The Wizard of Oz is by far Judy Garland's most renowned film. This is the one she will be known for above all others. Hardcore fans may prefer her accomplishments in later film roles or her legendary concert appearances, but it is The Wizard of Oz that is loved by all and is in a class of its own.
Most of us are first introduced to The Wizard of Oz as children. We
become adults with the film so firmly embedded in our psyches, that when a reference is made (as it is on an almost daily basis these days) to/or about the film in all the various outlets of our pop culture, we know exactly what's being referenced. We can see and hear that scene in our minds. "I'll get you my pretty! And your little dog, too!"; "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!"; "I'm melting!" are just a few of the quotes that have instant recognition for us. Calling someone a "Wicked Witch" or saying (as brilliantly delivered in the Tim Burton film Beetlejuice) "She's just mad because somebody dropped a house on her sister!", need no explanation. The characters, imagery, dialog, and music are recognized by anyone over a few year's of age, and we keep all of this with us throughout our lives. As children we use the film to yearn to go "Over the Rainbow" where Dorothy went, as adults we use the film to look back wistfully on the innocence of childhood. Some of us look at the film as a representation of the young unencumbered Judy Garland at the beginning of her international fame. Others see it as the apex of what the Hollywood "studio system" of the 1930's could achieve. In addition to all of that, The Wizard of Oz stands on its own as a masterpiece of Hollywood filmmaking and movie musicals.
Part of the enduring appeal and longevity of the film is due to Judy's sometimes underrated performance. She works so well with the rest of the cast, and the film as a whole, that it's easy to overlook her contributions. That's not to say that anything else in the film is of lesser or greater value. Everything in the film works perfectly. "Perfect" is the best word to describe the The Wizard of Oz. The cast is perfect. The score is perfect. The cinematography is perfect. The costumes are perfect. The script is perfect. The few minor faults the film might have don't impede on its working as a whole. It's due to this, and the magic of L. Frank Baum's original book, that the film continues to invoke strong emotions from viewers of all ages.
Entire thesis' have been written about the film and why it works and why it's still the Number One Fantasy Film of All Time (thank you, American Film Institute). Several wonderful books, including a new one for its 2009 70th anniversary, have been written that detail the making of the film with tons of great information and photos (see the media section). I could populate an entire website devoted entirely to the film, but there are already several great OZ sites out there, so it would be redundant to even try and compete with these sites and the aforementioned books. Because this is a Judy Garland site, the main focus here is on Judy and her part in the film - with fun factoids, data, and of course photos!
Example of the brilliant use of matte paintings combined with sets to create the enduring images of The Wizard of Oz
For Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz was the perfect project for her in 1938. She was at the right age to believably convey Dorothy's yearning and wistfulness without sinking to the all-too-cutesy trap that many child stars would have done. It's a part of film legend now that the original Dorothy was in fact a blonde all-too-cutesy Judy. The first director, Richard Thorpe, reportedly had Judy acting in an overly fancy manner. When Thorpe was taken off the film, George Cukor was brought on board and in the few days he worked on the film he managed to change the appearance of most of the main characters, including removing Judy's blonde wig and most of her make-up, and telling her "Remember, you're just a little girl from Kansas." These seemingly minor contributions would have a huge impact on the overall effectiveness of the film.
It's safe to say that Judy's performance, and the rest of the film, will remain timeless. The Wizard of Oz is that rare combination of talent and technical wizardry that, briefly, came together to create something magical: a film that's forever lasting, forever magical, and forever timeless.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This section of The Judy Room spotlights The Wizard of Oz by presenting a production history, photos, timeline, factoids, media information, external links (for more complete data), and more - all in celebration of this timeless classic. Which, by the way, is estimated to have been seen by more people than any other film in history!