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Dorothy (Judy Garland), a young Kansan
farmgirl, and her dog Toto are whisked away by a tornado in her aunt and
uncle's house to the land of Oz, where the house lands upon and kills the
Wicked Witch of the East. Disliking the colorful world around her, Dorothy
desires to go home, but not knowing how to do so, she sets out to inquire about
the means of returning to Kansas from the Wizard of Oz, who resides in the
Emerald City. On her way there, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and
the Cowardly Lion, who accompany her on her journey, despite the threats made
against the group by the Wicked Witch of the West, who is angry with Dorothy
for having killed her sister, the Witch of the East.
Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz is
a lavish, beautiful film. The painted backdrops are stunning. The sets are
vibrant and colorful. The Emerald City is a marvelous Art Deco wonder, and the
castle of the Wicked Witch of the West is a dark, forbidding place guarded by
green faced, chanting halberdiers and colorfully uniformed flying monkeys.
While the narrative is engaging in its own right, its appeal is greatly
enhanced by the film's visual beauty, which so captivates the viewer that he is
drawn into the movie's unique world and is readily excited and fascinated by
the events depicted.
The film does, however, have a number of faults. Both the script
and the acting are annoyingly smarmy and falsely adorable. From the cute turns
of phrase frequently employed to the affected, syrupy mannerisms adopted by the
actors, the movie wallows in its own mawkishness. The Munchkins, in particular,
are grating. They speak in excruciating, artificially high pitched voices and
ooze saccharine from every pore on their waddling frames. Dorothy's companions
are only marginally less irritating. While they are visually well conceived,
their forced cuteness quickly grows tiresome.
Although the movie's constant adorableness is certainly its most
severe problem, the film is further weakened by its distracting conceit that
the events depicted as occurring in Oz were a dream. Even as a child, I found
this particular element forced, silly, and trite. To make matters worse, the
director has used this device to imbue the film's concluding scene with a false
sentimentality that can leave the viewer with a foul, sugary aftertaste.
Visually enthralling and narratively engaging, The Wizard of
Oz could easily have been a truly great film, but it is so self consciously
sweet that it is frequently unpalatable.
Review by Keith Allen
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