This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Wizard of Oz.”
The Movie: “The Wizard of Oz”
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
Director: Victor Fleming
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home in Kansas and help her friends as well.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 99 percent
Brown: Welcome to this week’s JOE-DOWN, where I’ll be written out of the will and never invited to a family reunion again.
Last week, we embarked on the tragic tale of an abandoned sled in “Citizen Kane.” And while that is considered one of the greatest movies of all time, this week’s choice may be the most memorable movie of all time.
Because we are entering the terrifying technicolor world of Oz.
Wait, sorry, let’s try this again.
I saw this movie as a kid and it’s probably THE movie that you don’t have to see because pop culture has ingrained all the scenes and the score into your brain.
And because the bulk of my family is from Kansas, it’s a landmark movie because it’s the only thing noteable to come from Kansas before Zack Snyder’s (REDACTED) “Man of Steel” had Clark Kent raised in the Sunflower State.
So Froemming, before I’m shunned by my extended family, give me your first take on “The Wizard of Oz.”
Froemming: This is one of those movies I saw a million times as a child because it was on TV all the time. At least it felt like that.
Brown: If you keep your TV on TNT for an entire Saturday, you’ll see “The Wizard of Oz,” “Shawshank Redemption” and every “Rocky” movie.
Froemming: TNT and TBS has made me memorize this movie, “Bloodsport” and ever episode of “Saved By The Bell” just from having it on during my youth.
Yes, I watched a lot of TV.
Rewatching “The Wizard of Oz” for the JOE-DOWN was no exception. I have not seen this movie since I was probably 18, so almost two decades, and I remembered every beat and song.
One thing that has changed the experience is what freaks me out. As a child, it was the flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch. Now, it is the nightmare fuel known only in the credits and film as “The Munchkins.”
Well, I’m going to sync up Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” to play along with this JOE-DOWN, why don’t you kick it off.
Brown: We begin in Kansas, which honestly looks more like Oklahoma, and everything is in this disgusting sepia tone. Sepia tone is what I used in high school to make my developed film photographs seem artsy. They were not.
Froemming: There is no difference between Oklahoma and Kansas. Both are filled with dirt farmers.
Brown: No. Kansas has hills, at least.
And right away, we meet a panicked Dorothy (Garland), who is pleading with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry because their neighbor, Miss Gulch, is mad about being bitten by Dorothy’s dog, Toto.
Miss Gulch is justified in her anger at the dog. So much so that she biked all the way to the sheriff to get an order to take Toto and then bike to Dorothy’s house. That’s commitment, because that seems like the type of place in Kansas where your nearest neighbors are five miles away and the nearest town is across county lines.
Froemming: You know Miss Gulch is that lady who blows up at the grocery store clerk because her coupon expired and she didn’t realize it. Coupon savings? $.25.
Brown: Twenty-five cents would have been a house payment back then.
I’d like to mention the farm hands, namely Zeke, who gives Dorothy the really terrible advice of spitting in Miss Gulch’s face if she’s being mean.
That farm is too small to need THREE farm hands to help out Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. It’s a chicken coop and some horses and all I see them getting for their help is some crullers.
Also, what the hell is wrong with Dorothy? Don’t feed Toto a piece of cruller. Dogs don’t need human sweets!
Miss Gulch takes Toto, only for the pooch to escape, run back to the farm and JUMP INTO DOROTHY’S WINDOW!
That… that is a hell of a leap for a dog that small into a first-story window. But the way it looked, that was a second-story window. In a world filled with wizards and witches and a talking lion, this is the most unbelievable part of the film.
Froemming: I thought it was a one-story house.
Brown: When Miss Gulch takes the dog, Dorothy runs upstairs.
Froemming: A note to filmmakers: A movie like this is for people taking LSD, not for you to take LSD and make a movie.
Anyway, Toto leaps like a (REDACTED) boss into Dorothy’s window. Knowing that Miss Gulch’s love of abusing dogs is much like Michael Vick’s, Dorothy and the pooch hit the road. It’s time to get outta dodge.
As they wander their home state that is made up of 99 percent dust, they stumble upon a huckster who sells nonsense and false promises. This is Professor Marvel, and he would be considered a mentally ill hoarder in this day and age. Dorothy wants to travel the world with this creepy stranger because that way Miss Gulch will never find Toto.
Oh, a woman like that will find a way. She’s probably the type of person who would make a fast-food worker cry because her order was wrong.
Brown: You had some bad run-ins with older people in your retail days, didn’t you?
Froemming: Without a doubt.
Marvel invites Dorothy into his wagon, where he consults his crystal
that he bought from Walter White ball. He sees Auntie Em having a stroke and guilt trips the child into running back home. Later, at the end of this movie, he pops in at Dorothy’s window like he is a family friend. I have no idea why, and it seems really off-putting. He was literally a stranger at the start of this movie. Did he wander miles on end to see how Dorothy was doing? And if he did, why?
Brown: (REDACTED) Professor Marvel.
After taking a photo from Dorothy’s basket, he manipulates her into going back home by suggesting her aunt will get deathly ill if Dorothy leaves with Professor Marvel, like she wants to.
He also performs cold reading, which is what a-holes that claim to speak to the dead perform, like John Edwards and Theresa Caputo, the “Long Island Medium.” It’s a new level of exploitative.
Froemming: Dorothy heads home and we see a twister ravaging the Kansas countryside like God intended. And I will say this, for a movie made in the 1930s, these special effects still kinda hold up. Maybe it’s the sepia that masks some of the fakery, but the twister here looks much better than CGI Yoda in the “Star Wars” prequels.
Brown: So a tornado is tearing up the land and Dorothy is locked out of the storm shelter.
You know what you shouldn’t do, Dorothy? Go to the top level of the house.
And you know what else you shouldn’t do? Stand next to a window during a tornado.
You live in tornado alley, Dorothy; these are common-sense things. Especially when you live in a house that proves to be as structurally sound as a trailer.
Froemming: Maybe it was the alleged diet pills and 80 cigarettes a day the company made Garland consume to keep her weight down for the role? The woman clearly wasn’t thinking straight.
So the house is whipped up into the air and like so many 20-somethings watching this, Dorothy starts hallucinating things outside her window. Auntie Em, debris and Miss Gulch transforming from a bicycle-riding hipster from Portland to a broom-riding witch.
Yup, probably the diet pills and smokes.
Brown: When the house lands, Dorothy is not in her sepia tone-soaked life. She’s landed in a rainbow-like land of color, if the rainbow was colored with highlighters.
Let’s be honest here: This (REDACTED) had to blow people’s’ minds in 1939.
And, as it turns out, Dorothy has inadvertently committed murder while arriving in this new land.
It’s a land that is a hellish landscape for Froemming.
I, of course, am referring to Munchkinland.
Froemming: OK, one thing: Dorothy kills not one but TWO witches in this movie. Accidents or murder, you make the call.
And yes, Munchkinland freaked me the (REDACTED) out. I loved it as a child, but as an adult, if there is a Hell, it would be this technicolor nightmare drenched with little people dressed garishly to the nines with faces so rigid, contorted and frightening that they all look like they need medical attention.
Brown: To be fair, they all have better hair than Donald Trump.
Froemming: And all they do is sing. I will not sleep well for a week because of this palace of nightmares and terror.
Brown: Fun fact: The Singer Midgets (the group that played the munchkins) were each paid $50-to-$100 per week.
Toto made $125 a week. The (REDACTED) dog who had to memorize no lines or jingles whatsoever.
This whole sequence is a fever dream. The Good Witch of the North, Glinda, celebrates the death of the Wicked Witch of the East. She calls Dorothy a national heroine. That’s a cringe-worthy term when the main actress ended up having substance issues.
So we get a song, a dance and a parade that traveled about, oh, 30 feet, as Munchkinland is no longer under the oppressive thumb of the Wicked Witch of the East.
But, her sister is not happy about this news.
Froemming: Well, would you be happy if some country bumpkin dropped a house on your sister, killing her immediately? I didn’t think so. The Wicked Witch of the West is justified in her hatred of Dorothy.
And it gets worse when the ruby slippers she wants to pry from the cold, dead feet of her sibling suddenly appears on Dorothy’s feet. It is just adding insult to injury here.
Obviously in grief and shock, the Wicked Witch vows to destroy Dorothy, which again is justified since Dorothy committed homicide via house dropping.
Brown: Add grave robbing to Dorothy’s rap sheet.
Dorothy wants to return home, but Glinda, a witch, I guess doesn’t have the magic to perform this task. There is only one man who is apparently powerful enough to bring Dorothy back to Kansas: The Wizard of Oz.
And how do you get there? Why, follow the yellow brick road.
Give the movie this: The music is extremely memorable, which is how this soundtrack has been able to stand the test of time for, what, almost 80 years?
Froemming: I want to know where the red brick road leads.
So she is off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Damn you’re right, these are super catchy.
So Dorothy is blindly following this road that some stranger dressed like a Disney princess told her to take, along with her army of singing monsters. And she stumbles upon a fork in the road and a character, Brown pointed out to me, that gets disemboweled later on in the film.
Brown: Yeah, it’s pretty (REDACTED) up to see a Scarecrow getting his insides torn out and shown to him by flying monkeys. We’ll get to that later.
Three things that concern me.
First, the catch song implies that all Dorothy has to do is follow the road. And yet, no one warns her there is a fork in the road. You would think that would be an important detail to inform a stranger in a strange land of.
Second, and this is a harmless one… how slow was this journey on the yellow brick road thanks to Toto? Every dog I’ve ever walked would sniff EVERYTHING in this land and mark his/her territory.
Lastly, After meeting the Scarecrow and hearing his sad, sad tale about how he needs a brain, she tells him, “Oh, come with me, the Wizard will give you a brain.”
That’s awfully presumptuous there, Dorothy. The Wizard owes you chumps NOTHING.
Final point: I cringed at the line where Scarecrow says “People without brains do a lot of talking, don’t they?” … Yep. They also win presidencies.
Froemming: Dorothy has this habit of killing witches and making promises on behalf of the Wizard. It’s kinda rude.
Brown: Serious question, Froemming: How much would it suck to have your profession be wizard? I feel bad for doctors and lawyers when, as soon as you mention what you do at a cocktail party, people will solicit you for free medical and legal advice. Imagine being a wizard and hearing “Oh, turn my ex into a frog” or some stupid (REDACTED) like that every. Single. Time.
Froemming: If I were the wizard, I would just avoid parties. I generally hate crowds of people anyway. For the wizard, he probably just lies, like he lies to EVERYONE in this movie.
And Dorothy’s rudeness continues when she sees and apple tree and decides to just take some fruit. Look, I don’t know about Kansas, but in Minnesota we just don’t steal produce. And the apple tree feels the same way, because it comes alive and wants to fight these two moochers.
Brown: I’ll just state this now: Dorothy is a terrible person. Throughout this entire movie, she wants to have her cake and eat it, too.
Froemming: Whoa, slow your roll there. She is just a child, man. She doesn’t know better, what being from a state that produces — I don’t know, dirt? I can forgive her for some of this, maybe because Garland was the biggest star to come from Minnesota until Prince.
Anyone brings up Bob Dylan and I swear I will freak the (REDACTED) out on you. Bum poet with a stupid voice.
Brown: Counterpoint to your argument: Dorothy committed murder. Twice.
Look, I find it grating when Dorothy is all insulting to the Wicked Witch of the West, who is ostensibly a grieving sibling. Then when the Witch is like, “Look, I’ll trade you back your dog for the slippers” … Nope, she can’t do that. She just wants everything.
Froemming: Well, she literally can’t do that. Those things are stuck to her feet and fire erupts from them if they are tried to be taken off.
OK, we are wildly off track here. So the apple trees (which frightened me as a child, but I sympathize with as an adult) want to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and they are all out of bubble gum.
Scarecrow uses their rage against them and tricks the trees into throwing apples at them, so they can eat for free. Then they hear the creakings of what Tobias Fünke refers to as the Steel Man.
Brown: Yep. We get the Tin Man. I’m shocked when the Tin Man was rusted in place that Toto didn’t mark his territory on the poor guy.
After oiling up the guy and finding out he’s in need of some heart, Dorothy continues to be an inconsiderate person by saying the Wizard WILL give him a heart.
Never invite Dorothy to a dinner. She’ll bring like 10 homeless people with her because OF COURSE you’ll feed everyone. Quit assuming, you ass.
The Tin Man joins the gang, but not after the Wicked Witch throws a fireball at the Scarecrow before they go marching down the road. And despite urban legend, I didn’t see a munchkin hanging in the background of this scene.
Froemming: Next up, the three are wandering the yellow brick road and wonder if they will be mauled by a lion, tiger or bear, OH MY!
And it turns out, there is a lion lurking. A lion who barges in on them and threatens to fight them like that drunk guy who had one shot too many at every bar in America, usually named Kyle.
Well, Dorothy has had enough of his attitude, and despite the fact the Lion didn’t actually attack anyone, Dorothy smacks him in the face like a pimp.
Brown: The Lion… ugg… he is like an annoying buffoon in a Warner Bros. cartoon. Here is what I’d do to the Lion when he starts doing the “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up” routine.
Despite terrifying our trio, the Lion reveals he’s nothing but a big wimp and he’s in need of courage. Thanks to pop culture, I thought back to the “Futurama” parody of this movie and murmured “Who needs courage when you can have… a gun?”
So, the Lion comes along. And the next stop along the yellow brick road is
Bill Cosby’s backyard a sleep-inducing poppy field.
Oh yeah, it is time for the four of them to party! Well, only the Lion and Dorothy, the Scarecrow is probably a vicodin addict from the pain of being nailed to a post all day and I assume the Tin Man is a heavy drinker.
But never fear, for Glinda saves the day by waking our stoned heroes up with
cocaine snow and their adventures to Oz is back on track.
Brown: And finally, we reach Emerald City, the home of the Wizard. After meeting resistance from the Wizard’s guard before Dorothy’s sob story about wanting to go home makes him a blubbering mess, complete with snot running down his nose
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.
So, we meet the Wizard… who is a floating head in front of a wall of flames. Again, this moment probably (REDACTED) with people in the late 1930s. The Wizard agrees to help everyone on one condition: Kill the Wicked Witch of the West and bring back her broomstick.
Best part of this exchange: The Lion being so scared he dives out the window like he’s concerned the Springfield PTA has disbanded.
Froemming: I laughed so hard at that. His fleeing also reminded me of when George Costanza pushed the women and children out of his way when he saw a kitchen on fire.
So our heroes are on their way to commit homicide, breaking and entering and home robbery when our grieving Witch sends her flying monkeys out as a way of standing her ground against these criminal invaders with blood lust surging through their veins. Brown, take it away!
Brown: This is when “The Wizard of Oz” became a horror movie.
These flying blue monkeys, which are the stuff of night terrors, start flying in. And for a movie made in 1939, the flying monkeys look better than all of “Birdemic.”
And here, Dorothy is chased into some dark, dreary woods where she is abducted by, again, flying monkeys.
All the while, the other monkeys are digging their grubby hands into the Scarecrow’s innards and tearing the poor guy apart. Yes, there’s no gore in “The Wizard of Oz,” but imagine how bloody this would be if Scarecrow were human. I’m thinking “Hostel” levels.
It’s (REDACTED) up.
Here’s more insight on it.
Froemming: It wasn’t until you pointed it out that I realized how disturbing it was that these flying monkeys were pulling his guts out and flaunting his innards to his face and he’s screaming in pain.
Meanwhile, the Tin Man stands there with an ax and does nothing for his friend. Dude should have gone Patrick Bateman listening to Huey Lewis and the News on those suckers to save his buddy. But alas, that didn’t happen.
Brown: With Dorothy in her grasps, the Wicked Witch wants her sister’s shoes back. However, Dorothy apparently has to be dead before the shoes can be removed from her feet.
Why? Is Dorothy supposed to sleep with these slippers on for the rest of her life?
Also, I never saw Dorothy even try to remove these slippers. I have no reason to believe Dorothy is an upstanding citizen so I’m willing to bet she’s lying about her inability to remove the ruby red slippers.
So the Witch turns over an hourglass where when it runs out, “something” will happen. I get it’s supposed to be death, but we get nothing else.
I’d say poor Dorothy, but she’s kind of the worst.
Froemming: The Witch terrorizes her with images of Auntie Em in her crystal ball, and we need to remember this is a woman grieving and should consider her actions as a knee-jerk reaction to the murder of her sibling, who was crushed by a house.
But Toto is not one to be restrained in life, and he makes the great escape and locates the Lion, Tin Man and a traumatized Scarecrow who was recently dismembered by a flying monkey. He will lead these guys to save Dorothy. She did promise them the world and they are too far deep into this to just walk away.
Brown: OK, confusing scene. While we get the iconic guard in front of the Witch’s castle
singing Metallica’s “Frayed Ends of Sanity” a trio of guards get the drop on the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion… only for our heroes to steal their uniforms and break into the castle.
You had weapons. How did you not finish off the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion? Seriously, guards.
The three find where Dorothy is hidden, with the Tin Man cutting down the door with his axe to free our heroine before the sands of the hourglass run out.
And this leads to what amounts to is a Scooby-Doo chase around the castle before the heroes are cornered.
Froemming: Ah, but the Scarecrow decides to drop the chandelier on the enemy. But now the Witch is fed up with these homicidal intruders and sets her broom aflame and sets the Scarecrow on fire.
What happens next would make for an excellent courtroom drama, as Dorothy could claim picking up the pail of water and throwing it wildly in the direction of the Scarecrow was her intention, and hitting the Witch was a mistake with dire consequence. The prosecution would argue she purposely hit the H2O adverse woman with the water, knowing she would melt in a horrendous and painful death.
Brown: Dorothy melted a person, which is 100 times more (REDACTED) up than anything Joker has done in a Batman comic.
With the Witch dead, her tyrannical reign ends and the army that was once trying to kill our heroes now celebrates them. Yeah, sure. That’s how it works.
Brown: With the broomstick in hand, our foursome arrive back at Emerald City to make the Wizard keep his promises. However, the Wizard isn’t as keen to help them now.
Then Toto, probably smelling a Snausage, pulls back a curtain to reveal an old man in front of a whatchamacallit (technical term). Turns out, this is the Wizard. Not the floating head that probably started insomnia in the 1930s.
Froemming: Called out on his ruse, the Wizard now has to improvise because he is a conman.
So here is what he sells our gullible heroes.
- Scarecrow: Gets an honorary degree that is a Doctorate in Thinkology, which must be something one could major in at Trump University.
- Tin Man: A clock in the shape of a heart and some speech about he already has a heart. No, he is made out of tin and unless he has a heart that pumps oil (we in fact know this is not the case, otherwise the oil can would not have been needed) this is (REDACTED).
- The Lion: A medal for his bravery. Like the time he flew out the window out of fear.
- Dorothy: What a coincidence, he is also from Kansas despite his hot air balloon saying “State Fair of Omaha.” He will fly them from this mystical place and back to the land of sepia and dirt.
The Wizard is a fraud, folks.
Brown: And like Charlie Kelly, the Wizard cannot pronounce philanthropist.
As Dorothy is about to leave in the balloon, Toto runs free, so she gives chase. But, the balloon takes off without her as the Wizard, I assume, takes off to go around the world in 80 days. Or create a zeppelin.
Dorothy seems doomed to live her life with a robot, a man of straw and a wild (REDACTED) beast before Glinda returns and tells her to click her heels together and Dorothy can wish to return home.
How the hell did you figure that out, Glinda? You had no clue whatsoever what the shoes did at the start. How did you figure it out now? The only two witches who knew how they worked are dead, with their blood on Dorothy’s hands.
With that said, who hasn’t at one point clicked their heels together and mimicked this?
Froemming: Dorothy then goes into a haze (maybe still stoned from the poppy field?) and wakes up back in Kansas. And everyone is relieved and in her room. Her aunt and uncle, the three farmhands and for no reason that I can think off that isn’t creepy, Professor Marvel. Not since Lando wearing Han’s clothes in the Falcon at the end of “Empire Strikes Back” have I been this baffled by a moment in a movie.
OK Brown, let us click our heels and transport over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Yeah. It’s classic cinema. The Library of Congress considers this the most watched movie of all time. Frankly, I’d be shocked if you read this review and haven’t seen this movie.
Froemming: Absolutely. This movie still looks really good and it is a fun flick. And it is terrifying at times. Great film.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: