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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

THE 28: #13: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

Judy Garland: Dorothy

Frank Morgan: Professor Marvel (among other roles)

Ray Bolger: Hunk/The Scarecrow

Burt Lahr: Zeke/The Cowardly Lion

Jack Haley: Hickory/The Tin Man

Margaret Hamilton: Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West

Billie Burke: Glinda

I didn't always openly profess a love for musicals. Such a declaration seemed counter to being a rural boy in southeast Missouri. I walked the halls of Poplar Bluff Junior High praising Queen, AC/DC, Styx, and the latest top 40 hits, but on the inside I wanted to break out into a dance number with my classmates. GREASE made it kinda cool for some kids, I guess, but I think that had more to do with zeitgeist than anything else. I didn't know anyone who was rushing out to learn more about the musical and movies like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, TOP HAT, WEST SIDE STORY, or SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe their was a great, unspoken love for the musical running rampant among my friends and classmates. I guess the first rule of loving musicals was don't talk about loving musicals.

If I had to trace what drew me to the genre, I'd have to point to two pop culture giants. First, the production numbers on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Each week that cast and crew stage a mini Broadway number, full costumes and all. I was enraptured. The second is not only one of the greatest movies ever made, but even more specific, a single moment: Judy Garland's Dorothy (the epitome of wide-eyed Midwestern wholesomeness) forlornly singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." Some people resist the musical or lament its structure. No one stops in the middle of everything in real life to sing and dance, they say. Well, my first of many arguments to that is, maybe if they did, the world would be a better place.

For me, though, the musical demonstrates what most of us already know. Songs express what is in deepest in our hearts far better than plain ol' prose. Sure, Dorothy could've found a stolen moment at private place on the Gale family farm and launched into a monologue about wishing she could go away. Perhaps that monologue might have even stirred the soul. But, when Judy Garland hits those first perfect notes, she is more than performing a lovely song. She is letting us into Dorothy's deepest longing and sets the main idea for the film in motion. I'm incomplete. I'm missing something. There has to be more and I need to find it.

THE WIZARD OF OZ is ingrained in cinema and rightly so. Most of my generation grew up with the annual airing on broadcast television, usually on CBS. Certain films were shown every year as part of the regular television season. GONE WITH THE WIND (my mom's favorite movie) and IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (which almost made this list) were the most common along with THE WIZARD OF OZ. When home video became big, the annual viewing went away. I can honestly say I've not seen it in years after it being such a regular habit growing up.

But, it all stuck with me. The tornado. The magic and wonder of Dorothy arriving over the rainbow. The introductions of the The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion. Ray Bolger's dancing. Jack Haley's charm. Burt Lahr's vaudevillian take on the lion. Those damn flying monkeys. And, of couse, Margaret Hamilton's turn as the Wicked Witch of the West. Hamilton gives one of the great performances in film in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

But, the one I keep coming back to is that moment on the farm. The tornado hasn't hit. Dorothy feels alone. No one will listen to her. She is just a child, after all. There is longing deep within her. When sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and sings for all of us whoever wondered what was out there.

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