Archive for May 1st, 2008

The third and definitive film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy is a musical adventure and it made Judy Garland a star. Between this and A Star is Born we get to see her meteoric rise and decline which is how fantasies in Hollywood are likely to end up.
Dorothy Gale is an orphaned young girl unhappy with her drab black-and-white existence on her aunt and uncle’s dusty Kansas farm. Dorothy yearns to travel “over the rainbow” to a different world, and she gets her wish when a tornado whisks her and her little dog, Toto, to the Technicolorful land of Oz.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

You got that right, Dorothy. This is Hollywood. Where fantasies are made visible, audible, emotional. Even if we cannot guarantee you success no matter what, we can make you a star given the right ingredients in the Golden age of Cinema in technicolor.
So they did and it is a classic even in this age of superfluities and gratuitous sex and violence.

When L. Frank Baum published his children’s story in 1900 he didn’t think it would be held up as an original American fairy tale. Nor did he imagine it would be given an entirely new treatment in an altogether medium of celluloid. Yes his literary classic would be a cinematic milestone some 40 years later. L. Frank Baum overachieved and his book has been read by generations of children, who each grew up and read it to their own children. He went on to write a whole series of Oz books, taking up the characters he created in ‘The Wizard’ and giving them new adventures – 14 books in all. It did not even stop with his death in 1919, as Ruth Plumly Thompson and other writers continued the series, creating scores of volumes. Officially, there were 40 books in the series, but there were many unofficial additions. Even the Russians wrote some.

You’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz
You’ll find he is a Whiz of a Wiz if ever a Wiz there was
If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was,
The Wizard of Oz is one because…

When MGM made their movie in 1939, they wanted a big success with the relatively new process of Technicolor. Disney had enjoyed massive success with the color animation Snow White and the 7 Dwarves. Now MGM wanted a share of this cake. Director Victor Fleming was a very busy man. He took over after George Cukor who was fired by the studio. Cukor was called to work on MGM’s flagship project, Gone With the Wind. Later, when Cukor had run foul of Clark Gable, Fleming found himself directing GWTW by day and editing Wizard by night. King Vidor took over in the Wizard studio and directed the Kansas sequences. Between them, these men took Frank L. Baum’s classic children’s fantasy and added a few Hollywood ingredients:

* a transformation from black and white Kansas to an Oz so Technicolor that it almost hurt your eyes
* some hardened professional character actors, including at least one drunk
* a troop of midgets
* unforgettable songs that children could learn and carry on singing into their twilight years
* a young Judy Garland (although not as young as Dorothy) conveying the innocence of a Kansas farm girl but with the singing voice of a streetwise angel
* the best special effects 1939 technology could deliver.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are some like me who has not yet read the real but just got carried by the reel. So for those who think this is another New Age wizardry set in Avalon or in the Middle Kingdom, here is what happens.

Anyway, Dorothy and Toto manage to get caught up in a twister and see all sorts of people whizz by them. ( Apparently, Toto was put out of filming for a fortnight when one of the crew stepped on the little animal.) When they come back to solid ground, everything has suddenly become brightly colored – not a bit like dull old Kansas, filmed in black and white. It turns out that Dorothy has inadvertently killed the Wicked Witch of the East, making her a hero to the diminutive locals, the Munchkins.

Ding-dong, the witch is dead!
The wicked witch!
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead!
Dorothy heads down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where dwells the all-powerful Wizard of Oz, who might be able to help the girl return to Kansas. En route, she befriends a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr). The Scarecrow would like to have some brains, the Tin Man craves a heart, and the Lion wants to attain courage; hoping that the Wizard will help them too, they join Dorothy on her odyssey to the Emerald City.

Having offended the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), Dorothy is protected from the old crone’s wrath by the ruby slippers that she wears. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), is there to safeguard her and needs to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, and she does.

Together they meet with the imposing Wizard of Oz, who promises them their hearts’ desires (brain, heart, courage, a return flight to Kansas) if they will only kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

Of course they triumph, after a few surreal setbacks, including an attack by blue winged monkeys. Dorothy sings some more and gets back home older and wiser.

Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home’.

Frank L. Baum’s story works because it is a great story, with a mythic center that is nothing short of an allegory for growing up. The story had been filmed before, in 1925, but this is the version that will be remembered as long as movies are remembered. Why?

* Because of the way the Technicolor Oz bursts onto the screen.
* Because everybody remembers “Over the Rainbow”, but nobody ever sung it quite like Judy Garland (real name Frances Gumm). This hit song by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg was nearly chopped from the picture after the first preview because it “slowed down the action.”
* Because everybody, adult and child, has had a dream that seemed apparently senseless and yet made perfect sense.

Garland was MGM’s second choice for Dorothy after Shirley Temple dropped out of the project; and Bolger was to have played the Tin Man but talked co-star Buddy Ebsen into switching roles. When Ebsen proved allergic to the chemicals used in his silver makeup, he was replaced by Haley. Gale Sondergaard was originally to have played the Wicked Witch of the West in a glamorous fashion, until the decision was made to opt for belligerent ugliness, and the Wizard was written for W.C. Fields, who reportedly turned it down because MGM couldn’t meet his price. The Wizard of Oz was too expensive to post a large profit upon initial release; however, after a disappointing reissue in 1955, it was sold to network television, where its annual showings made it a classic.
(ack: Hal Erickson)

DVD Releases
Similar Movies
Alice in Wonderland (1983, Harry Harris)
A Connecticut Yankee (1931, David Butler)
Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, Mel Stuart)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979, Bill Melendez)
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914, John Farrell MacDonald, L. Frank Baum)
Alice in Wonderland (1933, Norman Z. McLeod)
A Wrinkle in Time (2003, John Kent Harrison)
The Cat Returns (2002, Hiroyuki Morita)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, Ken Hughes)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Thousands Cheer (1943, George Sidney)
Courage of Lassie (1946, Fred Wilcox)
The Three Musketeers (1948, George Sidney)
Sweethearts (1938, W.S. Van Dyke)
Boom Town (1940, Jack Conway)
Dancing Pirate (1936, Lloyd Corrigan)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard)
The Affairs of Cellini (1934, Gregory La Cava)
Other Related Movies
is featured in: That’s Entertainment! (1974, Jack Haley, Jr.)
is related to: Return to Oz (1985, Walter Murch)
The Wizard of Oz (1925, Larry Semon)
20th Century Oz (1976, Chris Lofven)
The Lion of Oz (2000, Tim Deacon)
The Wizard of Oz (1933, Ted Eshbaugh)
The Wizard of Oz (1991, Jim Simon)
The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)
Harold Arlen: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1999, Don McGlynn)
The Marvelous Land of Oz (1987, Gerald Potterton, Tim Reid)
The Wizard of Oz (2004)
Veggie Tales: The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s
Tin Man (2007, Nick Willing)
Zardoz (1973, John Boorman)
Rainbow (1978, Jackie Cooper)
His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914, L. Frank Baum)
The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story (1990, Jack Bender)
Being Dorothy (2003, Howard Goldberg)
Return to Oz (1964)
Under the Rainbow (1981, Steve Rash)
Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001, Robert Allan Ackerman)
influenced: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Roy Rowland)
has been remade as: The Wiz (1978, Sidney Lumet)
The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005, Kirk R. Thatcher)
(ack:www. allmovie.com)

checkout other films cinebuff.wordpress.com


Read Full Post »

Lord Melbourne

Lord Melbourne when he was the Chief Secretary to Ireland ran his office in an unorthodox manner allowing Protestants and Catholics and seditious elements to approach him directly with their problems. One day a little boy, the son of a subordinate was brought in to be shown his room at the office.
“Is there anything you’d like here?”William asked him kindly. The child chose a stick of sealing wax. “That is right my boy,”said William pressing a bundle of pens into his hands,”begin life early. All these things belong to the public, and your business is to get out of the public as much as you can.”

Melbourne as the First Minister got along famously with the young Victoria who was still in her teens. She looked for guidance to the elder statesman during his official morning visits. Once when during dessert he had taken two apples she queried why he had taken two when he was unlikely to eat more than one he replied: “I would like to have the power of doing so.”(Ack: Melbourne-David Cecil)

Read Full Post »

The title is not to be confused with the one featuring Bob Hope that was made in 1939. Any similarity between the two ends here. If you can get through Some Like It Hot without laughing, you probably need help. Roger Ebert, among others, has compared this movie to a Shakespearean comedy and it certainly has many of the Bard’s classic ingredients: disguise, cross-dressing, two pairs of lovers. Whereas Shakespeare would have one comic couple and one heroic, Wilder has one comic couple and one even more comic. And of course, to play his sirens, Shakespeare only had boys whose voice had not yet broken. Wilder had Marilyn Monroe.
As Jack Lemmon says on screen:

Look how she moves. Like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex.

The launching pad for Billy Wilder’s comedy classic was a rusty old German farce, Fanfares of Love, whose two main characters were male musicians so desperate to get a job that they disguise themselves as women and play with an all-girl band in gangster-dominated 1929 Chicago. In this version of 1959 the movie takes the viewer to the golden age of gangsters and to St. Valentine’s Day massacre in particular.
The film opens with a sombre setting. A policeman hangs around outside what seems to be a funeral parlor, but turns out to be a front for a speakeasy run by Spats Colombo (George Raft). Toothpick Charlie, gangster rival of Spats, tips the cop the password to get in. When the place is raided, two of the musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), just manage to escape with their instruments. Out of a job they try the agencies for work in another band but nothing is available except an all-girl band on its way to Florida. They have the right instruments but the wrong equipment.

Eventually, they get a gig over in Urbana, but whilst filling the car with gas to get there they see Spats and his gang line up Tootpick Charlie and his gang against a wall and machine-gun them down. Now wanted by the mob, they put on dresses and make-up. They have the right instruments but they have still wrong gender but somewhat passable for a laugh riot. The movie has attained a cult status for reasons I need not mention here.
The hard-up ( no pun intended) musicians hastily take the train south with Sweet Sue and her band.

This is Sweet Sue saying good night, reminding all you daddies out there that every girl in my band is a virtuoso, and I intend to keep it that way.
En route to Florida by train with Sweet Sue’s band, the boys (girls?) make the acquaintance of Sue’s lead singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe, in what may be her best performance). Joe and Jerry immediately fall in love.
Jerry and Joe – especially Joe knows what Sugar is upto. So he acts the part of the millionaire whom she hasn’t seen. Jerry and Joe still persist and their series of gender-bending ruses are complicated by the fact that flirtatious millionaire Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown) has fallen in love with “Daphne.” – This hitch triggers some of the funniest dialogue in the movies.

Joe: Jerry, there’s another problem. Like what are you gonna do on your honeymoon? Jerry: We’ve been discussing that. He wants to go to the Riviera, but I kinda lean towards Niagara Falls.
The plot gets even thicker when Spats Columbo and his boys show up in Florida. Nominated for several Oscars, Some Like It Hot ended up the biggest moneymaking comedy up to 1959. Full of hilarious set pieces and movie in-jokes, it has not tarnished with time and in fact seems to get better with each passing year, as its cross-dressing humor keeps it only more and more up-to-date. (ack: Hal Erickson)

This subplot is resolved, sort of, with the film’s famous closing line, dreamed up by writer I.A.L. Diamond the night before the scene was shot.

Stories abound of how unmanageable Marilyn Monroe was on set. Allegedly, Wilder became so frustrated with her inability to remember the line “Where’s the bourbon?” that he taped into the drawer she was supposed to search. When she repeatedly opened the wrong drawer, he had it taped into all the drawers. The scatterbrained actress became so indistinguishable from her clueless character that she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Whether it’s great acting or whatever, it’s good to watch.

Sugar: Water polo? Isn’t that terribly dangerous?
Joe: I’ll say! I had two ponies drown under me.

Quote on Marilyn Monroe

What a work of art and nature is Marilyn Monroe … Poured into a dress that offers her breasts like jolly treats for needy boys, she seems totally oblivious to sex while at the same time melting men into helpless desire.
~ Roger Ebert


Director:Billy Wilder

Sugar Kane: Marilyn Monroe
Joe/Josephine: Tony Curtis
Jerry/Daphne: Jack Lemmon
Spats Colombo: George Raft
Mulligan: Pat O’Brien
Osgood Fielding III: Joe E. Brown
Bonaparte: Nehemiah Persoff
Sweet Sue: Joan Shawlee
Sig Poliakoff: Billy Gray
Toothpick Charlie: George E. Stone

120 minutes
Academy Awards

Won (1)

* Best Costume Design, B+W

Nominated (1)

* Best Actor (Lemmon)
* Best Art Direction
* Best Cinematography
* Best Director
* Best Screenplay


Best Foreign Actor (Lemmon)
Best Director
Golden Globes

Best Musical/Comedy Actor (Lemmon)
Best Musical/Comedy Actress (Monroe)
Best Musical/Comedy Actor (Lemmon)
Best Picture, Comedy


Read Full Post »

Sarah Bernhardt(1844-1923)
On one occasion the actress Madge Kendall, congratulating the ‘divine Sarah’ on her performance, added that it was a pity her plays dealt with passion that she could not take her daughters to them. Sarah retorted thus,”Ah madame, you should remember that were it not for passion you would have no daughters to bring.”

Beatrice Lillie-see Lillie Among the Fields

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,872 other followers