Netflix UK film review: The Wizard Of Oz
Simon Kinnear | On 11, Jun 2015
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger
Watch The Wizard of Oz online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV
While the critics’ crib-sheet of cinema’s most influential films will forever be a rundown of art-house darlings (Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, Breathless, etc), the man on the street has other ideas. Measured strictly in terms of the number of pop-culture references a film can generate, there can only be one winner and it’s not some dusty landmark in technique, but a kid-friendly fantasy musical made with all the pomp and panache a major Hollywood studio can supply.
Put simply, The Wizard of Oz is everywhere. Barely a day goes by without somebody quoting from it, while it remains a free-flowing wellspring for some of the finest ever Simpsons gags (“continue the research”, indeed!). Then there’s The Wiz, Zardoz, Return to Oz, Wild at Heart, My Own Private Idaho, After Hours, Oz: The Great And Powerful… oh, and not forgetting the small matter of Wicked, the revisionist book-turned-musical that casts the film’s events in a very different light.
The fact is that, of all the so-called classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age, this is the one that everybody has seen long before they have even heard there’s meant to be a canon. People tend to be told of Kane’s greatness, and usually have to be forcibly dragged to watch Gone With the Wind, but Oz’s appeal to children is instant and innate. There are laughs (ranging from simple pratfalls to the surreal sight of a guard crying so hard his face turns into a human fountain), scares (the attack by flying monkeys is very disturbing), some of the most indelible songs in the movies, and a genuine sense of wonder and adventure.
More than that, there is the simple pleasure of watching quirky, sympathetic characters strutting their stuff, helped no end by the performances. Judy Garland is sweetness itself, the trio of Bolger, Jack Haley and (especially) Bert Lahr show impeccable charm and comedic ability underneath hellish make-up – seriously, look up the fate of original Tin Man Buddy Ebsen – while Hamilton lays claim to not one but two of cinema’s most hissable villains.
Yet, while it’s the emotional sincerity and dramatic ease that grab the attention, it’s the film’s seemingly endless possibilities that keep it fresh, meaning that the most familiar and influential film ever made still has the capacity to surprise. Effectively, this is so simple that it can be read any which way you want, and the openness invites more interpretation than the loftiest of adult dramas.
Seriously, there’s something for everyone: psychoanalysts can get off on the Freudian fever dream, the politically minded can wonder why Glinda doesn’t just tell Dorothy she can go home at the start (because she’s grooming her as an assassin?), while the gay counter-culture has traced a line from the misfit “friends of Dorothy” all the way to Stonewall and beyond. Little wonder, then, that when Salman Rushdie was given the choice of 360 films to write a book about by the BFI, he chose this one.
And the spell doesn’t relent, even as an adult. Perhaps it’s because the style is so out of the ordinary, a juxtaposition of the timeless and the then-modern that is so odd it looks even more radical in the age of anonymous CGI. On the one hand, it is very old-fashioned and theatrical – albeit theatre carved on the grandest scale – with its huge painted backdrops, extravagant costumes, wires holding up the lion’s tail and the witch appearing through a trapdoor disguised behind a cloud of smoke.
Set against that is the polish of its cinematic texture, thanks to the gliding camera movements, the effortlessly iconic close-ups of those memorable faces and, best of all, the unprecedented and still astonishing switch from monochrome to glorious Technicolor. The same uniqueness that stops children in their tracks retains its elusive, indefinable freshness on repeat viewings, so it doesn’t look like those references are going to stop any time soon.
The Wizard of Oz is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.