Film fairy tales often need a special quality and ingredient to help them stand the test of time, if they are to be treasured by successive generations. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939), based on the novel written by L. Frank Baum, is a fine example of the film-making that does exactly that. Made up of the most extraordinary colourful characters, an imaginary world and memorable songs, ranging from ‘Over The Rainbow’ to ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead’, it isn’t hard to see why it is one of American cinema’s most beloved movies. Its Hollywood premiere on August 15th 1939 at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, introduced the world to a young teenage girl named Dorothy, who with her scruffy little dog Toto, is blown away by a tornado to the magical world of Oz. Arriving in Munchkin Land with a thud, Dorothy and Toto must travel along the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, who will help them get back home to Kansas. Along the way, Dorothy is befriended by a Scarecrow, Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion and stalked by the vengeful Wicked Witch of the West.
But before any of that happens, we are first introduced to a daydreaming Dorothy, who wishes nothing more than to escape the clutches of Kansas and its mundane way of life. In those first openings scenes shot in black and white, to contrast what is to come in the glitzy vibrant technicolour world of Oz, Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, sings Over The Rainbow, one of the most beautiful and enduring songs put to film. (It has since been voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.) In short it is a pivotal scene that helps set up Dorothy’s longing to leave Kansas as a segue to Oz. Interesting, the famous ‘Over The Rainbow’ scene was almost cut from the film. The story goes that when the film’s principal director, Victor Fleming, returned to edit the film in early 1939, he thought that particular scene with Dorothy in the barnyard, part of the Kansas sequences shot by King Vidor, was far too slow in pace. And so Fleming cut it from the film, to the horror of songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, who begged and pleaded for it to be restored back into the film. In the end, it was MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer, who eventually saw its value and got it back into the film and it’s safe to say the rest is history. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: The header movie still image from the film The Wizard of Oz is presumably owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. I make use of the image under the rationale of ‘fair use’ to help illustrate arguably one of cinema history’s greatest scenes. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip.
I agree “Over the Rainbow” is one of the greatest songs ever written, and it’s a magical scene in this, my all-time favorite film. Nice post Robert.
Have you ever listened to the commentary track on the Wizard of Oz DVD? A lot of fascinating details on that. Including, as you point out, the fact the song was almost dropped from the film. Good post – and also one of my all-time favourite films.
I am sure everyone is happy that the song was kept. It is lovely and I thought its slowness provided a nice contrast to all the action that is to happen later on. It also let’s us inside Dorothy’s heart and we find out more who she is. We get to sympathise and feel for her much more through and after this song. Incidentally, I can never again look at this song or this film once I got to know that this film is almost perfectly “synchronised” (both thematically and musically) to Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon. The number of similarities is truly shocking and it is one of the world’s most astonishing coincidences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtExVJlgEC0