Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Initially I had little interest in covering movies like this, wanting to focus on movies I HAVEN'T seen, but it was on TBS the other day, and what the hell ...

Just about everyone has seen the Wizard. It has become part of our cultural language. It has been referenced, spoofed, and copied in more places than can be counted. The movie connections link on IMDB goes on and on, and I'm certain I can find references that were missed. But, for the benthic organisms in the audience, allow me to summarize the story.

Hot chick runs away from home and finds a lonely old con man and says she wants to run away with him. He, for reasons that escape me, convinces her to go home. During a tornado, no less. She returns home and cannot find her family. She gets knocked on the head and falls asleep. She wakes in the technicolor land of Oz. Midgets and a drag queen tell her that a lonely old con man might help her get home, so she goes looking for him after stealing the shoes of a woman she killed.

Along the way she meets up with three magical creatures, one that represents a heartless father figure, another a mindless sack of hay, and a third the courage to do the deed. After a pit stop in an opium den and an experience with some "snow", they arrive at the Emerald City to beg free gifts from the wizard. He asks for an old woman's broom in exchange.

Off they go to steal the broom from the sister of the murdered woman. After the hot chick is captured by flying monkeys, the magical creatures go in to save her. During the rescue the hot chick dumps acid on the old woman, killing her. The guards quickly realize that they aren't going to get paid anymore, so they let her plunder the castle.

The con man of Oz tries to renege on his agreement, so the magical creatures rough him up. They get their booty, but before the hot chick gets safe passage back to Kansas (seriously, she wants to go to Kansas), he makes his escape in a hot air balloon. Just then the drag queen from earlier arrives to tell her he's been jerking her around the whole time and she always could have gone home, phych! Meanwhile, the magical creatures take control of Oz and rule it with an iron fist.

I have a few observations from this viewing. While there are many elements that make this movie work, one I don't think gets enough attention is the work of Margaret Hamilton. As Elmira Gulch, she's a nasty bitch. As the Wicked Witch, she deliciously evil. An unattractive woman, even in complementary makeup, Hamilton was captivating in every scene she was in. If there could have been any acting awards (there weren't, let's be serious), it would have been for her. I would totally buy her crappy coffee. I will say, however, that the witch constantly calling Dorothy "pretty" made me uncomfortable.

One more thing. Early in the film, Glinda establishes that only bad witches are ugly. She then proceeds to ask Dorothy if she is a good witch or a bad witch. Hmmmm. Sounds to me like the old lady had an axe to grind.

AFI called it the number one fantasy film. I don't know about that. Premiere Magazine, however, rated it as one of the 20 most overrated films of all time. That may be so, but it's still a good movie. While watching it I wondered if the Wizard of Oz would have been the Wizard of Oz, if it weren't the Wizard of Oz. Something to think about. AMRU 4. You must see it again. You have no choice.

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