Posts Tagged ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Movie Reviews 465 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

January 15, 2021

I have to confess that I’ve never watched The Wizard of Oz until now. To some this may sound shocking given its popularity and taking into consideration my fondness for all things quirky and surreal, especially science fiction. Part of my disinterest is because it is such a famous film and original story and, as such, I’ve been exposed to snippets, stills and general discussions regarding the film as well as homages and parodies for as long as I can remember. It almost felt like I had seen it without actually sitting through a viewing. Other factors that have fuelled my indifference include the adolescent target audience of the story (it is based on a series of children’s books), and the fantasy aspects as I’ve always been more a fan of (hard) science fiction and horror when it comes to genres. Lastly and more tellingly, this film is a musical above all else, which again is not my cup of tea when it comes to films. (I have never watched The Sound of Music either to put it in context.)

Given its universal awareness, I won’t bother retelling the salient aspects of the story because it would be a wasted effort for the most part. Suffice it to say: Little girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) living on remote Kansas farm is swept up in a tornado with her dog Toto, land in a surreal fairy tale territory with Munchkins and wicked witches (Margaret Hamilton), acquires a set of ruby slippers and is soon joined by a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr), scarecrow without a brain (Ray Bolger) and tin man lacking a heart (Jack Haley) as they all follow a yellow brick road in search of a wizard overlord of sorts. Google the rest to fill in the blanks.

What I can say now having watched it is that, as suspected, there was not much new for me to enjoy. I had already seen the entire Munchkin sequence at some point or another and in fact was surprised that there was only that one sequence. I was under the impression that there would be a lot more than what amounts to little more than a song and dance routine. As for those ‘songs and dances’ for the movie as a whole it appears that with the exception of one (the tin man introduction), I had also already seen and heard them all. Not surprisingly, the one sequence I never saw was the weakest, which may explain why I had never come across it. The only major scenes that have never come up in film documentaries and such was the final meeting with the wizard, which was fairly anticlimactic given the lengthy build up to it. (Spoiler Alert: the Wizard was not omnipotent after all and does little more than give everyone a pat on the head.)

On a positive note, I can easily see why the film is so beloved to some, especially given the era it was released and the state of film-making at the time. The sets are glorious and imaginative and are as colorful as ever. I should point out here that my DVD was the 70th Anniversary  edition which was released after a lengthy, exhaustive restoration, and discussed in a featurette on the set. (No, I did not try out the ‘sing along’ feature on the DVD.) Even the makeup and special effects sequences (flying helmeted apes!) still hold up.

One aspect that I reflected on as I watched was how the film has been so ingrained in the arts and media, more so than I realized. Aside from some of the obvious attributions, my previous review of Zardoz in the post prior to this post one being one, and Under the Rainbow a bit earlier (both of which reminded me I should finally get around to watch Oz proper), there were some I had not really picked up on before. Only now do I see how the H.R. Pufnstuf kiddie show was a riff on Oz in so many ways. Or how the animated voice of Snagglepuss was just an imitation of Bert Lahr’s lion. (Truth be told, Bert Lahr used that voice and intonation all the time, so the lion was really Bert, not the other way around).

The question that I sought to answer when I watched this, namely do I ‘Need’ to see this, comes down to a resounding No. I was not bedazzled or surprised by anything I saw. There was little that was new, and those parts were not particularly entertaining. That is not to say it was a bad movie in any way, rather a victim of its own success, the pervasive media references slicing away at the significance of the film.

Oddly (to add one more oddity to such an odd movie to begin with), my DVD set has another film, The Dreamer of Oz, on the second, extra disc. This was a 1990 TV movie based on the life of L. Frank Baum who wrote Oz. I do recall watching it at the time, one surprising sequence of how Baum got to call it “OZ” being particularly unforgettable. I honestly have more interest in rewatching that than The Wizard of Oz.

One final note. The famous line “Click your heels three times and say ‘There’s no place like home.’ “ has much less of an impact in our current pandemic homebound state.

Movie Reviews 443 – Under the Rainbow (1981)

July 31, 2020

Under the Rainbow is one of the oddest and most un-PC films I’ve ever watched on the big screen as a teen, but for reasons that confound me I never forgot about it and had to see it again, if for no other reason than to confirm it wasn’t something I just dreamed up. I recall a lazy afternoon where a friend and I were scouring the “Now Playing” section of the local newspaper – that’s how we did it in those pre-computer, pre-Internet days – and deciding to go see it as there was nothing else of interest we hadn’t already seen. So this was already a non-standard movie going affair from the start. The only notable attraction in the film ad was that it starred Carrie Fisher, still riding high on her Star Wars notoriety. It also listed Chevy Chase but even then that was no draw for myself as I already loathed him as a comedian whose only track record was being the former SNL news anchorman. I hadn’t heard hide nor hair about it since then. One of those films shuffled under the rugs.

The title is a play on Over the Rainbow, the theme song of The Wizard of Oz movie and it is the behind the scenes filming of that film that is the setting for this comedy. To be precise, it is largely focused on the 150 ‘vertically challenged’ actors that were hired to portray the diminutive “Munchkins” in The Wizard of Oz. If legend and gossip are to be believed, those hired Munchkins, holed up in a hotel for months on end as the gruelling shooting for Oz wore on, were a drunken hoard of sex crazed maniacs that partied throughout the night and consistently got into trouble both on and off the set. In fact, a chaperone of sorts was hired to control and contain them lest their antics hold up shooting even longer.

This brings us to Under the Rainbow where that exasperated chaperone Annie (Fisher) shepherds the ‘little people’ into the Culver Hotel just across the studio where OZ is being filmed. There are only two other groups staying in the hotel. The first are a bus full of temporarily stranded Japanese tourists, all men wearing traditional white suits, a point that will be significant later. The second group is a travelling Austrian Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) under the protective custody of U.S. Secret Service agent Thorpe (Chase), given worries of an assassin on the duke’s trail and the impending breakout of World War II.

Together these three groups will the intricately intertwined when Otto, a Lilliputian Nazi secret agent (Billy Barty), is scheduled to hand over U.S. invasion plans to a Japanese counter-agent (Mako) in the very same hotel. Otto is told to make contact with a white suited Japanese man, while the other is to look for a midget (their term, not mine). While both evil agents try to sort out which of the myriad other hotel guests are their supposed contacts, agent Thorpe fumbles at protecting his monarch charge while a real assassin hopelessly navigates the boisterous and meddlesome hotel invasion.

Yes, there are a lot of contrived and hokey wee folks slapstick, lame jokes, and even and oft scantily clad Fisher whose wardrobe is right up there with her golden bikini from The Empire Strike Back. Chevy Chase is … well Chevy Chase. And the film has one of those silly grand finale chase scenes where everyone heads from the hotel to the Oz film set to wreak havoc not only on OZ but Gone With the Wind.

But the film does have some genuinely funny scenes, a neat ‘wrap-around’ story with a short actor hoping for a Hollywood gig which kinda works, a recurring gag regarding the Duke’s wife’s dog ‘Strudel’, and some nice weaving of words in multilayered script.that play on the overlapping plot points.

Definitely an anachronistic oddity, and probably not for everyone, but sometimes this is exactly the kind of movie one needs for a change.

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