|The Wizard of Oz|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming
|Produced by||Mervyn LeRoy
Arthur Freed (associate producer)
|Written by||Noel Langley
Edgar Allan Woolf
L. Frank Baum (Novel)
|Music by||Herbert Stothart
E. Y. Harburg
|Editing by||Blanche Sewell|
|Release date(s)||August 12, 1939(Strand Theater)
August 25, 1939
|Running time||103 minutes|
|Followed by||Journey Back to Oz|
The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American Fantasy film and directed by Victor Fleming (and others) from a script to which Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf contributed, based on the 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, with musical elements. It features Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Frank Morgan, with Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charles Grapewin, Clara Blandick and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins. Notable in its use of special effects, use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling and unusual characters, The Wizard of Oz has become, over the years, one of the best known of all films. Its impact, however, was not nearly as strongly felt at the time of its original release.
Dorothy Gale, a 12-year-old farmgirl, longs for "a place where there isn't any trouble", rather than her mundane Kansas farmhouse existence. After being knocked unconscious during a tornado by a window which has come loose from its frame, she begins to dream. In her dream, Dorothy, her dog Toto, and the farmhouse are transported to the magical Land of Oz. There, the Good Witch of the North, Glinda, advises Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz, who can return her to Kansas. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, who join her, hoping to receive what they lack themselves (a brain, a heart and courage, respectively). All of this is done while also trying to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West and her attempt to get her sister's ruby slippers from Dorothy, who received them from Glinda.
Initially, The Wizard of Oz was relatively unsuccessful in relation to its enormous budget, although it made a small profit and received largely favorable critical reviews. Made as a film musical, and boasting several songs which became very popular, The Wizard of Oz became widely embraced, with "Over the Rainbow" receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the film itself gaining several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. American Network telecasts of the film began in 1956, and because of them the film has found an even larger public audience—its television screenings were once an annual tradition and have re-introduced the film to the public, making The Wizard of Oz one of the most famous films ever made. The Library of Congress named The Wizard of Oz as the most-watched film in history. It is often ranked among the top ten best movies of all-time in various critics' and popular polls and it has provided many indelible quotes to the American cultural consciousness.
Orphaned 12-year-old Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) lives a simple life in rural Kansas with her Aunt Em (Clara Blandick), Uncle Henry (Charles Grapewin) and three colorful farm hands, Hickory, Hunk and Zeke. Shortly before the movie begins, the irascible townswoman, Miss Elmira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) is bitten by Dorothy's dog, Toto. Dorothy is upset that Miss Gulch hit Toto over the back of the head with a rake, but her aunt and uncle, as well as the farmhands (Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr), are too busy to listen. Miss Gulch shows up with a sheriff's order and takes Toto away to be euthanised. Toto escapes and returns to Dorothy, who is momentarily elated. When she realizes that Miss Gulch will soon return, she decides to take Toto and run away to protect him. On their journey, Dorothy encounters a fortune teller named Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan). He is a kind and lovable man who guesses that Dorothy is running away and feels unappreciated at home. He commands Dorothy to close her eyes so that he may be able to tell her fortune. Looking at a photo of Dorothy and Aunt Em that the girl keeps in her basket, he is able to describe Aunt Em perfectly, and tricks Dorothy into believing that the aunt has fallen ill from grief, so that she (Dorothy) will return home. As Dorothy leaves, there begin to appear signs of an oncoming storm. She rushes back to the farm's house just ahead of a sudden tornado. There, she takes shelter inside the house, where she is knocked unconscious by a loose window frame.
A confused Dorothy seems to awaken a few minutes later to discover the house has been caught up in the twister. Moments later, the twister drops the house back onto solid ground. Opening the door and stepping into full three-strip Technicolor, Dorothy finds herself in a village and parkland of unearthly beauty. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), arrives magically via bubble. She informs Dorothy that she is in Munchkinland and that she has killed the ruby-slippered Wicked Witch of the East by "dropping a house" on her.
Encouraged by Glinda, the timid Munchkins come out of hiding to celebrate the demise of the witch, while singing "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead", as well as other songs sung by certain groups of munchkins, such as "We are the Lollipop Guild" and proclaiming Dorothy as their national heroine. The Wicked Witch of the West (also played by Margaret Hamilton), makes a startling appearance claiming the powerful ruby slippers. Glinda magically transfers the slippers from the dead witch onto Dorothy's feet and reminds the Witch of the West that her power is ineffectual in Munchkinland. The witch vows revenge on Dorothy before leaving the same way she arrived. Glinda advises Dorothy to seek the help of the mysterious Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City in her quest to return home to Kansas. Glinda explains that Dorothy can find Emerald City by following the yellow brick road. She also advises Dorothy that she must never remove the slippers or she will be at the mercy of the Wicked Witch of the West.
On her way to the city, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) with no brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) with no heart and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), all of whom are portrayed by the same actors as the farm hands back in Kansas. The three decide to accompany Dorothy to the Wizard in hopes of obtaining their desires. Along the way, they behave in various ways which demonstrate that they already have the qualities they think they lack: the Scarecrow has several good ideas, the Tin Man is kind and sympathetic and the Lion is ready to face danger even though he is terrified. The group reaches Emerald City, where they are greeted kindly. The group talks to the Wizard of Oz, a disembodied and imposing head, formed out of steam from a giant cauldron, with a booming voice, who says that he will consider granting their wishes if they can bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch. The group is terrified, since this will involve killing the Witch in order to get the broom.
On their way to the witch's castle, they are attacked by a gang of flying monkeys who carry Dorothy and Toto away and deliver her to the witch. The Witch demands that Dorothy hand over the ruby slippers. After the witch threatens to drown Toto in the river, Dorothy agrees to give her the shoes, but a shower of sparks prevents their removal. The witch says that the shoes cannot be removed unless Dorothy dies. While the witch is distracted, Toto takes the opportunity to escape. The witch then locks Dorothy in a chamber and leaves to consider how to kill Dorothy without damaging the shoes' magic. Toto finds Dorothy's friends and leads them to the castle. Once inside, they free Dorothy and attempt an escape. The witch and her Winkie soldiers corner the group on a parapet, where the witch sets the Scarecrow's arm on fire. To douse the flames, Dorothy throws water on them while accidentally splashing water on the horrified witch, causing her to melt. To the group's surprise, the soldiers are delighted. Their captain (Mitchell Lewis) gives Dorothy the broomstick in gratitude as the heroes begin their journey back to the Emerald City.
Upon their return to Emerald City, the Wizard is reluctant to grant the group their wishes. Toto exposes the great and powerful wizard as a fraud; they find an ordinary man hiding behind a curtain operating a giant console which contains a group of buttons and levers. They are outraged at the deception, but the wizard solves their problems through common sense and a little double talk rather than magic. He explains that they already had what they had been searching for all along and only need things such as medals and diplomas to confirm that someone else recognizes it.
The wizard explains that he, too, was born in Kansas and his presence in Oz was the result of an escaped hot air balloon (although his balloon says Omaha, which is a city in the neighboring state of Nebraska). He promises to take Dorothy home in the same balloon, leaving the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion in charge of Emerald City. Just before takeoff, Toto sees a cat and jumps out of the balloon's basket. Dorothy jumps out to catch him and the wizard, unable to control the balloon, leaves without her. She is resigned to spend the rest of her life in Oz until Glinda appears and tells her that she has always had the power to return home, through the power of the ruby slippers. Glinda explains that she did not tell Dorothy at first because she needed to find out for herself that she doesn't need to run away to find heart's desire.
Dorothy says a tearful goodbye to the friends she has met in Oz and then follows Glinda's instructions to get home, which consist of closing her eyes, tapping her heels together three times and chanting "There's no place like home." Back in sepia tone, she awakens in her bedroom in Kansas (still chanting "There's no place like home," in her sleep) surrounded by family and friends and tells them of her journey. Everyone laughs and tells her it was all a dream, except Uncle Henry, who says sympathetically "Of course we believe you, Dorothy." Toto appears and jumps onto the bed. A happy Dorothy, still convinced the journey was real, hugs Toto and says one last time, "There's no place like home."
For the most part, the movie follows the novel only in a very general way, though several phrases (e.g. "I am Dorothy, the Small and Meek"; and "Oh no, my dear, I'm a very good man; I'm just a very bad Wizard") are taken almost directly from the book. Many details are omitted or altered, while many of the perils that Dorothy encountered in the novel are not even mentioned in the movie. The Good Witch of the North (who has no name in the book) and Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, are merged into one character. To take advantage of the new vivid Technicolor process, Dorothy's silver shoes were changed to ruby slippers for the movie. Due to time constraints, a number of incidents from the book, including the China County and the Hammerheads, were cut. The role of the Wicked Witch of the West was also enlarged for the movie (in the book, she is only present for one chapter) to provide more dramatic tension throughout the film. The novel also never depicts Dorothy as a damsel in distress to be rescued by her friends, but rather the reverse, with Dorothy, a figure heavily influenced by the feminism of Matilda Joslyn Gage, rescuing her friends. Nevertheless, the film was far more faithful to Baum's original book than many earlier scripts (see below) or film versions. Two silent versions were produced in 1910 and 1925 and the seven-minute animated cartoon in 1933 (the 1925 version, which Baum had no association with, made Dorothy a princess of Oz, rather like the later sci-fi TV miniseries Tin Man). The 1939 movie interprets the Oz experience as a dream, in which many of the characters that Dorothy meets represent the people from her home life (such as Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel and the farmhands, none of which appear in the book). Oz is meant to be a real place in L. Frank Baum's original novel, one to which Dorothy would return in the author's later Oz books and which would later provide a refuge for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry when unable to pay the mortgage on the new house that was built after the old one really was carried away by the tornado.
In the film credits, all actors with more than one role are listed only as playing their Kansas characters, not as their Oz characters. The dog Toto is listed as having been played by himself, not by Terry. W. C. Fields was originally pencilled in for the role of The Wizard but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee. Buddy Ebsen, was chosen to play the scarecrow before Ray Bolger convinced the producers he was better for the part. Ebsen was then chosen to play the Tin Man, but had a near-fatal reaction from inhaling the aluminum dust make-up and had to be replaced.
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. Publicity for the film mentioned the Technicolor but not the black-and-white or sepia, thus making it sound as if the entire film had been made in color. Sometimes color and sepia would be juxtaposed in the film within seconds of each other. At one point, Dorothy sees her Aunt Em on the Wicked Witch of the West's crystal ball; she is then replaced by a vision of the Witch. Aunt Em appears only in sepia-toned black-and-white, while the Witch appears in the crystal ball in full Technicolor.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Kansas is described as being in shades of gray. Dorothy lived inside a farmhouse which had its paint blistered and washed away by the weather, giving it a gray look, which was situated in the middle of prairie fields where the grass was burnt gray by the sun, and her family members were gray with age. The usage of monochrome for the Kansas sequences was a stylistic choice to represent the novel's description, and to contrast her home for the bright colours of Oz. Because Technicolor favored some hues over others, for example, most yellows turn into green, the art department spent nearly a week to find the right yellow for the Yellow Brick Road.
In the novel, the Emerald City appears green because all visitors and inhabitants are expected to wear spectacles with green-tinted lenses, but in Dorothy's dream in the film, the city really is shiny Emerald-green.
Development of the film started when the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs showed that films adapted from children's stories and fantasy films could be successful. In January 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to the hugely popular novel from Samuel Goldwyn. The film's script was adapted by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. Several people assisted with the adaptation without official credit: Irving Brecher, William H. Cannon, Herbert Fields, Arthur Freed, E. Y. Harburg, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Sid Silvers, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor and King Vidor. In addition, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr are known to have written some of their own dialogue for the Kansas sequence.
The script went through a number of revisions before the final shooting. 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. Because of a perceived need to attract a youthful audience through appealing to modern fads and styles, 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 Dorothy's 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, however; it 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."
The final draft of the script was completed on October 8, 1938 (following numerous rewrites).
Mervyn LeRoy had always insisted that he wanted to cast Judy Garland to play Dorothy from the start. However, evidence suggests that negotiations took place early in pre-production for Shirley Temple to play the part of Dorothy, on loan out from 20th Century Fox. A persistent rumor also existed that Fox was 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, was also considered for the part of Dorothy. Durbin, at the time, far exceeded Garland in film experience and fan base and the two had co-starred in a 1936 two-reeler called 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.
LeRoy and company also considered actress Bonita Granville yet passed on her due to the fact that she had never made a musical.
Casting The Wizard of Oz was problematic, with actors shifting roles repeatedly at the beginning of filming. One of the primary changes was in the roles of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man and Buddy Ebsen (later famous for his role as Jed Clampett on the popular 1960s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies) was to play the Scarecrow. Bolger, unhappy with being assigned the role of the Tin Man, convinced producer Mervyn LeRoy to recast him in the role of the Scarecrow. Ebsen did not object to the change; he recorded all of his songs, went through all the rehearsals as the Tin Man and started filming with the rest of the cast. However, nine days after filming began, Ebsen suffered a reaction to the aluminum powder makeup he wore as the Tin Man; the powder had coated his lungs from his breathing it in as it was applied daily. By that point in critical condition, Ebsen had to be hospitalized and left the project. MGM did not publicize the reasons for Ebsen's departure until decades later in a documentary about the movie and even his replacement, Jack Haley, did not initially know the reason.
The makeup used for Jack Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste makeup, 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 from an unpleasant eye infection from it. Despite his near-death experience with the makeup, Ebsen outlived all the principal players, although his film career was damaged by the incident. Because of his illness, followed by his subsequent service in the Coast Guard, his career did not fully recover until the 1950s, when he began a string of popular film and TV series appearances that would continue into the 1980s. Although his lungs had presumably recovered from the effects of the powder makeup, he eventually died of complications from pneumonia on July 6, 2003 at the age of ninety-five.
The book The World of Entertainment (1975) by Hugh Fordin, created with the full cooperation of uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed before his death, is said to suggest that Victor Fleming fired the actor when he took over as director. In a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of Wizard of Oz), Ebsen recalled that the studio heads initially did not believe he was ill. No footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released — only photographs taken during filming and test photos of different makeup styles remain.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch. She became unhappy with the role 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 by 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 play a glamorous villain in Fox's version of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird in 1940. Margaret Hamilton plays a remarkably similar role in the Judy Garland film Babes in Arms released that same year. She is a busybody social worker who wants to remove Judy Garland's character from the custody of her parents, much as Almira Gulch wants to remove Toto from the Gale family.
Frank Morgan was cast as the Wizard on September 22. Morgan's casting led to one of the many tales connected with the production of the film. 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 Victor Fleming chose one they thought gave off the perfect appearance of shabby gentility. One day, while he was on set wearing the coat, Morgan 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 once belonged to the writer of the original "Wizard of Oz" books. 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.
Filming commenced October 13, 1938 on the MGM Studios lot in Culver City, California, under the direction of Richard Thorpe (replacing original director Norman Taurog, who only filmed a few early Technicolor tests and was then reassigned). Thorpe initially shot about two weeks of footage involving Dorothy's first encounter with the Scarecrow as well as a number of sequences in the Wicked Witch's castle. However, the sudden medical departure of Buddy Ebsen caused the film to shut down while a new actor was found to fill the part. LeRoy had taken this time to review the already shot footage and felt that Thorpe seemed to be rushing the picture along, creating a negative impact in the actors' performances. Thus LeRoy decided to have Thorpe replaced.
George Cukor temporarily took over. Initially, the studio made Garland wear a blond wig and heavy, "baby-doll" makeup and she played Dorothy in an exaggerated fashion. Cukor changed Judy Garland's and Margaret Hamilton's makeup and costumes and told Garland to "be herself." This meant that all scenes Garland and Hamilton had already completed were discarded and refilmed. Cukor did not actually shoot any scenes for the film and, because of his prior commitment to direct Gone with the Wind, he left on November 3, 1938, at which time Victor Fleming assumed the directorial responsibility.
Ironically, on February 12, 1939, Fleming replaced Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind. The next day, King Vidor would be assigned as director to finish the filming of The Wizard of Oz (mainly the sepia Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow"). In later years, when the film became firmly established as a classic, King Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until after the death of his friend Fleming.
Filming 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 four and five in the morning, to be fitted with makeup and costumes and would not leave until seven or eight at night. Cumbersome makeup and costumes were compounded by the fact that the early Technicolor process required a significant amount of lighting to be used, which would usually heat the set to over a hundred degrees. 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 makeup could not be ingested and so she practically lived on a liquid diet during filming. Jack Haley's aluminum paste makeup caused the actor to receive a severe eye infection. 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.
Filming could also prove to be chaotic at times. 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. According to Munchkin actor Jerry Maren, each little person was 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 one hundred 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. For years many exaggerated rumors existed revolving around the wild behavior of many of the Munchkin actors. One of the most famous rumors claimed that the completed film shows an actor who played one of the Munchkins committing suicide by hanging in the background of one scene. This has been shown to be false; the object in question is actually a wild crane used to populate the forest scene.
Filming also proved to be dangerous at times. Margaret Hamilton was severely burned in the Munchkinland scene. There was a little elevator that was supposed to take her down and then the fire erupted. As told by Hamilton in archival audio included on the DVD commentary, the first take went smoothly, and that was the take eventually used in the film. For the second take, the timing was off, and she was exposed to the flames. Her copper-based makeup had to be completely and quickly removed before her face could be treated. Her hands also suffered burns. When she returned from the hospital, Hamilton refused to do the scene where she flies on a broomstick billowing smoke, so the directors chose to have a stand-in, Betty Danko, perform the scene instead. Danko was also severely injured doing the scene after a malfunction occurred during filming.
Principal photography concluded with the Kansas sequences on March 16, 1939; nonetheless reshoots and pick-up shots were filmed throughout April, May and into June. At this point the film began a long arduous post-production. Herbert Stothart had to compose the film's 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 that were to supply the background of many of the scenes. One significant innovation for the film was the use of "stencil printing" which was used for the film 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. Instead, 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, Dorothy (Garland) steps back into frame in her bright blue gingham dress [as noted in DVD extras].
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 of the film 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 permanently deleted was "Over the Rainbow." MGM had felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. 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 for its inclusion and eventually won. The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song of the Year. In 2004, the song was ranked #1 by the American Film Institute on the 100 Greatest Songs in American Films 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 Wizard of Oz premiered at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939, and Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on August 15, 1939. The New York City premiere at Loew's Capitol Theater on August 17, 1939 was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They would continue to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney's case for a second week and in Garland's to three. The movie opened nationally on August 25, 1939.
The film grossed approximately $3 million against production/distribution costs of $2.8 million in its initial release. It did not show what MGM considered a large profit until a 1949 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million.
Beginning with the 1949 reissue and continuing until the film's 50th Anniversary VHS and laserdisc release in 1989, the opening Kansas sequences were printed and shown in ordinary black-and-white, not sepia tone, and so TV viewers saw them in black-and-white for more than thirty years. This was done despite the fact that sepia tone had been specifically chosen for the picture to help mask the switch to Technicolor. The actual switch occurs before the door is opened from the transported house onto the Land of Oz. In the sepia prints, one doesn't notice any color until that door is opened, because the door itself is a shade of brown which matches the sepia tone. In black-and-white, one cannot help but notice the switch to color before the door is opened, which was precisely what the film's producers wanted to avoid. For the film's 50th anniversary restoration, the sepia tone was brought back to the opening Kansas scenes and beginning in 1990, the film was shown on CBS television nationally as originally released in 1939. It was also very common (and even an FCC requirement for early color broadcasters) for TV stations to turn off the color portion of their transmission when broadcasting a black & white show or movie. This was because unusual colors or "color noise" could be seen during the showing of black-and-white programming under some conditions. Though the opening Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz were meant to be shown in sepia and though the sepia was restored to the film in 1989 for the film's 50th anniversary VHS and laserdisc reissue, a few local CBS affiliates still showed the sepia portion of the film with the color signal disabled for many years. Most of these were small market affiliates that ran some syndicated black & white shows as these stations were used to turning the color modes off during black & white programming. One CBS affiliate, WGNX, transmitted the opening Kansas scenes in black-and-white as recently as its 1996 showing because this station was an independent station that ran a moderate amount of black-and-white films before becoming a CBS affiliate.
1955 saw the release of a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio version to theatres, with portions of the top and the bottom of the film removed via soft mattes to produce a widescreen effect. The re-release trailer falsely claimed "every scene" from Baum's novel that was in the film, including "the rescue of Dorothy", though there is no such incident in the novel.
The MGM "Children's Matinees" series re-released the film twice, in 1970 and 1971.
In 1986, the film was acquired by Turner Entertainment as part of a deal involving a majority of MGM's pre-1986 library. In 1996, Turner merged with Time Warner, and since then Warner Bros. Pictures has been handling distribution for all media on Turner's behalf.
The film was re-released again in U.S. theaters by WB on November 6, 1998. The version was a new remastered print which contained the Warner Bros. '75th Anniversary' logo at the beginning and restoration and sound remixing credits at the end (none of these extra credits have appeared on any video release).
In 1999, the film had a theatrical re-release in Australia, in honor of the film's 60th Anniversary.
On September 23, 2009, The Wizard of Oz was re-released 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. This event also marked the first time the film was shown in High-Definition. An encore of the high definition 70th Anniversary edition was shown in theaters on November 17, 2009.
The film was first shown on television November 3, 1956 on CBS, as the last installment of the Ford Star Jubilee. It was shown in color (posters still exist advertising the broadcast and they specifically say in color and black-and-white), but because most television sets then were not color sets, few members of the TV audience saw it that way. An estimated 45 million people watched the broadcast. However, it was not rerun until three years later. On December 13, 1959 the film was shown (again on CBS) as a two-hour Christmas season special and at an earlier time, to an even larger audience (commercial breaks were much shorter then, enabling the film to run in a two-hour time slot without being cut). Encouraged by the response, CBS decided to make it an annual tradition, showing it from 1959 through 1962 always on the second week of December. The film was not shown in December 1963 as might have been expected, perhaps due to the proximity of the John F. Kennedy assassination, which occurred on November 22 of that year and plunged the U.S. into a period of mourning. Others say that there was no room on the schedule, due to the fact that by then there were other Christmas specials on television, though not nearly as many as there would be in later years (A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Frosty the Snowman, all first shown on CBS in the 1960s, were still more than two years away).
Still, the film was shown very early (on CBS) in 1964 and the showings were therefore still only roughly a year apart. The telecast was moved from December 1963 to January of the following year. The 1964 broadcast marked the end of the Christmas season showings, but The Wizard of Oz was nevertheless still televised only once a year for nearly three decades. Beginning in 1967, showing of the film was moved to February, and after that the date of the showings would constantly shift, rather than always occurring in the same month. That same year, the film was bought for annual TV showings by NBC, which began in April 1968, but by 1976, it had reverted to CBS. CBS no longer retains the television rights; they are now in the hands of Turner Entertainment (through Warner Bros. Television), and the film is now shown several times a year (rather than annually) on or just before several notable holidays (including Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas). Turner Classic Movies cable channel, TNT and the TBS Superstation now often show the film during the same week "in rotation."
The Wizard of Oz became the first videocassette released 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. The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997 by MGM and contained no special features or supplements. It was re-released by Warner Bros. for its 60th Anniversary on October 19, 1999, in snapper case packaging 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 an extensive 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 featured in the 1991 "Ultimate Oz" laserdisc box set release. Despite being a one-disc release, outtakes, 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 new 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 Disc 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. The Blu-ray version of Oz features a significant picture quality increase over all previous home video releases due to Warner commissioning a new transfer at 8K resolution from the original film, requiring 22 TB of disc space. 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 Four-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition. As previously mentioned, the September 23, 2009 one-day-only theatrical 70th anniversary showings were also a promotion for the various disc releases six days later. A 3-Disc Blu-ray Edition without the box and some extra materials from the Ultimate Collector's Edition was released on December 1, 2009. It contains the same bonus features on the 2 Blu-ray Discs in the UCE and the extra "When the Lion Roars" DVD.
All of the film's stars except Frank Morgan, who died in 1949, lived long enough to see and enjoy at least some of the film's legendary reputation after it came to television starting in 1956. The last of the major players to die was Ray Bolger, in 1987. The day after his death, an editorial cartoon referenced the cultural impact of this film, portraying the Scarecrow running along the Yellow Brick Road to catch up with the other characters, as they all danced off into the sunset.
Neither director Victor Fleming, nor music arranger Herbert Stothart, screenwriter Edgar Allan Woolf, film editor Blanche Sewell, nor actor Charles Grapewin (who played Dorothy's Uncle Henry) lived to see the film's first telecast. By coincidence, Fleming, Stothart, Sewell and Morgan all died in 1949, which was also the year of the film's successful first re-release in movie theatres. Woolf had died the year before and Grapewin died in February 1956, nine months before the film's television premiere, and a few months after the film's second re-release. Costume designer Adrian died in September 1959, only three months before the highly successful second telecast of the film, the one that would persuade CBS to make it an annual tradition. The film's principal art director Cedric Gibbons died in July 1960, after the 1959 telecast, but months before the next TV showing on December 11, 1960. And principal makeup artist Jack Dawn died in June 1961, six months after the film's third telecast.
Co-screenwriter Florence Ryerson died in 1965, after the film's seventh telecast, and principal screenwriter Noel Langley, who reportedly hated the changes that Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf had made to his version of the script, lived to see the film become a television institution, dying in 1980, months after the twenty-second telecast of the film. Oz song writers E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen also lived to see the film become a television immortal, both of them also passing away in the 1980s, as did Oz director of photography Harold Rosson. The principal creator of the special effects which were so much a part of the film, A. Arnold Gillespie, passed away in 1978.
The Wizard of Oz is widely noted for its musical selections and soundtrack. Music and lyrics were by Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, who won the Academy Awards for Best Music, Song for "Over the Rainbow." In addition, Herbert Stothart, who composed the instrumental underscore, won the Academy Award for Best 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 of the West. 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 2-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 that was 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" 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 presumed 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 2-CD Rhino Record deluxe edition of the film soundtrack.
The songs were recorded in a studio 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 is easy to detect. Jack Haley spoke with a distinct Boston accent and thus did not pronounce the r in wizard. By contrast, Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland and thus pronounced it. Of course, Haley rerecorded Ebsen's solo parts later.
Regarding the original Baum storybook, it has been said: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is America's greatest and best-loved home grown fairytale. The first totally American fantasy for children, it is one of the most-read children's books . . . and despite its many particularly American attributes, including a wizard from Omaha, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has universal appeal." The television showings of the film have taken its fame to a level far above what it had been in the pre-TV and early TV era. It has become almost literally a national institution, a cultural icon recognized by millions.
The film also has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, which selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989. In June 2007, the film was listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. The scene in which the Wicked Witch captures Dorothy and threatens her in the castle placed at number 86 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In 1977, Aljean Harmetz wrote The Making of The Wizard of Oz, a detailed description of the creation of the film based on interviews and research; it was updated in 1989.
In a movie section front page retrospective of The Wizard of Oz, noted San Francisco Chronicle film critic and author Mick LaSalle declared on October 30, 2009 that the film's "entire 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."
The Wizard of Oz was dramatized as a one-hour radio play on the December 25, 1950 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with Judy Garland reprising her earlier role. An official sequel, the animated Journey Back to Oz, starring Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, as Dorothy, was produced beginning in 1964 to commemorate the original film's 25th anniversary. The unfinished film lost financing early on and was not finished until 1972 when the producing studio, Filmation, had made enough profit from its television series to finish the film. It was released in the USA in 1974, and again in 1976 with additional live-action footage. In the movie, Dorothy is the victim of another minor head injury incurred during another Kansas tornado. She wakes to find herself back in Oz. There, she is reunited with her old friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, but none of them have time to spend with her or the desire to fight yet another wicked witch (played by Ethel Merman). She befriends the kindly Pumpkinhead, voiced of by Paul Lynde, and a horse named Woodenhead Pinto Stallion III. Drama ensues, resulting in both the witch's death and that of Pumpkinhead, her creation. However, a single tear that proves her love for her friend, saves Pumpkinhead. Soon, Dorothy wakes to find herself back in Kansas with her aunt and uncle.
Disney made a sequel Return to Oz in 1985. Based mostly on the books Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz, it fared poorly with critics and in the box office, although it has since gone on to become a cult classic.
For the film's 56th anniversary a stage show also entitled The Wizard of Oz was based upon the 1939 film and the book by L. Frank Baum. It toured from 1995–2008, except for 2004 - see The Wizard of Oz (1987 stage play).
In 1995 Gregory Maguire published the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was later on adapted into a Broadway musical, Wicked, a back story to The Wizard of Oz that describes what happened before Dorothy dropped into Oz and how the Wicked Witch became known as wicked.
In 2007, MadTV made an alternate ending to the movie, in which Dorothy responds reactively rather than proactively to the fact that she could have returned to Kansas at any time. She yells and curses at Glinda, insults the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion, and ends trying to strangle Glinda, at which point the Tinman clicks his heels, repeats "There's no place like home," and returns to a farmhouse to tin relatives.
An old urban legend claimed that, in the film, a Munchkin could be seen committing suicide (hanging by the neck from behind a prop tree and swinging back and forth) far away (left) in the background, while the Tin Man, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are singing We're Off to See the Wizard and skipping down the yellow brick road into the distance. The object in question is actually a bird borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo, most likely a crane or an emu, one of several birds placed on the indoor set to give it a more realistic feel. Clearer views of this scene, including occasional large-screen theatrical re-issues of the film and hi-definition home video releases, have enabled debunking of this story.
Another popular urban legend claims that Miss Gulch swears during the scene early in the film where Toto is taken away, telling Aunt Em she'll "bring a damn suit that'll take your whole farm!"; the line in question is actually "...bring a damage suit."
The pairing of the 1973 Pink Floyd music album The Dark Side of the Moon with the visual portion of the film produces moments where the film and the album appear to correspond with each other in a music video-like experience. This juxtaposition has been called Dark Side of the Rainbow.
The Wizard of Oz has been identified as being of great importance to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) fans. One reason for this is Judy Garland's starring role; Garland would go on to be a gay icon and later in her career acknowledged the gay fans of her rendition of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" from the film.
Numerous analyses of the film and its impact on LGBT-identified persons have been made. Creekmur and Doty, in their introduction to Out in Culture, write that the film's gay resonance and interpretations depend on camp. According to the Jungian writer Robert Hopcke, the dreary reality of Kansas implies the presence of homophobia and transphobia for gay viewers and is contrasted with the colorful and accepting land of Oz. When shown in gay venues, it is "transformed into a rite celebrating acceptance and community." 
Queer theorists highlight a feeling of kinship felt by LGBT people for the misfit heroes (and villains) of the film, and attribute the feeling of identification to the hidden or double lives of the characters, drawing parallels to the problems faced by LGBT people in real life: "It's emotionally confused and oppressed teenage heroine longs for a world in which her inner desires can be expressed freely and fully. Dorothy finds this world in a technicolor land 'over the rainbow' inhabited by a sissy lion, an artificial man who cannot stop crying and a butch-femme couple of witches."
According to The Observer, the film has the greatest soundtrack of all time. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards upon its release, including Best Picture and Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It lost the award in the Best Picture category to Gone with the Wind (another MGM release), but won in the category of Best Song (Over The Rainbow) and Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. Although the Best Song award went to E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, the Best Original Score Award went to, not the songwriters, but Herbert Stothart, who composed the background score. Judy Garland received a special Academy Juvenile Award that year, for "Best Performances by a Juvenile" (this meant that the award was also for her role in the film version of Babes in Arms). The Wizard of Oz did not receive an Oscar for its now-famous special effects — that award went to the 1939 film version of The Rains Came, for its monsoon sequence. Additional nominations were for Cedric Gibbons and William A. Horning for Art Direction and to Hal Rosson for Cinematography (color).
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten American films in ten genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Wizard of Oz was acknowledged as the best film in the fantasy genre.
American Film Institute recognition
The film is among the top ten of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.