|The Wizard of Oz|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
|Produced by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Based on||The Wonderful Wizard of Oz|
by L. Frank Baum
|Edited by||Blanche Sewell|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc|
|Box office||$29.7 million|
The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Widely known as one of the greatest films of all time, it is the most commercially successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's fantasy novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Directed primarily by Victor Fleming (who left the production to take over the troubled Gone with the Wind), the film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale alongside Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Margaret Hamilton.
Characterized by its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and memorable characters, the film has become an American pop culture icon. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost to Gone with the Wind, also directed by Fleming. It did win in two other categories: Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow" and Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart. While the film was considered a critical success upon release in August 1939, it failed to make a profit for MGM until the 1949 re-release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,777,000 budget, not including promotional costs, which made it MGM's most expensive production at that time.
The 1956 television broadcast premiere of the film on the CBS network reintroduced the film to the public; according to the Library of Congress, it is the most seen film in movie history. In 1989, it was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress as one of the first 25 films for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is also one of the few films on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. It was among the top ten in the 2005 BFI (British Film Institute) list of "50 films to be seen by the age of 14", and is on the BFI's updated list of "50 films to be seen by the age of 15" released in May 2020.
The Wizard of Oz is the source of many quotes referenced in contemporary popular culture. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but others made uncredited contributions. The songs were written by Edgar "Yip" Harburg and composed by Harold Arlen. The musical score and incidental music were composed by Stothart.
Dorothy Gale lives with her dog Toto on a Kansas farm belonging to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Toto bites neighbor Miss Almira Gulch on the leg, leading her to obtain a sheriff's order to have him euthanized. Miss Gulch takes Toto away, but he escapes and returns to Dorothy; she decides to run away to save her dog. Not far from the farm, she meets Professor Marvel, a fortune-teller who uses his crystal ball to make Dorothy believe that Aunt Em is heartbroken. Dorothy rushes home as a tornado approaches. Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the farmhands take shelter in the storm cellar and lock it behind them. Dorothy has to seek shelter in her bedroom, where the window is blown in and hits her on the head, knocking her unconscious. The house is sent spinning into the air, and she awakens to see various figures fly by, including Miss Gulch, who transforms into a witch on a broomstick.
The house lands in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz. (The film switches from sepia tone Kansas to Oz in color.) Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins welcome her as a heroine, as the falling house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives to claim her sister's ruby slippers, but Glinda transfers them onto Dorothy's feet. Enraged, the Wicked Witch swears revenge on Dorothy and vanishes. Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City, where she can ask the Wizard of Oz to help her return home. On her journey, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, who wants a brain; the Tin Woodman, who seeks a heart; and the Cowardly Lion, who desires courage. She invites them to accompany her and ask the Wizard for what they lack. Despite the Witch's attempts to stop them with sleeping spells and other magic, they reach the city and see the Wizard, who appears as a giant ghostly head. He agrees to grant their requests if they bring him the Witch's broomstick.
As they make their way to the Witch's castle, the Witch captures Dorothy and plots to kill her, as she cannot remove the slippers otherwise. Toto escapes and leads her three friends to the castle. They ambush three guards, don their uniforms, and free Dorothy. The Witch and more guards pursue and surround them. The Witch sets fire to the Scarecrow, causing Dorothy to toss a bucket of water on him, inadvertently splashing the Witch, who melts away. The guards rejoice and give Dorothy her broomstick.
Upon their return, the Wizard stalls in fulfilling his promises until Toto pulls back a curtain, exposing the "Wizard" as a fraud operating machinery. Admitting to being a humbug, he insists he is "a good man, but a bad wizard." He gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a ticking heart-shaped clock, helping them see that they already possessed the qualities they wanted. He offers to take Dorothy and Toto home in his hot air balloon, revealing that he is also from Kansas and was originally a carnival showman before his balloon escaped his control and brought him to Emerald City.
As Dorothy and the Wizard prepare to depart, the Wizard places the Scarecrow in charge of Emerald City, with the Tin Man and the Lion as his aides. Toto leaps from Dorothy's arms. As Dorothy pursues Toto, the balloon departs with the Wizard. Glinda then appears and tells Dorothy that she has always had the power to return home using the ruby slippers. After Dorothy bids the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion goodbye, Glinda instructs her to tap her heels together three times and say, "There's no place like home." When Dorothy does, she wakes up in her bedroom, surrounded by her family and friends. Everyone dismisses her adventure as a dream, but Dorothy insists it was real. She says she will never run away again and declares, "There's no place like home!"
Production on the film began when Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) showed that films adapted from popular children's stories and fairytale folklore could still be successful. In January 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to L. Frank Baum's hugely popular novel from Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn had toyed with the idea of making the film as a vehicle for Eddie Cantor, who was under contract to Samuel Goldwyn Productions and whom Goldwyn wanted to cast as the Scarecrow.
The script went through several writers and revisions before the final shooting.Mervyn LeRoy's assistant, William H. Cannon, had submitted a brief four-page outline. Because recent fantasy films had not fared well, he recommended toning down or removing the magical elements of the story. In his outline, the Scarecrow was a man so stupid that the only employment open to him was literally scaring crows from cornfields. Also in his outline, the Tin Woodman was a criminal so heartless that he was sentenced to be placed in a tin suit for eternity. This torture softened him into somebody gentler and kinder. Cannon's vision was similar to Larry Semon's 1925 film adaptation of the story, in which the magical elements are absent.
Afterward, LeRoy hired screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who soon delivered a 17-page draft of the Kansas scenes. A few weeks later, Mankiewicz delivered a further 56 pages. LeRoy also hired Noel Langley and poet Ogden Nash to write separate versions of the story. None of these three knew about the others, and this was not an uncommon procedure. Nash delivered a four-page outline; Langley turned in a 43-page treatment and a full film script. Langley then turned in three more scripts, this time incorporating the songs written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf submitted a script and were brought on board to touch up the writing. They were asked to ensure that the story stayed true to Baum's 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. Jack Haley and Bert Lahr are also known to have written some of their dialogue for the Kansas sequence.
They completed the final draft of the script 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 credits. Along with these already mentioned, others who contributed to the adaptation without 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 they perceived a need to attract a youthful audience by appealing to modern fads and styles, the score had featured a song called "The Jitterbug", and the script had featured a scene with a series of musical contests. A spoiled, selfish princess in Oz had outlawed all forms of music except classical music and operetta. The princess challenged Dorothy to a singing contest, in which Dorothy's swing style enchanted listeners and won the grand prize. This part was initially written for Betty Jaynes, but was later dropped.
Another scene, which was removed before final script approval and never filmed, was an epilogue scene in Kansas after Dorothy's return. Hunk (the Kansan counterpart to the Scarecrow) is leaving for an agricultural college, and extracts a promise from Dorothy to write to him. The scene implies 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."
Much attention was given to the use of color in the production, with the MGM production crew favoring some hues over others. It took the studio's art department almost a week to settle on the shade of yellow used for the Yellow Brick Road.
Several actresses were reportedly considered for the part of Dorothy, including Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox, at the time, the most prominent child star; Deanna Durbin, a relative newcomer, with a recognised operatic voice; and Judy Garland, the most experienced of the three. Officially, the decision to cast Garland was attributed to contractual issues.
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.
W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the title role of the Wizard (after Ed Wynn turned it down, considering "too small"), but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over Fields' fee. Wallace Beery lobbied for the role, but the studio refused to spare him during the long shooting schedule. Instead, another contract player, Frank Morgan, was cast on September 22.
An extensive talent search produced over a hundred little people to play Munchkins; 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 (equivalent to $2,300 today). 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 photographed and cataloged each Munchkin in his or her costume so they could consistently apply the same costume and makeup each day of production.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, but withdrew from the role when the witch's persona shifted from sly and glamorous (thought to emulate the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) to the familiar "ugly hag". She 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. Sondergaard would go on to play a glamorous feline villainess in Fox's version of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird in 1940. Hamilton played a role remarkably similar to the Wicked Witch in the Judy Garland film Babes in Arms (1939).
According to Aljean Harmetz, the "gone-to-seed" coat worn by Morgan as the Wizard was selected from a rack of coats purchased from a second-hand shop. According to legend, Morgan later discovered a label in the coat indicating it had once belonged to Baum, that Baum's widow confirmed this, and that the coat was eventually presented to her. But Baum biographer Michael Patrick Hearn says the Baum family denies ever seeing the coat or knowing of the story; Hamilton considered it a rumor concocted by the studio.
Filming for The Wizard of Oz started on October 13, 1938 on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio lot in Culver City, California, with Richard Thorpe as director, replacing original director Norman Taurog, who filmed a few early Technicolor tests and was then reassigned. Thorpe initially shot about two weeks of footage, nine days in total, involving Dorothy's first encounter with the Scarecrow, and a number of sequences in the Wicked Witch's castle, such as Dorothy's rescue, which, though unreleased, includes the only footage of Buddy Ebsen's Tin Man.
The production faced the challenge of creating the Tin Man's costume. Several tests were done to find the right makeup and clothes for Ebsen. Ten days into the shoot, Ebsen suffered a reaction to the aluminum powder makeup he wore, though he did recall taking a breath one night without suffering any immediate effects. He was hospitalized in critical condition and was subsequently forced to leave the project. In a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of The Wizard of Oz), he recalled that the studio heads appreciated the seriousness of his illness only after he was hospitalized. Filming halted while a replacement for him was sought.
No footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released – only photos taken during filming and makeup tests. His replacement, Jack Haley, assumed Ebsen had been fired. The makeup used for Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste, with a layer of clown white greasepaint underneath, in order 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. To keep down on production costs, Haley only rerecorded "If I Only Had a Heart" and solo lines during "If I Only Had the Nerve" and the scrapped song "The Jitterbug"; as such, Ebsen's voice can still be heard in the remaining songs featuring the Tin Man in group vocals.
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. Cukor changed Garland's and 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 reshot. Cukor also suggested the studio cast Jack Haley, on loan from Fox, as the Tin Man.
Cukor did not shoot any scenes for the film, but acted merely as a creative advisor to the troubled production. His prior commitment to direct Gone with the Wind required him to leave on November 3, 1938, when Victor Fleming assumed directorial responsibility. As director, Fleming chose not to shift the film from Cukor's creative realignment, as producer LeRoy had already expressed his satisfaction with the film's new course.
Production on the bulk of the Technicolor sequences was a long and exhausting process that ran for over six months, from October 1938 to March 1939. Most of the cast worked six days a week and had to arrive as early as 4 a.m. to be fitted with makeup and costumes, and often did not leave until 7 pm or later. 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). Bolger later said that the frightening nature of the costumes prevented most of the Oz principals from eating in the studio commissary; and the toxicity of Hamilton's copper-based makeup forced her to eat a liquid diet on shoot days. It took as many as twelve takes to have Toto run alongside the actors as they skipped down the Yellow Brick Road.
All the Oz sequences were filmed in three-strip Technicolor. The opening and closing credits, and the Kansas sequences, were filmed in black and white and colored in a sepia-tone process. Sepia-tone film was also used in the scene where Aunt Em appears in the Wicked Witch's crystal ball. The film was not the first to use Technicolor, which was introduced in The Gulf Between (1917).
In Hamilton's exit from Munchkinland, a concealed elevator was installed to lower her below stage level, as fire and smoke erupted to dramatize and conceal her exit. The first take ran well, but on the second take, the burst of fire came too soon. The flames set fire to her green, copper-based face paint, causing third-degree burns to her hands and face. She spent three months recuperating before returning to work.
On February 12, 1939, Fleming hastily replaced Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind. The next day, the studio assigned Fleming's friend, King Vidor, to finish directing The Wizard of Oz (mainly the early sepia-toned Kansas sequences, including Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow" and the tornado). Although the film was a hit on its release, Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until Fleming died in 1949.
Arnold Gillespie, the film's special effects director, employed several visual-effect techniques. Developing the tornado scene was especially costly. Gillespie used muslin cloth to make the tornado flexible, after a previous attempt with rubber failed. He hung the 35 ft (11 m) of muslin from a steel gantry and connected the bottom to a rod. By moving the gantry and rod, he was able to create the illusion of a tornado moving across the stage. Fuller's earth was sprayed from both the top and bottom using compressed air hoses to complete the effect. Dorothy's house was recreated using a model.
The Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow masks were made of foam latex makeup created by makeup artist Jack Dawn. Dawn was one of the first to use this technique. It took an hour each day to slowly peel Bolger's glued-on mask from his face, a process that eventually left permanent lines around his mouth and chin.
Hamilton received severe burns to her hands and face in an accident with the flame effect during her exit from Munchkinland. At the time, she was wearing her green makeup, which was usually removed with acetone due to its toxic copper content. Because of Hamilton's burns, makeup artist Jack Young removed the makeup with alcohol to prevent infection. The Tin Man's costume was made of leather-covered buckram, and the oil used to grease his joints was made from chocolate syrup. The Cowardly Lion's costume was made from real lion skin and fur. For the "horse of a different color" scene, Jell-O powder was used to color the white horses.Asbestos was used to achieve some of the special effects, such as the witch's burning broomstick and the fake snow that covers Dorothy as she sleeps in the field of poppies.
The Wizard of Oz is famous for its musical selections and soundtrack. Its songs were composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg. They won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow". The song ranks first in the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs and the Recording Industry Association of America's "365 Songs of the Century".
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 songs were recorded in the studio's scoring stage before filming. Several of the recordings were completed while Ebsen was still with the cast. Although he had to be dropped from the cast because of a dangerous reaction to his aluminum powder makeup, his singing voice remained on the soundtrack (as mentioned in the notes for the CD Deluxe Edition). He can be heard in the group vocals of "We're Off to See the Wizard". Haley spoke with a distinct Boston accent and did not pronounce the R in "wizard." Ebsen, a Midwesterner like Garland, pronounced it clearly.
Bolger's original recording of "If I Only Had a Brain" was far more sedate than the version in the film. During filming, Cukor and LeRoy decided a more energetic rendition better suited Dorothy's initial meeting with the Scarecrow, and it was rerecorded. The original version was considered lost until a copy was discovered in 2009.
Some musical pieces were filmed and deleted later, in the editing process.
The song "The Jitterbug", written in a swing style, was intended for a sequence where the group journeys to the Witch's castle. Due to time constraints, it was cut from the final theatrical version. The film footage of the song has been lost, although silent home-film footage of rehearsals has survived. The audio recording of the song was preserved, and was included in the two-CD Rhino Records deluxe edition of the soundtrack, as well as on the film's VHS and DVD editions. A reference to "The Jitterbug" remains in the film: The Witch tells 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 came 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 by the citizens of the Emerald City, who sang the song as they accompanied Dorothy and her friends to 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 track was preserved and is included on the two-CD Rhino Record "deluxe" soundtrack edition.
Garland was to sing a brief reprise of "Over the Rainbow" while Dorothy was trapped in the Witch's castle, but it was cut because it was considered too emotionally intense. The original soundtrack recording still exists, and was included as an extra in all home media releases from 1993 onward.
Extensive edits in the film's final cut removed vocals from the last portion of the film. However, the film was fully underscored, with instrumental snippets from the film's various leitmotifs throughout. There was also some recognizable classical and popular music, including:
(This list is excerpted from the liner notes of the Rhino Records collection.)
Principal photography concluded with the Kansas sequences on March 16, 1939. Reshoots and pick-up shots were done through April and May and into June, under the direction of producer LeRoy. When the "Over the Rainbow" reprise was revived after subsequent test screenings in early June, Garland had to be brought back to reshoot the "Auntie Em, I'm frightened!" scene without the song. The footage of Blandick's Aunt Em, as shot by Vidor, had already been set aside for rear-projection work, and was reused.
After Hamilton's torturous experience with the Munchkinland elevator, she refused to do the pick-ups for the scene where she flies on a broomstick that billows smoke, so LeRoy had stunt double Betty Danko perform instead. Danko was severely injured when the smoke mechanism malfunctioned.
At this point, the film began a long, arduous post-production. Herbert Stothart composed the film's background score, while A. Arnold Gillespie perfected the special effects, including many of the rear-projection shots. The MGM art department created matte paintings for many scene backgrounds.
A 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, it was abandoned because it was too expensive and labor-intensive, and MGM used a simpler, less-expensive technique: During the May reshoots, the inside of the farmhouse 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 and she comes to a stop at the foot of the small bridge.
Test screenings of the film began on June 5, 1939.Oz initially ran nearly two hours long. In 1939, the average film ran for about 90 minutes. LeRoy and Fleming knew they needed to cut at least 15 minutes to get the film down to a manageable running time. Three sneak previews in San Bernardino, Pomona and San Luis Obispo, California, guided LeRoy and Fleming in the cutting. Among the many cuts were "The Jitterbug" number, the Scarecrow's elaborate dance sequence following "If I Only Had a Brain", reprises 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.
"Over the Rainbow" was almost deleted. MGM 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 Garland to sing in a barnyard. LeRoy, uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed and director Fleming fought to keep it in, and they eventually won. The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and came to be identified so strongly with Garland herself that she made it her signature song.
After the preview in San Luis Obispo in early July, the film was officially released in August 1939 at its current 101-minute running time.
The film premiered at the Orpheum Theatre in Green Bay, Wisconsin on August 10, 1939. The first sneak preview was held in San Bernardino, California. The film was previewed in three test markets: in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Dennis, Massachusetts on August 11, 1939, 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 Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They continued to perform there after each screening for a week. Garland extended her appearance for two more weeks, partnered with Rooney for a second week and with Oz co-stars Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr for the third and final week. The film opened nationwide on August 25, 1939.
MGM sold CBS the rights to televise the film for $225,000 per broadcast. It was first shown on television on November 3, 1956 as the last installment of the Ford Star Jubilee. It was a ratings success, with a Nielsen rating of 33.9 and an audience share of 53%.
It was repeated on December 13, 1959, and gained an even larger television audience, with a Nielsen rating of 36.5 and an audience share of 58%. It became an annual television tradition.
The film was released multiple times to 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. In the 1970s, a full commercial release was made on Super 8, on multiple reels.
On October 25, 1980, the film was released on videocassette (in both VHS and Betamax format) by MGM/CBS Home Video. All current home video releases are by Warner Home Video (via current rights holder Turner Entertainment).
The film's first LaserDisc release was in 1983. In 1989, there were two releases for the 50th anniversary, one from Turner and one from The Criterion Collection, with a commentary track. Laserdiscs came out in 1991 and 1993, and the final LaserDisc was released September 11, 1996.
The film was released on the CED format once, in 1982, by MGM/UA Home Video. It has also been released multiple times outside of the North American and European markets, in Asia, in the Video CD format.
The first DVD release was on March 26, 1997, by MGM/Turner. It contained no special features or supplements. On October 19, 1999, Oz was re-released by Warner Bros to celebrate the picture's 60th anniversary, with its soundtrack presented in a new 5.1 surround sound mix. 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 following the 1990 telecast of the film. It had been featured in the 1993 "Ultimate Oz" LaserDisc 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 DVD editions were released, both featuring a newly restored version of the film with an 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, 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 adaptations and a 1933 animated short version.
The film was released on Blu-ray on September 29, 2009 for its 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 Bros. commissioned a new transfer from the original negatives at 8K resolution. The restoration job was given to Prime Focus World. This restored version also features a lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track.
On December 1, 2009, three Blu-ray discs of the Ultimate Collector's Edition were repackaged as a less expensive "Emerald Edition". An Emerald Edition four-disc DVD arrived the following week. A single-disc Blu-ray, containing the restored movie and all the extra features of the two-disc Special Edition DVD, became available on March 16, 2010.
Many special editions were released in celebration of the film's 75th anniversary in 2013, including one exclusively by Best Buy (a SteelBook of the 3D Blu-ray) and another by Target stores that came with a keepsake lunch bag.
Although the 1949 re-issue used sepia tone, as in the original film, beginning with the 1955 re-issue, and continuing until the film's 50th anniversary VHS release in 1989, the 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 re-released 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, Warner Bros. released a "Special Edition" on November 6, 1998, digitally restored with remastered audio.
On September 23, 2009, the film was re-released in select theaters for a one-night-only event in honor of its 70th anniversary and as a promotion for various new disc releases later in the month. An encore of this event took place in theaters on November 17, 2009.
An IMAX 3D theatrical re-release 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, in Hollywood at the newly remodeled TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the site of the film's Hollywood premiere). It was the first picture to play at the new theater and served as the grand opening of Hollywood's first 3D IMAX screen. It was also shown as a special presentation at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. This re-release grossed $5.6 million at the North American box office.
In 2013, in preparation for its IMAX 3D release, the film was submitted 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, and the 3-D conversion fell within that guideline. Surprisingly, the 3D version received a PG rating for "Some scary moments", although no change was made to the film's original story content. The 2D version still retains its G rating.
The film was re-released by Fathom Events on January 27, 29, 30, 2019 and February 3 and 5, 2019 as part of its 80th anniversary. It also had a one-week theatrical engagement in Dolby Cinema on October 25, 2019 to commemorate the anniversary.
The Wizard of Oz received widespread acclaim upon its release. Writing for The New York Times, 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 and the Seven Dwarfs 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 Glinda 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 Tin Man, 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."
Film Daily wrote:
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... 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 the 16-year-old Garland was slightly too old to play the little girl who Baum 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." Still, the film placed seventh on Film Daily's year-end nationwide poll of 542 critics naming the best films of 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, for total earnings of $3,017,000. However, its high production cost, plus the costs of marketing, distribution, and other services, resulted in a loss of $1,145,000 for the studio. It did not show what MGM considered a profit until a 1949 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million (about $16 million today). For all the risks and cost MGM undertook to produce the film, it was certainly more successful than anyone expected. Christopher Finch, author of the Judy Garland biography Rainbow: The Stormy Life of Judy Garland, wrote: "Fantasy is always a risk at the box office. The film had been enormously successful as a book, and it had also been a major stage hit, but previous attempts to bring it to the screen had been dismal failures." He also wrote that after the film's success, 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 film was also re-released domestically in 1955. Subsequent re-releases between 1989 and 2019 have grossed $25,173,032 worldwide, for a total worldwide gross of $29,690,032.
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."
In his 2002 critique of the film for the British Film Institute, author Salman Rushdie acknowledged its effect on him, noting "The Wizard of Oz was my very first literary influence" . In Step Across This Line, he wrote: "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".
"...the 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 review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, The Wizard of Oz has a 98% rating based on 117 reviews, with an average score of 9.4/10. Its critical 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 to reviews, the film received the maximum score of 100 out of 100, based on 4 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim", which, as of March 2020, is matched only by eight other films.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient||Outcome|
|Academy Awards||February 29, 1940||Best Picture||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Cedric Gibbons and William A. Horning|
|Best Effects, Special Effects||A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer|
|Best Music, Original Score||Herbert Stothart||Won|
|Best Music, Original Song||"Over the Rainbow"|
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
|Academy Juvenile Award||Judy Garland
For her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year. (She was jointly awarded for her performances in Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz).
The American Film Institute (AFI) has compiled various lists which include this film or its elements.
Among the many dramatic differences between the film and the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, are the era (1900); the character of Dorothy Gale, who is not given an age in the novel but depicted as much younger than Judy Garland in the illustrations; and the magic slippers, which are Silver Shoes.
We are not told the Tin Woodman's rather gruesome backstory in the film. He started off a human being and kept lopping off bits of himself by accident. Baum's Oz is divided into regions where people dress in the same color. Munchkins, for example, all wear blue. Obviously this did not lend itself to the brilliant palette that was the hallmark of Technicolor films at the time.
Dorothy's adventures in the book last much longer, and take her and her friends to more places in Oz, where they meet interesting characters. In the end, her friends are invited to rule different areas of Oz.
In some cases--including the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Munchkins (in style if not color), Dorothy's long pigtails and the unusual Oz noses--the film's designers were clearly inspired by the book's illustrations by William Wallace Denslow. In others, including the costumes for the witches, good and bad, they created their own visions.
In 1975, a comic book adaptation of the film titled MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz was released. It was the first co-production between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Marvel planned a series of sequels based on the subsequent novels. The first, The Marvelous Land of Oz, was published later that year. The next, The Marvelous Ozma of Oz was expected to be released the following year but never came to be.
In 1985, Walt Disney Productions released the live-action fantasy film Return to Oz, starring Fairuza Balk in her film debut as a young Dorothy Gale and based on The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). With a darker story, it fared poorly with critics unfamiliar with the Oz books and was not successful at the box office, although it has since become a popular cult film, with many considering it a more loyal and faithful adaptation of what L. Frank Baum envisioned.
An animated film called Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz was released in 2011 by Warner Home Video, incorporating Tom and Jerry into the story as Dorothy's "protectors". A sequel titled Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz was released on DVD on June 21, 2016.
In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures released a spiritual prequel titled Oz the Great and Powerful. It was directed by Sam Raimi and starred James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. It was the second film based on Baum's Oz series to be produced by Disney, after Return to Oz. It was a commercial success but received a mixed reception from critics.
In 2014, independent film company Clarius Entertainment released a big-budget animated musical film, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which follows Dorothy's second trip to Oz. The film fared poorly at the box office and was received negatively by critics, largely for its plot and unmemorable musical numbers.
According to the US Library of Congress exhibition The Wizard of Oz: an American Fairy Tale (2010):
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 ... Despite its many particularly American attributes, including a wizard from Omaha, [the 1939 film adaptation] has universal appeal... Because of its many television showings between 1956 and 1974, it has been seen by more viewers than any other movie".
Because of their iconic stature, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film are now among the most treasured and valuable film memorabilia in movie history. Dorothy actually wore Silver Shoes in the book series, but the color was changed to ruby to take advantage of the new Technicolor process. Adrian, MGM's chief costume designer, was responsible for the final design. Five known pairs of the slippers exist. Another, differently styled pair, not used in the film, was sold at auction by actress Debbie Reynolds for $510,000 (not including the buyer's premium) in June 2011.
Margaret Hamilton's copper-based makeup as the Wicked Witch was poisonous, so she lived on a liquid diet during the film, and the makeup was carefully cleaned off her each day.
John Fricke, a historian who has written books about The Wizard of Oz, said that MGM executives arranged advance screenings in a handful of small communities to find out how audiences would respond to the musical adventure, which cost nearly $3 million to produce. Fricke said he believes the first showings were on the 11th, one day before Oconomowoc's preview, on Cape Cod in Dennis, Massachusetts, and in another southeastern Wisconsin community, Kenosha.
Oconomowoc's Strand Theatre was one of three small-town movie theaters across the country where "Oz" premiered in the days prior to its official Hollywood opening on Aug. 15, 1939 ... It's possible that one of the other two test sites - Kenosha and the Cape Cinema in Dennis, Massachusetts - screened the film a day earlier, but Oconomowoc is the only one to lay claim and embrace the world premiere as its own.
Last telecast: November 3, 1956 ... The last telecast of Ford Star Jubilee, however, was really something special. It was the first airing of what later became a television tradition - Garland's classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, with Judy's 10-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli and Lahr (the Cowardly Lion from the film) on hand to introduce it.
The first official sequel to The Wizard of Oz is released, an animated film titled Journey Back to Oz.
Instead of the Wizard of Oz sequel that its title suggests, Return to Oz... is more of a grim variation. This time, in a story derived largely from L. Frank Baum's The Land of Oz [sic] and Ozma of Oz, a pint-sized Dorothy has been brought to the screen with a different set of sidekicks; for instance, instead of traveling to Oz with Toto, Dorothy is this time accompanied by a different Baum creation, Billina the Chicken. Once there, she meets a whole new set of friends ...