Plus, as I am rather fond of pointing out, Robert De Niro was similarly eleven years old when he first trod the boards to play the Cowardly Lion in a community production of The Wizard of Oz. Good company, indeed. I'm still waiting for my Travis Bickle.
In the meantime, here are my thoughts on...
The Wizard of Oz
Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf
(based on the novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum)
Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton
2 wins, including Best Song ("Over the Rainbow")
I doubt I have any readers who are not at least slightly familiar with The Wizard of Oz, the classic musical about Dorothy Gale and her fantastical adventures. The film begins on the sepia-toned Kansas farm on which Dorothy lives with her aunt, her uncle, three quirky farmhands and her dog, Toto. She has brief encounters with her unpleasant neighbour as well as an amiable fortune teller. After being caught in a fierce tornado, Dorothy is rendered unconscious, awakening to see the house spinning out of control in mid-air. The house lands in a strange and colourful place, a land known as Oz. Greeted by dozens of Munchkins and a good witch by the name of Glinda, Dorothy is told that, in order to return home, she must seek the assistance of the Wizard. On her journey, she teams up with a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Lion, all remarkably similar to those quirky farmhands back in Kansas, yet Dorothy simply can't make the connection, try as she might. She is also pursued by the Wicked Witch of the West, angry at Dorothy's careless murder of the Witch's sister, who was crushed by Dorothy's descending house.
When you need to put a smile on your face, just sit back and relax with a viewing of The Wizard of Oz, still charming seventy years on. It is replete with spectacular sets and costumes and make-up, plus some impressive special effects, considering the year it was produced. Add to that some familiar tunes with witty lyrics and you have yourself the perfect cure for any kind of blues. Be aware, however, that this is unmistakably a children's movie. But it's that innocent charm, perhaps, that makes it so enjoyable, allowing you that brief moment to feel like a child again. Still, The Wizard of Oz is also the height of pantomime. The production has an air of a stage performance about it, no doubt a consequence of the vaudeville background of a number of the cast. Everything is as hammy is it can possibly be.
Despite its junior demographic, there are some strangely morbid themes. The first scene in Munchkinland could be somewhat unsettling to some, with its celebration of death. Sure, the Wicked Witch of the East was a nasty old hag, but to dance about and sing, "Ding dong, the Witch is dead," before she's even cold seems a tad insensitive. No wonder the Wicked Witch of the West is so miffed.
The design elements in the film are nothing short of magnificent. A sweeping field of poppies, a sea of flying monkeys, a colour-changing horse. Even the painted backdrops that create the illusion of a larger landscape can be forgiven their conspicuousness because they are still so beautifully extravagant. Although, the frequent sight of the cast skipping along the yellow brick road into the distance made me almost expect to see them wander too far and simultaneously slam their noses into the backdrop.
One of the most impressive effects occurs when the Wicked Witch disappears behind a puff of coloured smoke. Yes, you can see the trapdoor if you look close enough, but the impressive part is the huge ball of fire that spews itself out almost immediately after the Witch has descended. A little less impressive, perhaps, after I discovered that Margaret Hamilton was off work for weeks with second-degree burns because of that stunt. Or maybe more impressive, I'm not sure.
The pre-fantasy sequence demonstrates the cleverness of the script, made all the more fascinating with the knowledge of the subsequent storyline. We all know that Dorothy's dream contains characters inspired by those in her real life, but the farmhands also give hints to their fantasy counterparts' respective desires. The whole concept is rather Freudian, when you think about it.
Which brings me to the film's conclusion. Quite the cliché, but I guess The Wizard of Oz was really the pioneer of the it-was-all-a-dream plot. Besides, the central character still learnt a lesson even if her entire journey is made redundant. And hey, what happened to Miss Gulch's plans to destroy Toto?