Original version with subtitles
Its large budget notwithstanding The Wizard of Oz was only one of almost fifty films produced by MGM in 1939. It was not very successful, and the critics were generally disappointed too. It took twenty years for it to recoup its costs. Yet it has since crystallized into one of the true key popular films in America. Paradoxically this feat was accomplished by the enemy camp, television. CBS tried to access television rights for Gone With the Wind, and when nothing came of that, they half-heartedly made a bid for The Wizard of Oz. The deal was done and suddenly the movie was appearing on the TV screen so frequently that Americans found themselves staring hypnotically into a kind of explanation of their being. The film turned into an Event, a Phenomenon.
Child stars were more popular than ever. Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin were contacted first for the leading role. Arthur Freed’s stand was decisive in the choice of Judy Garland. Many were puzzled by the entry of Victor Fleming, known as a ‘men’s director’, into the production. Yet he was the father of two little children whom he was wildly fond of: something essential about that was reflected in the film. He had the ‘child’s mind’ lacking from contract director Richard Thorpe who was fired. George Cukor spent a few days on the production and insisted that the girl must be real – a little ordinary girl from Kansas. All the directors who came after retained this concept. The Dorothy’s sincerity, the fact that she really does want to go back to Kansas, keeps the film together. Another great director, King Vidor, directed the most famous sequence, Over the Rainbow, which almost ended up on the cutting-room floor, but again Arthur Freed intervened and provided the fundamental argument for its necessity in the emotional shift from Kansas to Wonderland.
The basic situation has sometimes been interpreted as a psychoanalytical pattern. Dorothy is an orphan who sets out to find her father and mother, to figure out the puzzle of her life in a dream world. A tornado blows over her gray farm home, and suddenly she finds herself in a brightly colourful wonderworld.
The inner connection between Oz and MGM is an essential point of interpretation and makes of this movie one of the purest and most ‘confessional’ Hollywood films. The fairy-tale turns into a reflection of the world at the Studio: they portrayed, indeed, the (only) world they really knew well. The sense of wonder that radiates from Over the Rainbow articulates the relationship between the viewer and MGM, and when it has been seen and done the viewer may return to his gray and melancholy world – yet realizing that “there is no place like home”. The sublime and the cynically calculating meet as in many other Hollywood movies in the exact proportion the viewer wants to choose. The dream work has been accomplished: for a moment the child has broken into a world through which he can accept himself and the ordinariness of his life.
Peter von Bagh, Elämää suuremmat elokuvat II [Films Bigger Than Life II], 1993
Peter von Bagh wrote two huge volumes of books based on a popular radio series of one hundred feature programmes, each one hour long, about films bigger than life.
Cast and Credits
T. it.: . Sog.: dal romanzo Il meraviglioso mago di Oz di L. Frank Baum. Scen.: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf. F.: Harold Rosson. M.: Blanche Sewell. Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons. Mus.: Herbert Stothart. Int.: Judy Garland (Dorothy), Frank Morgan (il mago di Oz), Ray Bolger (Hunk, lo spaventapasseri), Bert Lahr (Zeke, il leone codardo), Jack Haley (Hickory, l’uomo di latta), Billie Burke (Glinda), Margaret Hamilton (Gulch, la cattiva strega dell’Est), Charley Grapewin (zio Henry), Clara Blandick (zia Emma). Prod.: Mervyn LeRoy per Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer · DCP. Col.
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