder if that was a dangerous beginning of sorts. Certainly, the end came all too soon for her. A heartbreaking tragedy.
- W. C. Fields was originally asked to play the Wizard, but he wanted too much money. I think they got a way better deal with Frank Morgan, don’t you? He ended up playing five different roles in the film.
There are dozens more of these entertaining factoids; too many to list in one post. I say you should rent/buy this DVD (I paid only $15 for it at Target) and enjoy some memories of your own.
** The skywriting bit was filmed by holding a camera beneath a glass table and having someone write “Surrender Dorothy” on it using a syringe full of ink.