The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Directed by Victor Fleming

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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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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