Directed by: Victor Fleming
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke
Well, that venerable—and slightly ossified—American institution The Wizard of Oz is 70 years old. To celebrate the occasion, the Fathom Events people are showing the movie—one-time only—in a local theater. Now, when the film was a mere 60 years old, the studio actually gave it a full-blown re-release in a newly restored, remastered, digitized version, which turned out to be such a lousy job of digitizing (anything that wasn’t in close-up looked awful) that this scaled back celebration is probably wise. (And with advances in technology will almost certainly look better than the 1999 re-issue.)
If you’ve never seen the old TV warhorse on the big screen, you really should. It’s revelatory—though not in a necessarily good way. The cramped nature of the soundstage sets becomes painfully obvious when you can see where the sets end and the painted backdrops begin. Also, the truly ugly color scheme of Munchkin Land (who in the hell picked those colors?) is positively overwhelming when seen large. (Actually, these are not atypical colors for MGM at that time.) Some things, of course, do improve. The Wizard’s receiving room is pretty magnificent-looking, with its bursting flames, distorted imagery and artificially booming voice. The Witch’s castle and her winged monkeys are also impressive. In fact, nearly all of the film’s horrific aspects are pretty terrific on the big screen, while nearly all of its attempts at whimsy are even lamer and heavier-handed than they are on TV.
Let’s face it, the movie is an unassailable “classic,” and we’ve grown to accept it for what it is, boosted by the fact that some of its imagery is truly iconic. But it’s really not a very good movie and it never was. The best thing in it is Garland singing “Over the Rainbow”—a sequence ironically shot by King Vidor and not-credited director Victor Fleming—which is also the only truly distinguished song in the film. (I could happily never hear “If I Were King of the Forest” again, but then I could live without ever encountering Bert Lahr again, if it came to that.) But really, the movie’s such a legendary item that no one is likely to look at it through anything other than the rose- (or ruby-) colored glasses of the nostalgia of our collective childhood. So go see it and celebrate whatever it means to you.
The Wizard of Oz will be shown by Fathom Events at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14 on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.