‘The Wizard of Oz’: THR’s 1939 Review

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On Aug. 25, 1939, MGM unveiled The Wizard of Oz in theaters across the U.S. The Victor Fleming-directed film held its Hollywood premiere at the Chinese Theatre on Aug. 15 and broke an attendance record at the location as well as Loew’s State Theatre, with a $5,169 opening-day gross a day later. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, titled “‘Wizard Marked for Top BoxOffice; Artistic Hit,” is below:

The Wizard of Oz will, beyond question, be accorded recognition as a milestone in motion picture history. It scintillates with artistry, yet it possesses such an abundance of qualities which predict broad audience success that there can be no question of its being headed for spectacular playing time and grosses.

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The MGM picture will undoubtedly reflect great credit on the motion picture industry at large. It is a creation entirely out of the usual order, brilliantly inventive and arrestingly beautiful and dramatically compelling to the eye, the ear and the emotions. Somehow in its lavish creation, producer Mervyn LeRoy has captured a spirit of earthy drama of a strong moral flavor, and combined this with outright fantasy and with striking effect.

The production is remarkable in every department. Its cast is superb, its music delightfully tuneful, its settings as remarkably effective as they are unusual. Costuming, special effects and photography add embellishing touches which further clinch the picture’s claims to highly significant achievement.

Remarkably few liberties have been taken with the familiar fairytale dealing with the adventures of a Kansas youngster tossed by a cyclone into a fantastic world peopled by amazing but familiar characters. Judy Garland gives the role lyric charm and a wholly competent performance dramatically, ably justifying her selection for the key role. Her performance will undoubtedly advance her career vitally.

Linked with her most intimately are Frank Morgan as the Wizard, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion and Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman. Additionally Billie Burke as Glinda, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch and Toto, the dog, are importantly identified in the cinematic version.

Lahr’s performance is scintillatingly outstanding, principally of course, for its comedy effect. Haley’s is likewise richly drawn, and Bolger completes an amazing trio. The combination of the three Haley, Lahr and Bolger with Miss Garland is peculiarly fortunate, for it is the collusion of talents, highlighted by the peculiar tricks of each which makes their efforts constantly delightful, individually and collectively.

Miss Garland’s singing of “Over the Rainbow” is one of the delights of the musical. In a comedy vein the lyric laments of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion, and the bursts of song shared by the three with Miss Garland, add divertingly to the picture.

Miss Hamilton’s grotesque Witch is neatly drawn to gain dramatic effect without overpowering repulsiveness. Morgan’s Wizard is rich in humorous innuendo and delivery, and Miss Burke is perfectly cast.

In each instance costuming is craftfully executed to preserve a human identity within a masquerade, and the result is at once delightful and fantastic.

Producer LeRoy has enriched the fable with numerous settings of amazing creation, technicolor scenes which add visual delights as well as story elaboration, and has invested it with musical interludes and backgrounding of unusual charm.

Victor Fleming’s direction is amazingly sensitive, yet graphic, in an assignment which required an unusually acute sense of varied values. The musical efforts of Herbert Stothart, E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, Harold Rosson’s photography, Arnold Gillespie’s special effects, Adrian’s costuming, Cedric Gibbons” art direction. Jack Dawn’s remarkable makeup creations are all marked by distinction.

Marked for special note, too, is the musical scene participated in by the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins and staged by Bobby Connolly. This and numerous other scenes will remain long In the audience memory of whatever age to mark Wizard as memorable. — Staff review, originally published on Aug. 10, 1939.

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