The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical comedy-drama fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the most well-known and commercially successful adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. The co-stars are Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton, with Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe and Clara Blandick, Terry the dog (billed as Toto), and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins.
The film begins in Kansas, depicted in a sepia tone. Dorothy Gale lives with her dog Toto on the farm of her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Dorothy's dog gets in trouble with a mean neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, when Toto bites her. However, Dorothy's family and the farmhands are all too busy to pay attention to her. Miss Gulch arrives with permission from the sheriff to have Toto destroyed. She takes him away, but he escapes and returns to Dorothy, who then decides to run away from home, fearing that Gulch will return.
They meet Professor Marvel, a phony but kindly fortune teller, who realizes Dorothy has run away and tricks her via his crystal ball into believing that Aunt Em is ill so that she must return home. She races home just as a powerful tornado strikes. Unable to get into her family's storm cellar, she seeks safety in her bedroom. A wind-blown window sash hits her in the head, knocking her out. The house is picked up and sent spinning in the air by the twister. Inside the storm outside the window, she awakens and sees an elderly lady in a chair, several farm animals, two men rowing a boat, and Miss Gulch (still pedaling her bicycle), who transforms into a cackling witch flying on a broomstick.
The farmhouse crashes in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz, where the film changes to Technicolor. Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins welcome her as their heroine, as the house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, leaving only her stocking feet exposed. The Wicked Witch of the West, arrives to claim her sister's ruby slippers, but Glinda transports them onto Dorothy's feet first. The Wicked Witch of the West swears revenge on Dorothy for her sister's death. Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz might be able to help her get back home.
On her way, Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, the Tin Woodman, who desires a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who is in need of courage. Dorothy invites each of them to accompany her. After the Witch attempts to stop them several times, they finally reach the Emerald City. Inside, after being initially rejected, they are permitted to see the Wizard (who appears as a large head surrounded by fire). He agrees to grant their wishes when they bring him the Witch of the West's broomstick.
On their journey to the Witch's castle, the group passes through the Haunted Forest, while the Witch views their progress through a crystal ball. She sends her winged monkeys to harass Dorothy where they capture both Dorothy and Toto. At the castle, the Witch plans to have Toto drowned, but she tries to get the slippers off Dorothy, resulting the Witch to be painfully shocked by the slippers' magic shock, then remembers that Dorothy must be dead first. Toto escapes and leads her friends to the castle. After ambushing three Winkie guards, they march inside wearing the stolen uniforms and free her, but the Witch discovers them and traps them. However, the Scarecrow uses the Tin Man's axe to cut a rope nearby and send gigantic chandelier, swinging overhead, down onto The Witch's soldiers, knocking them to the floor and the quartet attempt to escape. The Witch and her guards chase them through the castle, across battlements and finally surround them. When the Witch sets fire to the Scarecrow, Dorothy puts out the flames with a bucket of water, accidentally splashing the Witch, causing her to melt away, leaving only her robes, pointed hat and the broomstick. The guards rejoice that she is dead and give Dorothy the charred broomstick in gratitude.
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard delays granting their requests. Then Toto pulls back a curtain and exposes the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man who has been projecting the fearsome image; he denies Dorothy's accusation that he is a bad man, but admits to being a humbug. He then gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a ticking heart-shaped watch, granting their wishes and convincing them that they have received what they sought. He then prepares to launch his hot air balloon to take Dorothy home, but Toto chases a cat, Dorothy follows, and the balloon leaves without them as the Wizard states that he is unable to bring it back down. Suddenly, Glinda returns and tells her that she can still return home by using the Ruby Slippers. Following Glinda's instructions, Dorothy taps her heels together three times and repeats, "There's no place like home". At the end of the film, Dorothy taps her heels together and wakes up, surrounded by her family, the farmhands, Professor Marvel, and Toto. Though her family and friends dismiss her adventure as a dream, Dorothy insists that it was all real, and that there really is no place like home.
- Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale
- Frank Morgan as Wizard of Oz (character)/Professor Marvel/Doorman/Cabbie/Guard/Doctor
- Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow/Hunk
- Jack Haley as Tin Woodman/Hickory
- Bert Lahr as Cowardly Lion/Zeke
- Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch of the North
- Margaret Hamilton as Wicked Witch of the West /Miss Almira Gulch
- Clara Blandick as Aunt Em
- Charley Grapewin as Uncle Henry
- Pat Walshe as Nikko (the Winged Monkey King)
- Terry as Toto
- Mitchell Lewis as the Winkie Guard Captain (credited only in the IMAX version)
- Charlie Becker as Munchkin Mayor
- Meinhardt Raabe as Munchkin Coroner
- Jakob "Jackie" Gerlich as Lollipop Guild/Munchkin
- Jerry Maren as Lollipop Guild/Munchkin
- Billy Curtis as Braggart Munchkin
- Harry Monty as Soldier/Winged Monkey
- Mickey Carroll as Fiddler/Town Crier/Soldier
- Karl Slover as Lead trumpeter/Soldier/"Sleepyhead"/Villager
- Olga C. Nardone as the Littlest Lullaby League
- Margaret Pellegrini as "Sleepyhead"
- Ruth Duccini as a Munchkin Villager
- The Doll Family as Munchkin Villagers
- The Singer Midgets as the Munchkins
Development and preproduction
Development of the film started when Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs showed that films adapted from popular children's stories and fairytale folklore could be successful. In January 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to the hugely popular novel from Samuel Goldwyn, who had toyed with the idea of making the film as a vehicle for Eddie Cantor, who was under contract to the Goldwyn studios and whom Goldwyn wanted to cast as the Scarecrow.
The script went through a number of writers and revisions before the final shooting. Originally, Mervyn LeRoy's assistant William H. Cannon submitted a brief four-page outline. Because recent fantasy films had not fared well at the box office, he recommended that the magical elements of the story be toned down or eliminated. In his outline, the Scarecrow was a man so stupid that the only way he could get employment was to dress up as a scarecrow and scare away crows in a cornfield, and the Tin Woodman was a hardened criminal so heartless he was sentenced to be placed in a tin suit for eternity. The torture of being encased in the suit had softened him and made him gentle and kind. His vision was similar to Larry Semon's 1925 film adaptation of the story, in which the magical element is absent.
After that, LeRoy hired screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to work on a script. Despite Mankiewicz's notorious reputation at that time for being an alcoholic, he soon delivered a 17-page draft of the Kansas scenes, and a few weeks later, he handed in a further 56 pages. Noel Langley and poet Ogden Nash were also hired to write separate versions of the story. None of the three writers involved knew anyone else was working on a script, but it was not an uncommon procedure. Nash soon delivered a four-page outline, Langley turned in a 43-page treatment and a full film script. He turned in three more, this time incorporating the songs that had been written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. No sooner had he completed it than Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf submitted a script and were brought on board to touch up the writing. They would be responsible for making sure the story stayed true to the Baum book. However, producer Arthur Freed was unhappy with their work and reassigned it to Langley. During filming, Victor Fleming and John Lee Mahin revised the script further, adding and cutting some scenes. In addition, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr are known to have written some of their own dialogue for the Kansas sequence.
The final draft of the script was completed on October 8, 1938, following numerous rewrites. All in all, it was a mish-mash of many creative minds, but Langley, Ryerson, and Woolf got the film credits. Along with the contributors already mentioned, others who assisted with the adaptation without receiving official credit include: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Arthur Freed, Yip Harburg, Samuel Hoffenstein, Jack Mintz, Sid Silvers, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, and King Vidor.
In addition, songwriter Harburg's son (and biographer) Ernie Harburg reported:
- “So anyhow, Yip also wrote all the dialogue in that time and the setup to the songs and he also wrote the part where they give out the heart, the brains, and the nerve, because he was the final script editor. And he – there was eleven screenwriters on that – and he pulled the whole thing together, wrote his own lines and gave the thing a coherence and unity which made it a work of art. But he doesn't get credit for that. He gets lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, you see. But nevertheless, he put his influence on the thing.”
The original producers thought that a 1939 audience was too sophisticated to accept Oz as a straight-ahead fantasy; therefore, it was reconceived as a lengthy, elaborate dream sequence. Because of a perceived need to attract a youthful audience through appealing to modern fads and styles, the score originally featured a song called "The Jitterbug", and the script originally featured a scene with a series of musical contests. A spoiled, selfish princess in Oz had outlawed all forms of music except classical and operetta, and went up against Dorothy in a singing contest in which her swing style enchanted listeners and won the grand prize. This part was initially written for Betty Jaynes. The plan was later dropped.
Another scene, which was removed before final script approval and never filmed, was a concluding scene back in Kansas after Dorothy's return. Hunk (the Kansan counterpart to the Scarecrow) is leaving for agricultural college and extracts a promise from Dorothy to write to him. The implication of the scene is that romance will eventually develop between the two, which also may have been intended as an explanation for Dorothy's partiality for the Scarecrow over her other two companions. This plot idea was never totally dropped, but is especially noticeable in the final script when Dorothy, just before she is to leave Oz, tells the Scarecrow, "I think I'll miss you most of all."
In his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum describes Kansas as being "in shades of gray". Further, Dorothy lived inside a farmhouse which had its paint blistered and washed away by the weather, giving it an air of grayness. The house and property were situated in the middle of a sweeping prairie where the grass was burnt gray by harsh sun. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry were "gray with age". Effectively, the use of monochrome sepia tones for the Kansas sequences was a stylistic choice that evoked the dull and gray countryside. Much attention was given to the use of color in the production, with the MGM production crew favoring some hues over others. Consequently, it took the studio's art department almost a week to settle on the final shade of yellow used for the yellow brick road.
Mervyn LeRoy had always insisted that he wanted to cast Judy Garland to play Dorothy from the start; however, evidence suggests that negotiations occurred early in preproduction for Shirley Temple to be cast as Dorothy, on loan from 20th Century Fox. A persistent rumor also existed that Fox, in turn, promised Clark Gable and Jean Harlow as a loan from MGM. The tale is almost certainly untrue, as Harlow died in 1937, before MGM had even purchased the rights to the story. Despite this, the story appears in many film biographies (including Temple's own autobiography). The documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic states that Mervyn LeRoy was under pressure to cast Temple, then the most popular child star, but at an unofficial audition, MGM musical mainstay Roger Edens listened to her sing and felt that an actress with a different style was needed. Newsreel footage is included in which Temple wisecracks, "There's no place like home", suggesting that she was being considered for the part at that time. A possibility is that this consideration did indeed take place, but that Gable and Harlow were not part of the proposed deal.
Actress Deanna Durbin, who was under contract to Universal Studios, was also considered for the part of Dorothy. Durbin, at the time, far exceeded Garland in film experience and fan base and both had co-starred in a 1936 two-reeler titled Every Sunday. The film was most notable for exhibiting Durbin's operatic style of singing against Garland's jazzier style. Durbin was possibly passed over once it was decided to bring on Betty Jaynes, also an operatic singer, to rival Garland's jazz in the aforementioned discarded subplot of the film.
Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man and Buddy Ebsen was to play the Scarecrow. Bolger, however, longed to play the Scarecrow, as his childhood idol Fred Stone had done on stage in 1902; with that very performance, Stone had inspired him to become a vaudevillian in the first place. Now unhappy with his role as the Tin Man (reportedly claiming, "I'm not a tin performer; I'm fluid"), Bolger convinced producer Mervyn LeRoy to recast him in the part he so desired. Ebsen did not object; after going over the basics of the Scarecrow's distinctive gait with Bolger (as a professional dancer, Ebsen had been cast because the studio was confident he would be up to the task of replicating the famous "wobbly-walk" of Stone's Scarecrow), he recorded all of his songs, went through all the rehearsals as the Tin Man, and began filming with the rest of the cast.
Bert Lahr was signed for the Cowardly Lion on July 25, 1938; the next month, Charles Grapewin was cast as Uncle Henry on August 12.
W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, a role turned down by Ed Wynn as he thought the part was too small, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over Fields' fee; instead, another contract player, Frank Morgan, was cast on September 22.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch. She became unhappy when the witch's persona shifted from sly and glamorous (thought to emulate the wicked queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) into the familiar "ugly hag". She turned down the role and was replaced on October 10, 1938, just three days before filming started, by MGM contract player Margaret Hamilton. Sondergaard said in an interview for a bonus feature on the DVD that she had no regrets about turning down the part, and would go on to play a glamorous villain in Fox's version of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird in 1940; that same year, Margaret Hamilton played a role remarkably similar to the Wicked Witch in the Judy Garland film Babes in Arms.
According to Aljean Harmetz, when the wardrobe department was looking for a coat for Frank Morgan, they decided that they wanted a once-elegant coat that had "gone to seed". They went to a second-hand shop and purchased a whole rack of coats, from which Morgan, the head of the wardrobe department, and director Fleming chose one they thought had the perfect appearance of shabby gentility. One day, while he was on set wearing the coat, Morgan allegedly turned out one of the pockets and discovered a label indicating that the coat had once belonged to Oz author L. Frank Baum. Mary Mayer, a unit publicist for the film, contacted the tailor and Baum's widow, who both verified that the coat had indeed once belonged to the writer. After filming was completed, the coat was presented to Mrs. Baum. Baum biographer Michael Patrick Hearn disbelieves the story, it having been refuted by members of the Baum family, who never saw the coat or knew of the story, as well as by Margaret Hamilton, who considered it a concocted studio rumor.
Richard Thorpe as director
Filming commenced October 13, 1938, on the MGM lot in Culver City, California, under the direction of Richard Thorpe (replacing original director Norman Taurog, who filmed only a few early Technicolor tests and was then reassigned). Thorpe initially shot about two weeks of footage (9 days, total) involving Dorothy's first encounter with the Scarecrow, as well as a number of sequences in the Wicked Witch's castle, such as Dorothy's rescue (which, though unreleased, comprises the only footage of Buddy Ebsen's Tin Man).
According to most sources, 10 days into the shoot, Ebsen suffered a reaction to the aluminum powder makeup he wore; the powder he breathed in daily as it was applied had coated his lungs. Ebsen was hospitalized in critical condition, and subsequently was forced to leave the project; in a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of The Wizard of Oz), Ebsen recalled the studio heads initially disbelieving that he was seriously ill, realizing the extent of the actor's condition only when they showed up in the hospital as he was convalescing in an iron lung. Ebsen's sudden medical departure caused the film to shut down while a new actor was found to fill the part. No full footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released – only photographs taken during filming and test photos of different makeup styles remain. MGM did not publicize the reasons for Ebsen's departure until decades later, in a promotional documentary about the film. His replacement, Jack Haley, simply assumed he had been fired. Author and screen-writer George MacDonald Fraser offers an alternative story, told to him by Burt Lancaster's producing partner Jim Hill, that Ebsen had refused to be painted silver and was fired.
George Cukor's brief stint
Producer Mervyn LeRoy, after reviewing the footage and feeling Thorpe was rushing the production, adversely affecting the actors' performances, had Thorpe replaced. During reorganization on the production, George Cukor temporarily took over, under LeRoy's guidance. Initially, the studio had made Garland wear a blond wig and heavy "baby-doll" makeup, and she played Dorothy in an exaggerated fashion; now, Cukor changed Judy Garland's and Margaret Hamilton's makeup and costumes, and told Garland to "be herself". This meant that all the scenes Garland and Hamilton had already completed had to be discarded and refilmed. Cukor also suggested that the studio cast Jack Haley, on loan from 20th Century Fox, as the Tin Man. To keep down on production costs, Haley only rerecorded "If I Only Had a Heart" and solo lines during "The Jitterbug" and "If I Only Had the Nerve"; as such, Ebsen's voice can still be heard in the remaining songs featuring the Tin Man in group vocals. The makeup used for Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste, with a layer of clown white greasepaint underneath to protect his skin; although it did not have the same dire effect on Haley, he did at one point suffer an eye infection from it.
In addition, Ray Bolger's original recording of "If I Only Had a Brain" had been far more sedate compared to the version heard in the film; during this time, Cukor and LeRoy decided that a more energetic rendition would better suit Dorothy's initial meeting with the Scarecrow (initially, it was to contrast with his lively manner in Thorpe's footage), and was rerecorded as such. At first thought to be lost for over seven decades, a recording of this original version was rediscovered in 2009.
Victor Fleming, the main director
Cukor did not actually shoot any scenes for the film, merely acting as something of a "creative advisor" to the troubled production, and, because of his prior commitment to direct Gone with the Wind, he left on November 3, 1938, when Victor Fleming assumed the directorial responsibility. As director, Fleming chose not to shift the film from Cukor's creative realignment, as producer LeRoy had already pronounced his satisfaction with the new course the film was taking.
Production on the bulk of the Technicolor sequences was a long and cumbersome process that ran for over six months, from October 1938 to March 1939. Most of the actors worked six days a week and had to arrive at the studio as early as 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, to be fitted with makeup and costumes, and would not leave until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Cumbersome makeup and costumes were made even more uncomfortable by the daylight-bright lighting the early Technicolor process required, which could heat the set to over 100 °F (38 °C). According to Ray Bolger, most of the Oz principals were banned from eating in the studio's commissary due to their costumes. Margaret Hamilton's witch makeup meant that she could not eat solid food, so she practically lived on a liquid diet during filming of the Oz sequences. Additionally, it took upwards of 12 takes to have Dorothy's dog Toto run alongside the actors as they skipped down the yellow brick road.
All of the Oz sequences were filmed in three-strip Technicolor. The opening and closing credits, as well as the Kansas sequences, were filmed in black and white and colored in a sepia-tone process. Sepia-toned film was also used in the scene where Aunt Em appears in the Wicked Witch's crystal ball.
The massive shoot also proved to be somewhat chaotic. This was most evident when trying to put together the Munchkinland sequences. MGM talent scouts searched the country far and wide to come up with over a hundred little people who would make up the citizens of Munchkinland; this meant that most of the film's Oz sequences would have to already be shot before work on the Munchkinland sequence could begin. According to Munchkin actor Jerry Maren, the little people were each paid over $125 a week for their performances. Munchkin Meinhardt Raabe, who played the coroner, revealed in the 1990 documentary The Making of the Wizard of Oz that the MGM costume and wardrobe department, under the direction of designer Adrian, had to design over 100 costumes for the Munchkin sequences. They then had to photograph and catalog each Munchkin in his or her costume so that they could correctly apply the same costume and makeup each day of production.
Filming proved to be dangerous at times. Margaret Hamilton was severely burned in the Munchkinland scene. A concealed elevator was supposed to take her down while a bit of fire and smoke erupted to dramatize and conceal her exit. The first take ran like clockwork; however, in the DVD commentary, Hamilton states, "I had to stand on this dual elevator, that went down slowly or went down fast, and in this case it dropped out from under me, it left my feet and I followed it." The fire and smoke then erupted. However, for the second take, the timing was off, and Hamilton was exposed to the flames. The grease in her copper-based makeup caught fire and had to be completely and quickly removed before the ensuing second-degree burns on her hands and face could be treated. After spending six weeks in the hospital convalescing, she returned to filming.
King Vidor's finishing work as director
On February 12, 1939, Victor Fleming hastily replaced George Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind; the next day, King Vidor was assigned as director by the studio to finish the filming of The Wizard of Oz (mainly the sepia-toned Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow" and the tornado). In later years, when the film became firmly established as a classic, Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until after the death of his friend Fleming in 1949.
Principal photography concluded with the Kansas sequences on March 16, 1939; nonetheless, reshoots and pick-up shots were filmed throughout April and May and into June, under the direction of producer LeRoy. After the deletion of the "Over the Rainbow" reprise during subsequent test screenings in early June, Judy Garland had to be brought back one more time to reshoot the "Auntie Em, I'm frightened!" scene without the song; the footage of Clara Blandick's Auntie Em, as shot by Vidor, had already been set aside for rear-projection work, and was simply reused.
After Margaret Hamilton's torturous experience with the Munchkinland elevator, she refused to do the pick-ups for the scene in which she flies on a broomstick that billows smoke, so LeRoy chose to have stand-in Betty Danko perform the scene, instead; as a result, Danko was severely injured doing the scene due to a malfunction in the smoke mechanism.
At this point, the film began a long arduous postproduction. Herbert Stothart had to compose the film's background score, while A. Arnold Gillespie had to perfect the various special effects that the film required, including many of the rear projection shots. The MGM art department also had to create the various matte paintings for the background of many of the scenes.
One significant innovation planned for the film was the use of stencil printing for the transition to Technicolor. Each frame was to be hand-tinted to maintain the sepia tone; however, because this was too expensive and labor-intensive, it was abandoned and MGM used a simpler and less expensive variation of the process. During the reshoots in May, the inside of the farm house was painted sepia, and when Dorothy opens the door, it is not Garland, but her stand-in, Bobbie Koshay, wearing a sepia gingham dress, who then backs out of frame; once the camera moves through the door, Garland steps back into frame in her bright blue gingham dress (as noted in DVD extras), and the sepia-painted door briefly tints her with the same color before she emerges from the house's shadow, into the bright glare of the Technicolor lighting. This also meant that the reshoots provided the first proper shot of Munchkinland; if one looks carefully, the brief cut to Dorothy looking around outside the house bisects a single long shot, from the inside of the doorway to the pan-around that finally ends in a reverse-angle as the ruins of the house are seen behind Dorothy as she comes to a stop at the foot of the small bridge.
Test screenings of the film began on June 5, 1939. Oz initially was running nearly two hours long. LeRoy and Fleming knew that at least a quarter of an hour needed to be deleted to get the film down to a manageable running time, the average film in 1939 running just about 90 minutes. Three sneak previews in Santa Barbara, Pomona, and San Luis Obispo, California, helped guide LeRoy and Fleming in the cutting. Among the many cuts was "The Jitterbug" number, the Scarecrow's elaborate dance sequence following "If I Only Had a Brain", a reprise of "Over the Rainbow" and "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead", and a number of smaller dialogue sequences. This left the final, mostly serious portion of the film with no songs, only the dramatic underscoring.
One song that was almost deleted was "Over the Rainbow". MGM had felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being far over the heads of the target audience of children. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard. Producer Mervyn LeRoy, uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed, and director Victor Fleming fought to keep it in, and they all eventually won. The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song of the Year, and came to be identified so strongly with Garland herself that she made it her theme song. In 2004, the song was ranked no. 1 by the American Film Institute on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs list.
After the preview in San Luis Obispo in early July, The Wizard of Oz was officially released in August 1939 at its current 101-minute running time.
The film's first sneak preview was held in San Bernardino, California. The film was previewed in three test markets: on August 11, 1939, at Kenosha, Wisconsin and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, on August 12.
The Hollywood premiere was on August 15, 1939, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The New York City premiere, held at Loew's Capitol Theatre on August 17, 1939, was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They continued to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney's case for a second week and in Garland's to three (with Oz co-stars Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr replacing Rooney for the third and final week). The movie opened nationally on August 25, 1939.
According to MGM records, during the film's initial release, it earned $2,048,000 in the US and Canada and $969,000 in other countries throughout the world, resulting total earnings of $3,017,000. While these were considerable earnings, the high production cost, in association with various distribution and other costs, meant the movie initially recorded a loss of $1,145,000 for the studio. It did not show what MGM considered a profit until a 1949 rerelease earned an additional $1.5 million (about $15 million today). However, for all the risks and cost that MGM undertook to produce The Wizard of Oz, the picture was considered at least more successful than anyone thought it would be. According to Christopher Finch, author of the Judy Garland biography Rainbow: The Stormy Life Of Judy Garland, "Fantasy is always a risk at the box office. The Wizard of Oz had been enormously successful as a book, and it had also been a major stage hit, but previous attempts to bring it the screen had been dismal failures." Finch also writes that after the success of The Wizard of Oz, Garland signed a new contract with MGM giving her a substantial increase in salary, making her one of the top-ten box office stars in the United States.
The Wizard of Oz film received much acclaim upon its release. Frank Nugent considered the film a "delightful piece of wonder-working which had the youngsters' eyes shining and brought a quietly amused gleam to the wiser ones of the oldsters. Not since Disney's Snow White has anything quite so fantastic succeeded half so well." Nugent had issues with some of the film's special effects, writing, "with the best of will and ingenuity, they cannot make a Munchkin or a Flying Monkey that will not still suggest, however vaguely, a Singer's Midget in a Jack Dawn masquerade. Nor can they, without a few betraying jolts and split-screen overlappings, bring down from the sky the great soap bubble in which the Good Witch rides and roll it smoothly into place." According to Nugent, "Judy Garland's Dorothy is a pert and fresh-faced miss with the wonder-lit eyes of a believer in fairy tales, but the Baum fantasy is at its best when the Scarecrow, the Woodman, and the Lion are on the move."
Writing in Variety, John C. Flinn predicted that the film was "likely to perform some record-breaking feats of box-office magic," noting, "Some of the scenic passages are so beautiful in design and composition as to stir audiences by their sheer unfoldment." He also called Garland "an appealing figure" and the musical numbers "gay and bright."
Harrison's Reports wrote, "Even though some persons are not interested in pictures of this type, it is possible that they will be eager to see this picture just for its technical treatment. The performances are good, and the incidental music is of considerable aid. Pictures of this caliber bring credit to the industry."
"Leo the Lion is privileged to herald this one with his deepest roar - the one that comes from way down - for seldom if indeed ever has the screen been so successful in its approach to fantasy and extravaganza through flesh-and-blood," wrote Film Daily, adding that this "handsomely mounted fairy story in Technicolor, with its wealth of humor and homespun philosophy, its stimulus to the imagination, its procession of unforgettable settings, its studding of merry tunes should click solidly at the box-office."
Not all reviews were positive. Some moviegoers felt that a 16-year-old Judy Garland was slightly too old to play the little girl who Baum originally intended his Dorothy to be. Russell Maloney of The New Yorker wrote that the film displayed "no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity" and declared it "a stinkeroo," while Otis Ferguson of The New Republic wrote, "It has dwarfs, music, Technicolor, freak characters, and Judy Garland. It can't be expected to have a sense of humor, as well - and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet."
The Wizard of Oz placed seventh on Film Daily's year-end nationwide poll of 542 critics naming the best films of 1939.
Roger Ebert chose it as one of his Great Films, writing that "The Wizard of Oz has a wonderful surface of comedy and music, special effects and excitement, but we still watch it six decades later because its underlying story penetrates straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood, stirs them and then reassures them."
Writer Salman Rushdie acknowledged The Wizard of Oz was my very first literary influence" in his 2002 musings about the film. He has written: "When I first saw The Wizard of Oz, it made a writer of me." His first short story, written at the age of 10, was titled "Over the Rainbow".
In a 2009 retrospective article about The Wizard of Oz, San Francisco Chronicle film critic and author Mick LaSalle declared that the film's "entire Munchkinland sequence, from Dorothy's arrival in Oz to her departure on the yellow brick road, has to be one of the greatest in cinema history – a masterpiece of set design, costuming, choreography, music, lyrics, storytelling, and sheer imagination."
On the film critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, 99% of 109 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 9.4/10. The consensus reads: "An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old.". At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the movie received the maximum score of 100, based on four reviews, indicating "[u]niversal acclaim".
Although the 1949 re-issue used sepia tone, as in the original release, beginning with the 1955 re-issue, and continuing until the film's 50th anniversary VHS release in 1989, these opening Kansas sequences were shown in black and white instead of the sepia tone as originally printed. (This includes television showings.)
The MGM "Children's Matinees" series rereleased the film twice, in both 1970 and 1971. It was for this release that the film received a G rating from the MPAA.
For the film's upcoming 60th anniversary, it was given a "Special Edition" rerelease in the fall of 1998, digitally restored and with remastered audio.
In 2002, the film had a very limited rerelease in U.S. theaters.
On September 23, 2009, The Wizard of Oz was rereleased in select theaters for a one-night-only event in honor of the film's 70th anniversary and as a promotion for various new disc releases later in the month. An encore of this event was released in theaters on November 17, 2009.
An IMAX 3D theatrical rerelease played at 300 theaters in North America for one week only beginning September 20, 2013, as part of the film's 75th anniversary. Warner Bros. spent $25 million on advertising. The studio hosted a premiere of the film's first IMAX 3D release on September 15, 2013, from the newly remodeled TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the site of the Hollywood premiere of the original film) in Hollywood. The film was the first to play at the new theater and served as the grand opening of Hollywood's first 3D IMAX screen. The film was also shown as a special presentation at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
In 2013, in preparation for its IMAX 3-D release, The Wizard of Oz was submitted again to the MPAA for re-classification. According to MPAA rules, a film that has been altered in any way from its original version must be submitted for re-classification, as the 3-D conversion fell within that guideline. Surprisingly, the 3-D version received a PG rating for "Some scary moments", although no change was made to the film's original story content. The 2-D version of The Wizard of Oz still retains its G rating.
The film was rereleased on January 11 and 14, 2015, as part of the "TCM Presents" series by Turner Classic Movies.
The film was first shown on television on November 3, 1956, by CBS, as the last installment of the Ford Star Jubilee.
The Wizard of Oz was among the first videocassettes (on both VHS and Betamax format for the 1980 release) by MGM/CBS Home Video in 1980; all current home video releases are by Warner Home Video (via current rights holder Turner Entertainment). The first LaserDisc release of The Wizard of Oz was in 1982, with two versions of a second (one from Turner and one from The Criterion Collection with a commentary track) for the 50th-anniversary release in 1989, a third in 1991, a fourth in 1993, a fifth in 1995, and a sixth and final LaserDisc release on September 11, 1996.
Prior to the wide-home-video release in 1980, The Wizard of Oz was also released multiple times for the home-video commercial market (on a limited scale) on Super 8 film (8 mm format) during the 1970s. These releases include an edited English version (roughly 10 minutes, and roughly 20 minutes), as well as edited Spanish versions of the classic. Also, a full commercial release of The Wizard of Oz was made on Super 8 (on multiple reels) that came out in the 1970s, as well, for the commercial market.
In addition to VHS (and later, LaserDisc), the classic has been released multiple times during the 1980s on the Betamax format, beginning in 1980 simultaneously with the VHS release.
The movie was released for the first and only time on the CED format in 1982 by MGM/UA Home Video.
Outside of the North American and European markets, The Wizard of Oz has also been released multiple times on the Video CD format since the 1990s in Asia.
The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997, by MGM/Turner and contained no special features or supplements. It was rereleased by Warner Bros. for its 60th anniversary on October 19, 1999 (MGM/UA paid Turner/Warner Bros. $25 million in 1999 to end its distribution of its pre-1986 content), with its soundtrack presented in a new 5.1 surround sound mix. The monochrome-to-color transition was more smoothly accomplished by digitally keeping the inside of the house in monochrome while Dorothy and the reveal of Munchkinland are in color. The DVD also contained a behind-the-scenes documentary, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, produced in 1990 and hosted by Angela Lansbury, which was originally shown on television immediately after the 1990 telecast of The Wizard of Oz; it had been featured in the 1993 "Ultimate Oz" LaserDisc release. Out-takes, the deleted "Jitterbug" musical number, clips of pre-1939 Oz adaptations, trailers, newsreels, and a portrait gallery were also included, as well as two radio programs of the era publicizing the film.
In 2005, two DVD editions were released, both featuring a newly restored version of the film with audio commentary and an isolated music and effects track. One of the two DVD releases was a "Two-Disc Special Edition", featuring production documentaries, trailers, various outtakes, newsreels, radio shows and still galleries. The other set, a "Three-Disc Collector's Edition", included these features, as well as the digitally restored 80th-anniversary edition of the 1925 feature-length silent film version of The Wizard of Oz, other silent Oz movies, and a 1933 animated short version.
The Wizard of Oz was released on Blu-ray on September 29, 2009, for the film's 70th anniversary in a four-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition", including all the bonus features from the 2005 Collector's Edition DVD, new bonus features about Victor Fleming and the surviving Munchkins, the telefilm The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story, and the miniseries MGM: When the Lion Roars. For this edition, Warner commissioned a new transfer at 8K resolution from the original film negatives. The restoration job was given to Prime Focus World. This restored version also features a lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track. A DVD version was also released as a Two-Disc Special Edition and a Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition.
On December 1, 2009, three Blu-ray discs of the Ultimate Collector's Edition were repackaged as a less expensive "Emerald Edition", with an Emerald Edition four-disc DVD arriving the following week. A single-disc Blu-ray, containing the restored movie and all the extra features of the two-disc Special Edition DVD, also became available on March 16, 2010.
In 2013, the film was rereleased on DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and UltraViolet for the 90th anniversary of Warner Bros. and as part of the film's 75th anniversary.
Also, multiple special editions were released in celebration of the 75th anniversary in 2013, exclusively by both Best Buy (a SteelBook of the 3D Blu-ray) and another version that came with a keepsake lunch bag released by Target stores.
The Wizard of Oz is widely noted for its musical selections and soundtrack. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, and the lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, both of whom won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow". The song was ranked first in two lists: the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs and the Recording Industry Association of America's "365 Songs of the Century".
MGM composer Herbert Stothart, a well-known Hollywood composer and songwriter, won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in recognition of his original score.
Georgie Stoll was associate conductor and screen credit was given to George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Ken Darby, and Paul Marquardt for orchestral and vocal arrangements. (As usual, Roger Edens was also heavily involved as an unbilled musical associate to Freed.)
The song "The Jitterbug", written in a swing style, was intended for the sequence in which the four are journeying to the castle of the Wicked Witch. Due to time constraints, the song was cut from the final theatrical version. The film footage for the song has been lost, although silent home film footage of rehearsals for the number has survived. The sound recording for the song, however, is intact and was included in the two-CD Rhino Records deluxe edition of the film soundtrack, as well as on the VHS and DVD editions of the film. A reference to "The Jitterbug" remains in the film: the Witch remarks to her flying monkeys that they should have no trouble apprehending Dorothy and her friends because "I've sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them."
Another musical number cut before release occurred right after the Wicked Witch of the West was melted and before Dorothy and her friends returned to the Wizard. This was a reprise of "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" (blended with "We're Off to See the Wizard" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz") with the lyrics altered to "Hail! Hail! The Witch is Dead!" This started with the Witch's guard saying "Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!" and dissolved to a huge celebration of the citizens of Emerald City singing the song as they accompany Dorothy and her friends to see the Wizard. Today, the film of this scene is also lost and only a few stills survive, along with a few seconds of footage used on several reissue trailers. The entire audio still exists and is included on the two-CD Rhino Record deluxe edition of the film soundtrack.
In addition, a brief reprise of "Over the Rainbow" was intended to be sung by Garland while Dorothy is trapped in the Witch's castle, but it was cut because it was considered too emotionally intense. The original soundtrack recording still exists, however, and was included as an extra in all VHS and DVD releases from 1993-onwards.
The songs were recorded in the studio's scoring stage before filming. Several of the recordings were completed while Buddy Ebsen was still with the cast. Therefore, while Ebsen had to be dropped from the cast due to illness from the aluminum powder makeup, his singing voice remained in the soundtrack (as noted in the notes for the CD Deluxe Edition). In the group vocals of "We're Off to See the Wizard", his voice can be heard. Jack Haley spoke with a distinct Boston accent, thus did not pronounce the r in wizard. By contrast, Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland, and pronounced it. Haley rerecorded Ebsen's solo parts later.
Differences between source material and adaptation
- In the Oz book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and it's sequels, L. Frank Baum intended the Land of Oz to be an actual real place. A undiscovered uncivilized country inhabited by magical creatures and beings. It is stated that Oz is cut off from the rest of the normal world because it is all surrounded by a great vast Deadly Desert. Anything living that touches this desert, dies by instantly turning to sand. Oz is not just a delusion or dream that Dorothy had as it was made to be in the movie. In the later Oz books that Baum wrote as sequels to his first book, it is stated that the long-lost daughter of King Pastoria, Princess Ozma the child Queen and rightful ruler of Oz, magically cut the portal off and closed any possible way to be visited by outsiders to keep Oz pure from any non-believers. She did this right after Dorothy Gale was made an official Princess of Oz. Ozma then invited Dorothy and Toto to live in Oz permanently along with a few other people including even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
- In the Book, Dorothy Gale is a little girl, a mere child and not a pre-teen as it was portrayed in the movie. It never mentions her age, but Baum stated her character was no older than twelve.
- In the movie, Dorothy attends a school house, as the film opens up with her running home after school and Toto getting into Ms. Gulch's Garden. In the book Dorothy's education is never mentioned, most likely she was home schooled like many country raised farm-children were of her time.
- There are three farm hands who work at the Gale farm in the movie. In the book only Uncle Henry, Aunt Em and Dorothy reside at the Kansas farm. The farm hands were created for the movie by Noel Langley.
- In the book there is no Miss Gulch or Professor Marvel. Miss Gulch was created for the movie by Noel Langley. Marvel was created for the movie by Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf.
- Dorothy never runs away from home in the book.
- The first Witch to greet Dorothy in Oz is indeed the Good Witch of the North, yet her name is not Glinda but Locasta or in some versions Tattypoo and she is an old wrinkle woman in all white with a pointed hat. Glinda does not make an appearance until the end of the story in the book.
- In the book, Good Witches in Oz are said to only wear all white. Also, it is stated that when Glinda is brought into the plot of the story in the end, she is wearing a long silk dress of pure white, not a glittering ball gown of light pink like in the movie. And she is said to be very beautiful and young looking despite being thousands of years old. Glinda was not middle aged looking as Billie Burke was either.
- The Munchkins only wear the color blue in the book. As the Winkie people of the West wear only yellow, the Gillikins of the North only wear purple and the Quadlings of the South wear only red. And the people of the Emerald City, which is in the exact center of Oz only wear all green. Also, in Munchkinland, there is no Lollipop Guild or Lullaby League.
- The magical shoes that Dorothy wears are Ruby Slippers with bows in the movie. But were originally Silver Shoes with pointed toes in the book.
- The Wicked Witch of the West does not make an appearance until the middle of the book.
- In the book, Dorothy's farmhouse does not land right in front of the Yellow Brick Road. Dorothy has to find it, but it doesn't take her too long.
- In the story, the land of Oz is a very vast and large place, it takes weeks for Dorothy and her friends to reach the Emerald City. Dorothy's overall stay in Oz was for a few months. Not a day or two like it was portrayed in the movie. This is verified in the book, when Dorothy returns home again and back to Kansas, Uncle Henry has built a new farmhouse since the Tornado carried off the old one to Oz. (This always verifies that Dorothy's trip to Oz was real)
- In the book, Dorothy and Toto attend a great feast and banquet held by a rich Munchkin man named Boq in her honor for killing the Wicked Witch of the East. She also spends her first night in Oz at his rich Munchkin house, and even has a hardy breakfast with Boq's family at the dinning table before continuing her journey to see Oz.
- In the book, there are indeed Fighting Trees, but they do not talk or have apples on the branches. They are planted there at the boarders to keep trespassers out of Quadling Country.
- In the book, the Tin Woodman used to be a real man of flesh and blood who has a tragic backstory involving his true love. But it is not mentioned in the movie.
- In the book Kalidah beast chase after Dorothy and her friends. Kalidahs are a rare type of animal in Oz with heads of tigers and bodies of bears who kill for meat to eat. In the movie, Dorothy and her companions only mention "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"
- The Scarecrow gets stuck in the middle of a raging river when the travelers make a raft to cross it. The Scarecrow is then rescued by a female stork bird in the book.
- In the book, when the travelers are within the Poppy Field, the Queen of the Field Mice and her mouse subjects help the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman rescue a sleeping Dorothy, Toto and the Lion after the Tinman saves the life of the Mouse Queen from a wildcat who tried to eat her.
- In the Book, when Dorothy and her friends enter the Emerald City, they are forced to wear green tinted spectacles by the Guardian of the Gates before being allowed in so the brilliance of the emeralds do not blind them. Also, unlike the movie, there is no horse of a different color in the Emerald City.
- Dorothy is given a pretty green dress of embroidered silk to wear before meeting the Wizard by a servant girl named Jellia Jamb in the book.
- In the book, the Wizard is a shape shifter. When Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard, they all meet him one by one and to each he appears in a completely different form. In the movie he only appears as a great giant head to Dorothy and her friends, who are given an audience all at once.
- In the book, the Wicked Witch of the West is never mentioned to have green skin as it was portrayed in the movie. Nor does she wear all black, or fly on a broomstick in the sky. She has a umbrella she beats her slaves with though. And the Witch only has one eye and wears an eye patch on the other. Her working eye is as powerful as a telescope and can see all parts of the land of Oz no matter how far off it is.
- The Wicked Witch's castle is actually quiet lovely inside. Everything is the color of yellow and the rooms within her home are said to be beautiful. Dorothy is ordered to clean all these beautiful rooms daily during the time of her captivity. The Witch's home in the book was not a black castle with a dark medieval look as it was portrayed in the movie.
- In the book, the Wicked Witch also sends killer Wolves, Crows, Bees and Winkie Guards to kill Dorothy and her friends who are trespassing in her land. Luckily Dorothy and her companions defeated all four attacks.
- In the book, the Wicked Witch of the West owns an enchanted Golden Cap that once belonged to a Gillikin Queen named Gayelette who lived in a jeweled palace in the northern qaudrant of Oz. Gayellete was also a powerful sorceress. The cap itself held a very powerful charm, which allows the owner to order the Winged Monkeys to obey any command three times as they are slaves to the cap. The cap is never mentioned or used in the film but it is seen in the Witches green hands while she is in her castle.
- In the book the Witch also enslaved the Cowardly Lion and made him wear a harness to pull the Wicked Witches Chariot around.
- In the book, the Wicked Witch tries to steal one of Dorothy's Silver Shoes by placing a invisible bar on the floor where Dorothy was cleaning. Dorothy tripped over the bar, not knowing it was there and one of her Silver Shoes fell off when she hit the ground. This is what triggers Dorothy to retaliate and throw a bucket of water on the Witch. Not to put out a fire but to wet the Witch in anger.
- After being left behind by the Wizard in his Balloon, unlike the movie, Dorothy must travel to see Glinda instead of Glinda coming to her. This leads Dorothy and her friends on yet another long set of epic adventures as they encounter the fighting trees, Hammer-Heads a giant killer spider and the Dainty China Country.
- Glinda the Good is the ruler of the South, not the North like in the movie and she does not travel in a magical bubble. Also in the book it is said that Glinda lives in a red ruby castle in the South and sits on a throne of rubies. Her soldiers of the castle and court are entirely all female that are all around the same age of Dorothy, who is no older than twelve.
- In the very end of the book, when Dorothy clicks her heels together three times saying "Take me home to Aunt Em!", on her flight back to Kansas the Silver Shoes fall off of her feet and into the Deadly Desert and are lost forever in the sand. In the movie, Dorothy says "There's no place like home" when she clicked her heels together three times.
- When Dorothy is sent back home again, she does not wake up in her bed like in the movie, but in the prairie field right in front of the farm and shoeless.
It was revealed in the RSC's musical production that she was injured by a telegraph pole during the twister and her leg was in plaster.