The Wizard of Oz is an American fantasy musical film, adapted from L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel for children called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Metro-Goldwyn Mayer has produced the film and it is directed by Victor Fleming. Although the film was written by many creative minds, Florence Ryerson, Noel Langley, and Edgar Allan Woolf only received due credit for the screenplay. Harold Arlen composed the music and Edgar “Yip” Harburg wrote the lyrics. The incidental music and the musical score of the film were composed by Herbert Stothart.
Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of 1937 was actually the initiator behind the film. When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer saw that movies adapted from fantasy children’s novels and popular fairytale folklores could be successful and accepted by the audience, the production house started working on the development of The Wizard of Oz.
In January 1938, MGM bought the rights to a hugely popular novel by L. Frank Baum from Samuel Goldwyn. Samuel had previously thought about making this film as a project for Eddie Cantor, the American songwriter, singer, dancer, and performer, who was in contract with Samuel Goldwyn Productions.
When it comes to the screenplay of the film, many screenwriters gave their scripts, drafts, and sequences after which, the final draft of the film was made on October 8, 1938. The fantasy storytelling of the film, with memorable characters and mesmerizing musical score, characterized by its use of Technicolor, captured the audiences’ attention and opened to a moderately successful release on August 25, 1939.
The MGM production crew gave a lot of attention to the color production of the film in terms of selecting some specific hues over others. The studio’s art department took almost an entire week to finalize the shade of yellow that is in the Yellow Brick Road of the film.
The Wizard of Oz got critical acclaim from all quarters of the film society and got nominated for six Academy Awards including that of the Best Picture. The Academy Award for Best Original Score went to Herbert Stothart and the song “Over the Rainbow” won the Academy Award for the Best Original Song.
The story is about Dorothy Gale, the teenager who lives in Kansas, on a farm with her uncle, aunt, and their three farmhands. One day when Dorothy’s dog Toto bites Almira Gulch, the wealthy landowner, she ordered the Sheriff to euthanize Toto. As a result, Dorothy runs away with Toto to protect her dog when she meets Professor Marvel who is a fortune teller. Professor Marvel tells Dorothy to return to her heartbroken aunt. Following his advice, Dorothy manages to return to their farm just before an approaching tornado but does not manage to open the door of the storm shelter.
As a result, she takes shelter in the farmhouse but soon gets unconscious after being hit by a shattered window. When Dorothy wakes up, she finds herself in a land surrounded by short people called Munchkins. A ‘good’ witch named Glinda greets her and explains to her that her house was flown by the tornado and landed on the land of the Wicked Witch of the West.
As the Wicked Witch of the West lay dead, her sister went in looking for the slippers of her deceased sister but by that time Glinda had already used her magic powers to make those slippers fit onto Dorothy’s feet. Enraged by this, the sister of the Wicked Witch threatened Dorothy that she would come for her and her dog as well.
Glinda told Dorothy that only the Wizard of Oz could help her return home therefore she directed Dorothy along the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard lives. On the way, Dorothy is joined by the Tin Man who wants a heart, the Scarecrow who desires a brain, and the Cowardly Lion who wishes to have courage. They all went up to The Wizard of Oz, who told them that all their wishes will be granted if they could bring him the Wicked Witch's broomstick.
The quest for the broomstick ends up with Dorothy being captured by flying monkeys and the slippers of the Wicked Witch protecting her from her ill fate. In the end, Dorothy and her three friends bring the broomstick to the Wizard only to discover that he is only an ordinary man from America. The Wizard grants them their wishes but reminds them that they had all the qualities within them.
Finally, when Dorothy is taken in a hot air balloon by the Wizard for the trip to Kansas, Toto jumps off the balloon and so does Dorothy for protecting her dog. Glinda reappears at this instance and tells her the power of the slippers of the Wicked Witch, which Dorothy was wearing all this time but had no clue about its magical powers. She taps the slippers’ heels three times and utters the words “There’s no place like home” when she gets transported back to her farm in Kansas.
The film is popular and an all-time favorite because of its selection of songs and the musical soundtrack. Harold Arlen composed the songs and the lyrics were written by Yip Harburg. Their song “Over the Rainbow” won the Academy Award for the Best Original Song. This song ranks first in the Recording Industry Association of America’s “365 Songs of the Century” and the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs.
The well-known Hollywood composer and songwriter of MGM, Herbert Stothart won the Academy Award for the Best Original Score. The Associate Conductor of the musical was Georgie Stoll and the screen credit for vocals arrangements and orchestral was given to Ken Darby, Murray Cutter, George Bassman, and Paul Marquardt. All the songs were recorded on the studio's scoring stage before they got filmed.
Songs Used in the Film
- “Over the Rainbow”
- “Come Out…”
- “If I Only Had the Nerve”
- “We Thank You Very Sweetly”
- “It Really Was No Miracle”
- “As Mayor of the Munchkin City”
- “If I Only Had a Brain”
- “We’re Off to See the Wizard” along with two separate reprise versions
- “The Merry Old Land of Oz”
- “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” along with its reprise version
- “The Lollipop Guild”
- “Optimistic Voices” by MGM Studio Chorus
- “If I Were King of the Forest”
- “The Lullaby League”
- “As Coroner, I Must Aver”
- “If I Only Had a Heart”
- “We Welcome You to Munchkinland”
- “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You’re Off to See the Wizard”
- “The Jitterbug”
The original recording of “If I Only Had a Brain” was quite slower than the version that was used in the film. The original version was actually considered to be lost until a copy of it was discovered in 2009. The song “The Jitterbug” is not present in the final version of the film but it is available only in extended CD versions.
The Wizard of the Oz was fully underscored with a number of instrumental snippets. There was also some popular and classical music used in the underscoring of the film which include –
- Excerpt from “Opus 16, #2” by Felix Mendelssohn
- Excerpts from “The Happy Farmer” by Robert Schumann
- Excerpt from “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky
- “Gaudeamus Igitur”
- “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree”
- “Home! Sweet Home!”
A Dazzling Masterpiece that Defeats Dark Spells to Behold the Power of “Home, Sweet Home!”
The deep universal appeal of returning to one’s home is in the heart of everyone – be it a child or a full-grown adult. This is the powerful emotion that this film captured and delivered through a fascinating tale of magic, spells, determination, hope, and friendship. This film powerfully fills the deep void that exists in the minds of many children about what to do when you are taken from the safety of your home and transported to a land that is far off the rainbows and the blue skies. This film is the epitome of the driving force that all children have within them, which they can call upon when they need to take the control of their destinies into their own hands. The film touches on all the key lessons of childhood including that all the powers are well within a child, how diverse and helpful friends can be, and most importantly, even a Wizard has his own problems like us. This is why every child should get into this dazzling journey and learn the lessons of life through a musical, comic, and exciting tale of Dorothy’s quest to return home safely with her dog Toto.