Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

During an unforgettable, exciting twister scene, a devastating funnel-shaped tornado approaches closer and closer toward the farm. [The tornado was a special effect, produced by photographing a 35 foot long muslin stocking against a Kansas backdrop. The mis-shapen, irregular-looking twister symbolized her fear of separating from the world of her home and 'parents' - and punishment for causing her Aunt's worry and suffering.] Gusty winds blow hard, chickens scurry around, horses are let go, and the farm hands with Em and Henry prepare to take cover behind the doors of the safe, sheltered storm cellar. Zeke points toward the dark horizon where an evil shape forms:

It's a twister! It's a twister!

Auntie Em shrieks and calls out repeatedly for Dorothy, and is finally dragged down into the storm shelter by the men. The wind is so fierce and howling that screams and voices cannot be heard. While running toward her farm, Dorothy also sees the tornado cloud from the entrance road. [In a symbolic sense, Dorothy's conflict with Miss Gulch and her escape by running away brought forth the unleashed forces of the Gale-force cyclonic winds.]

After reaching the front door to the house, she opens the screen door - it is dramatically ripped from its hinges and blown away. Inside, she moves through the rooms and doorways where she screams out for everyone, but the howling wind drowns out her voice. Left entirely alone and unprotected from the dangerous forces of nature, she is unable to open the door of the locked, underground cyclone shelter where the five adults have already taken shelter. Returning to the house and continually calling for Em, she stumbles into her bedroom where the window frame/shutter breaks away (like the screen door) and she is hit on the side of her head by one corner - it knocks her unconscious. For a moment, she lies back on her bed - the side-view of her face blurs and becomes a double-image.

In a marvelous fantasy scene, the tiny farm house furiously whirls and dizzily spins into the sky inside the tornado spout. As Dorothy awakens, she looks out of her bedroom window. It frames, like a movie screen, objects that float and tumble by:

  • a picket fence
  • a tree
  • a chicken coop

Dorothy sits up on her bed and looks into the black column of smoke of the cyclone: "We must be up inside the cyclone!" Outside the window, other peculiar things pass by:

  • an old lady knitting calmly in a rocking chair (Dorothy waves timidly) [Is this symbolic of her elderly Aunt?]
  • a cow [a reference to Dorothy's pet cow Imogene, used in previous stage and film versions as a substitute for her dog Toto]
  • debris
  • two gentlemen steadily rowing a boat (they doff their hats) [a reference to Hurrah for Baffin's Bay, a number in the 1902-03 musical sung by David C. Montgomery and Fred A. Stone as the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman]
  • Miss Gulch, madly pedaling her bicycle through the air. Suddenly, the wicked old woman is nightmarishly transformed into a cackling witch with a pointed hat and cape on a zooming broomstick

When the twisting, swirling house finally spins toward the ground, it crash lands with a jolt and everything suddenly turns still. She is uninjured, but realizes she has been "transported" from Kansas to somewhere else peaceful and tranquil. With Toto in her arms, she apprehensively and curiously opens the farm house front door to go outside. [She will remain outdoors in the open space of her new world until she gets to the Emerald City.]

The original sepia film becomes full Technicolor in a boldly colorful magical land, where everything is strange but beautiful. Violin music plays and the "Over the Rainbow" theme is reprised. Soft female voices sing. There are brilliant, oversized, garishly-colored flowers (with victaphone trumpets), lovely ponds, low buildings and tiny thatched huts, and a spiraling yellow brick walkway that extends into a central plaza. [Note that there are two spirals in the road, one yellow and one red.]

Beautiful music emanates from somewhere. Now that her colorful white and blue dress is visible, an innocent Dorothy understates her suspicions and fears to Toto that they're no longer in grayish Kansas:

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow.

[The happenings in the Land of Oz are Dorothy's unconscious dreams that mirror her life in Kansas - with strange transformations. She has entered a land where the people are more her size, and she is treated as a heroine.] A rainbow-colored traveling bubble/ball of light floats toward Dorothy, growing larger as it approaches - and then a white, diaphanous-gowned, fairy-like Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) with a long, obligatory star wand and brilliant headdress/crown appears from the bubble. Dorothy reacts timorously to the beautiful, smiling woman with long, curly blonde hair: "Now I-I know we're not in Kansas." Dorothy is asked to identify herself:

Glinda: Are you a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?
Dorothy: Who me? Why, I'm not a witch at all. I'm Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.
Glinda: Oh, well, is that the witch (gesturing toward Toto)?
Dorothy: Toto? Toto's my dog.
Glinda: Oh well, I'm a little muddled. The Munchkins called me, because a new Witch has just dropped a house on the Wicked Witch of the East. And there's the house. And here you are. And that's all that's left of the Wicked Witch of the East.

All that can be seen of the deceased, tyrannical Wicked Witch of the East is a pair of ruby-sequined and slippered feet protruding out from beneath the dwelling brought there by the tornado. The central question is whether Dorothy is good ("a Good Witch") or bad ("a Bad Witch") - for having killed the Witch [and for hurting her Aunt by running away from home]:

Glinda: And so, what the Munchkins want to know is, are you a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?
Dorothy: But I've already told you. I'm not a witch at all. Witches are old and ugly. (She hears giggling behind her in the flower beds.) What was that?
Glinda: The Munchkins. They're laughing because I am a Witch. I'm Glinda, the Witch of the North.
Dorothy: You are? Oh, I beg your pardon. But I've never heard of a beautiful witch before.
Glinda: Only bad witches are ugly. The Munchkins are happy because you have freed them from the Wicked Witch of the East.
Dorothy: Oh, but if you please, what are Munchkins?
Glinda: The little people who live in this land. It's Munchkinland. And you are their national heroine, my dear.

Glinda encourages the tiny, shy, midget-sized, twittering Munchkins to pop up and emerge from their hiding places among the flowers and huts, to meet the "young lady" who fell from a star named Kansas:

Come out, come out, wherever you are.
And meet the young lady who fell from a star...

Dorothy explains that the killing of the Witch wasn't a miracle but an accident, with marvelous word play: "It really was no miracle, what happened was just this. The wind began to switch, the house to pitch. And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch. Just then the Witch, to satisfy an itch, went flying on her broomstick thumbin' for a hitch." (The Munchkins sing: "And oh, what happened then was rich. The house began to pitch, the kitchen took a slitch. It landed on the Wicked Witch in the middle of a ditch. Which was not a healthy sit-uation for the Wicked Witch...")

In a musical celebration to honor her as their "national heroine," the costumed little people gather around her and Dorothy is sincerely thanked for ridding them "so completely" of the oppression of the witch. She is paraded around the circular pathway on the square in a miniature carriage drawn by small horses. The innumerable Munchkins, MGM's answer to the seven dwarfs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), begin to sing the "Munchkinland Song":

The Munchkins proclaim: "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead!"

Ding-dong, the witch is dead!
The wicked witch!
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead!

In a dress parade, the tiny people's army marches behind the carriage, taking her to the Mayor's dwelling and city hall (in the county of the Land called Oz) where she is welcomed. The Munchkins obsessively insist that it must be verified that the Witch is proven to be dead - in all ways:

...morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably- dead!

[This reflects Dorothy's troubled concern that she may be punished by a resurrected Witch for causing the death - or by her hurt Aunt for separating.] The coroner officially pronounces the Witch dead with the presentation of a "Certificate of Death." "She's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead!" The rotund Mayor declares that the joyous day should be celebrated as Independence Day in Munchkinland. In proclaiming the good news, baby Munchkins (Sleepy Heads) in a giant nest, looking like fluffy pink baby chicks in large blue egg shells, are aroused from their sleep. [Auntie Em had rescued baby chicks from a malfunctioning incubator earlier.] Two trios gleefully perform and sing for Dorothy - toe-dancing, pink ballerina sprites of the Lullaby League [they aren't midgets but children], and tap-dancing men from the Lollipop Guild. Finally, Dorothy is told: "You will be a bust in the Hall of Fame."

Suddenly without any warning, the festivities are threatened by a hellish burst of sulfurous red smoke and the appearance of the terrible-looking, green-faced, black-shrouded Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) with a pointed black hat atop her head, seeking revenge and holding Dorothy accountable for the death of her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins scatter in fright. With a threatening hoarse voice, the Witch blames Dorothy for the "accident" - when she is reminded by Glinda that the ruby slippers are still on her sister's feet:

Witch: Who killed my sister? Who killed the Witch of the East? Was it you?
Dorothy: No, no it was an accident. I didn't mean to kill anybody.
Witch: Well, my little pretty. I can cause accidents too.
Glinda: Aren't you forgetting the ruby slippers?
Witch: The slippers, yes! The slippers.

[The slippers were silver shoes in Baum's original novel, but in screen tests with Technicolor, silver didn't stand out, so the color was changed to a garish ruby color by screenwriter Noel Langley and others. Some have even used Freudian psychosexual theory to speculate that the ruby-red slippers represent the onset of Dorothy's 'curse' or menstruation.]

Raising her broomstick in anger, she wants the late Witch's enchanted, red-sequined ruby slippers that protrude from under the farmhouse. She turns from Dorothy and reaches for the glittering shoes, but they shrivel up and completely disappear under the house. The Witch is further angered and hisses: "They're gone. The ruby slippers. What have you done with them? Give them back to me or I'll..." With a wave of her star wand, the Good Witch has swiftly transferred them to Dorothy's feet: "It's too late. There they are and there they'll stay." The Wicked Witch insists on having them for herself: "Give me back my slippers. I'm the only one that knows how to use them. They're no use to you. Give them back to me. Give them back." Glinda advises Dorothy about the grown-up pair of slippers that she has acquired - with their awesome power:

Keep tight inside of them. Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn't want them so badly.

[Dorothy doesn't yet realize that the shoes hold the power to allow her to return home, nor does Glinda reveal this to Dorothy at this time.] The Witch is reminded by Glinda that she is powerless in Munchkinland: "You have no power here. Be gone, before somebody drops a house on you, too!" The Witch accepts her weakness, but threatens with a blood-curtling cackle and ominous warning (just like Miss Gulch):

Very well, I'll bide my time. And as for you, my fine lady, it's true, I can't attend to you here and now as I'd like, but just try to stay out of my way. Just try! (Pointing her finger at Dorothy and at Toto) I'll get you, my pretty - and your little dog, too! Ah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah!

She disappears with a clap of thunder in another flaming, reddish-orange explosion of smoke.

Fearful of the Witch, Dorothy expresses her desire to leave and return home to Kansas for safety ("Which is the way back to Kansas? I can't go the way I came"). Glinda suggests that she travel on the yellow brick road to the far-off Emerald City in the Land of Oz to seek help in her journey from the "very good but very mysterious" and omniscient Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan): "The only person who might know would be the great and wonderful Wizard of Oz himself." The Munchkins bow in deep respect toward the great patriarchal being. They will help safely guide Dorothy to the border of Munchkinland. Glinda reminds Dorothy that her slippers must never be removed, but tellingly doesn't let Dorothy know that she could click her heels together to make a wish to travel home - that knowledge must be earned after her long journey:

And remember, never let those ruby slippers off your feet for a moment, or you will be at the mercy of the Wicked Witch of the West.

To start her journey, Glinda instructs: "It's always best that you start at the beginning, and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road," to take her to her dreams and aspirations. Glinda disappears in her pinkish-colored bubble-vehicle globe, causing Dorothy to observe: "My, people come and go so quickly here!" [Her observation could also be characteristic of the images and transient items viewed in dreams.] The Munchkins echo Glinda's instructions in a chorus of differing voices: "Follow the Yellow-Brick Road." A marching, dancing crowd of Munchkins join Dorothy as she walks and then skips, in syncopation, along the spiraling yellow road toward the West, singing:

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
Because, because, because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does
You're off the see the wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

[Note that Dorothy takes the yellow spiral -- the red brick road also spirals off to the South - where Glinda lives.] The border of Munchkinland isn't very far indeed, and the Munchkins soon wave goodbye. Stretching off into the far distance, Dorothy and Toto must take the road without them.

Shortly, Dorothy pauses at a crossroads in the yellow road that branches out in three different directions, asking herself confusedly: "Now which way do we go?" A voice comes from nearby where shiny green cornstalks grow:

Pardon me. That way is a very nice way...(pointing one direction)

Dorothy is a bit frightened by the response in the middle of a deserted road, and she looks around quizzically: "Who said that?" Toto barks at a stuffed Scarecrow-Straw Man (Ray Bolger) that helplessly hangs on a pole in the field [visibly suspended by a silver wire] but Dorothy responds: "Don't be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don't talk!" But then the Scarecrow in the field of corn speaks again with contradictory directions: "It's pleasant down that way too!...(pointing in another direction)." Dorothy begins to think that either she or things in Oz in general are crazy: "That's funny. Wasn't he pointing the other way?" And then she suddenly realizes that the Scarecrow has been talking to her when he says: "Of course, people do go both ways (pointing in two opposite directions)," but his directions are complicated because of his lack of a part of his physical anatomy - a brain:

Scarecrow: That's the trouble. I can't make up my mind. I haven't got a brain. Only straw.
Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?
Scarecrow: I don't know. Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?
Dorothy: Yes, I guess you're right.

She properly introduces herself and then helps the strawman off the pole stuck up his back by bending the nail down at the back so he can slip off, as per his suggested instruction. When he falls to the ground, he is unsteady on his feet, falling and scattering some of his straw: "Oops, there goes some of me again." He gathers and stuffs straw back into himself. The flimsy, wildly flexible Scarecrow knows he is too dumb and floppy to scare Dorothy or even a black crow that lands on his shoulder and pecks at a bit of straw from his collar before flying away:

You see, I can't even scare a crow. They come from miles around just to eat in my field and laugh in my face. Oh, I'm a failure because I haven't got a brain.

In a delightful, loose-limbed, wobbly-legged dance and song routine, "If I Only Had a Brain," [Bolger's imitative homage to Fred Stone, its originator on stage], the Scarecrow tells of his problem and what he would accomplish with a brain:

I could wile away the hours, Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain, And my head I'd be scratchin',
While my thoughts were busy hatchin', If I only had a brain

I'd unravel any riddle, For any individ'le
In trouble or in pain...
Oh, I would tell you why, The ocean's near the shore
I could think of things I never thunk before
And then I'd sit and think some more

I would not be just a nuffin', My head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain, I would dance and be merry
Life would be a ding-a-derry, If I only had a brain

In its finale, he loses more straw and his balance. Dorothy comforts him: "Wonderful. Why, if our scarecrow back in Kansas could do that, the crows would be scared to pieces!" She describes her mission to the Wizard in Emerald City so that she can return to Kansas. The Scarecrow is intrigued: "Do you think if I went with you this Wizard would give me some brains?" Not knowing the answer to his question, she warns that she is in trouble with a fearsome witch: "I've got a witch mad at me and you might get into trouble." The Scarecrow admits that he is fearful of nothing "except a lighted match." The Straw Man anxiously adds that he would risk his life to acquire a brain:

But I'd face a whole box full of 'em for the chance of getting some brains. Look, I won't be any trouble, because I don't eat a thing. And I won't try to manage things, because I can't think. Won't you take me with you?

She answers affirmately: "Why, of course I will." He cheers for them as he staggers to his wobbly feet: "Hooray. We're off to see a Wizard." The odd couple begin their merry skipping down the road together to Oz to see the Wizard after the Scarecrow gets his legs working in synchronization.

In an apple grove/orchard full of apple trees, a hungry Dorothy tries to take a bright red apple from a hostile, garrulous human-like tree that has fallen under the Wicked Witch's sorcery. (The Witch watches them from behind a tree.) The tree slaps Dorothy's hand, refusing to have its apples picked: "What do you think you're doing?" The tree scolds her:

Well, how would you like to have someone come along and pick something off of you?

She is surprised and astonished by the talking tree with a deep voice: "I keep forgetting I'm not in Kansas." The Scarecrow, using an intelligence he doesn't think he possesses, outsmarts the trees by insulting the quality of their apples (they have "little green worms") and making a face: "Come along, Dorothy. You don't want any of those apples." The trees are taunted into flinging their fruit at them, providing them with sustenance.

After picking up one of the apples that rolls deep into the woods, Dorothy finds a silver-faced, funnel-capped Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley) who has rusted immobile. He is stock-still solid by the roadside. She exclaims: "Why, it's a man, a man made out of tin." Croaking out of the corner of his mouth, the rusted-solid Tin Man's first desperate words are: "oil can." The Scarecrow quips: "Oil can what?" Dorothy finds an oil can nearby and squirts oil into all the Tin Man's joints and jaws, putting him back into action. He is finally able to lower his axe-bearing arm and expresses his gratitude to them: "I've held that axe up for ages." He explains how he became immobile:

Well, about a year ago, I was chopping that tree, when suddenly it began to rain. And right in the middle of a chop, I rusted solid. Been that way ever since.

When Dorothy responds: "Well, you're perfect now," he describes a further problem or spiritual/physical imperfection. When created, he was given a hollow tin chest. Dorothy bangs on his barrel chest with her fist, causing a booming echo. He sighs and grieves about a heart that he believes he is lacking:

It's empty. The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart.

As the Scarecrow did earlier, the Tin Woodsman clanks, squeaks, tilts from side to side, and bangs his way through a song and dance routine to explain his problem and need for a heart in "If I Only Had a Heart."

When a man's an empty kettle, He should be on his mettle
And yet I'm torn apart. Just because I'm presumin'
That I could be kind of human. If I only had a heart

I'd be tender, I'd be gentle, And awful sentimental
Regarding love and art, I'd be friends with the sparrows
And the boy that shoots the arrows, If I only had a heart...

After entertaining them - and Toto, he admits: "I'm afraid I'm a little rusty yet," Dorothy asks if he wants to join them on their long journey to the Emerald City so that he can make a request from the Wizard for the heart that he longs for: "We've come such a long way already."

In response, the Wicked Witch appears with a cackle on the rooftop of the Woodsman's cabin after landing there on her broomstick - she threatens Dorothy's traveling companions:

You call that long! Why, you've just begun. Helping the little lady along are you, my fine gentlemen? Well, stay away from her, or I'll stuff a mattress with you [pointing to the Scarecrow], and you [toward the Tin Woodsman], I'll use you for a beehive.

Cackling madly, she hurls a ball of fire at the Straw Man: "Here Scarecrow, want to play ball?" The Tin Woodsman quickly beats out the flames. And then she departs on her broomstick behind a red cloud of smoke. The Scarecrow, now having faced his greatest fear, is more determined than ever to continue: "I'm not afraid of her. I'll see you get safely to the Wizard now whether I get a brain or not. Stuff a mattress with me, eh?" And the Tin Woodsman reinforces his words: "I'll see you reach the Wizard, whether I get a heart or not. Beehive! Bah! Let her try and make a beehive out of me!"

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