The Movie - Post-Production and Premiere
When and where did The Movie first premiere?
The Movie was first seen outside of the MGM studios in mid-June, 1939, where it was sneaked into theaters in southern California to gauge audience reaction. This version was not completely edited, however. It was after a sneak preview in either Santa Barbara or San Bernardino that "The Jitterbug" was cut, for instance (see the question What's this I hear about a dance number called "The Jitterbug"? for more about that number), and one sneak preview may not have had "Over the Rainbow" in it. For many years, it was thought that the first publicized showing of the final, edited film was at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. No one is sure exactly why a small town in the Midwest received that honor. More recent research has turned up screenings in Appleton and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on August 11, so there may have been some other early openings in such summer resort towns. The official premiere was at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on August 15, attended by most of the cast and crew and a number of Hollywood celebrities. Notably absent, however, was Judy Garland — she was on the East Coast with Mickey Rooney, rehearsing a vaudeville act. They were preparing for the New York City premiere of The Movie at the Capitol Theatre, where they would perform after each showing, and publicize their forthcoming movie, Babes in Arms, beginning August 17. After those openings, it continued to open throughout the United States beginning August 25. The Movie was first shown in Canada on September 14, 1939, and Spanish- and Portuguese-language versions opened in Latin America on November 19. The first European release was in December of 1939 in Great Britain.
Who is The Movie dedicated to?
After the opening credits, the following words pop up on the screen, before the story actually begins:
- For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion.
- To those of you who have been faithful to it in return
- ...and to the Young in Heart — we dedicate this picture.
Have any scenes been cut from The Movie since it was released?
Once in a while, I'll run across someone who remembers a scene that they think was in The Movie, but isn't now. These scenes usually involve Dorothy finding the Ruby Slippers on her feet or under her bed once she's back in Kansas. No such scene was ever written or filmed, however. The fact is, The Movie that you see now is the same as The Movie audiences first saw in 1939, and nothing has been altered. A few cuts were made for television in the 1970s (all scenes without dialogue), but they have since been restored. If you remember a scene that's not there anymore, you were either at one of the pre-release sneak previews (see the previous question), or you had a vivid imagination as a child.
Is it true that "Over the Rainbow" was cut out at one point?
Almost. After one preview, "Over the Rainbow" was slated to be cut out, as it was felt it slowed the movie down, and there was some concern about one of MGM's rising stars being seen singing in a farmyard. There may have even been one sneak preview without it at all. Fortunately, LeRoy and Freed stepped in and successfully argued that it should be kept in.
Are there any flubs or bloopers that made it into The Finished Movie?
Plenty! You may not notice these the first time or two, but watch The Movie a few more times, and you start to notice the little details, errors, and unintended gaffs. So, to keep you amused, here are some — but by no means all — bloopers and other interesting bits that folks have found over the years:
- Why is Dorothy perfectly clean after having fallen into a pig sty?
- "Over the Rainbow" seems to have been put together from at least two different takes. After a cut down to Toto, Dorothy's make-up is subtly different.
- What kind of flowers are on the wallpaper in Dorothy's room? Poppies. Professor Marvel was going to comment on this later on, but the line was cut.
- Professor Marvel takes Dorothy's picture of her and Aunt Em, but doesn't appear to return it.
- In the cyclone, Dorothy's bed spins around, but the table and linens by the window stay perfectly still.
- When Glinda's bubble arrives, Dorothy's hand sticks into it for a brief moment.
- As the Munchkins "Come out, come out," wherever they are, one climbs out of a manhole. Later, however, the manhole is nowhere to be seen. Also, some of the doors are even shorter than the Munchkins, and the actors have to duck to get in and out of the houses.
- The death certificate of the Wicked Witch of the East tells that the Witch died on May 6th, 1938 — nineteen years to the day after L. Frank Baum died. (This can't be read by watching The Movie, only in publicity stills.)
- Terry must have been freaked out by the Witch's entrance, because Toto runs off and hides among the Munchkins. Dorothy has to leave Glinda's side on the steps and go get her dog. And then the lollipop presented to Dorothy by the Lollipop Guild disappears not long after, even though she's able to hang onto the flowers given to her by the Lullaby League.
- Note Dorothy's pigtails as she leaves Munchkinland and meets the Scarecrow. They keep growing and shrinking about six inches throughout the scene! Some retakes of the scene were filmed several months after the first version, and it looks as if somebody wasn't paying attention to the length of Judy Garland's hair extensions.
- As the Scarecrow is being pelted with apples, take a look at Dorothy's feet. Apparently they weren't meant to be shown, because you can see a very quick flash of black slippers on Judy Garland's feet. But she has the Ruby Slippers on again in the long shot.
- At the end of "If I Only Had a Heart," the oilcan bounces out of Dorothy's basket, and she never gets a chance to retrieve it. Good thing she has a spare, which she pulls out of her basket in the following close up...
- Not far from the Tin Man's cottage, in the background, you can see another Oz character, the Sawhorse, first introduced in The Marvelous Land of Oz.
- Right after the Wicked Witch disappears from atop the cottage, somehow the Tin Man is reversed (look at the ring on his funnel hat) and everything is fuzzy. Because the beehive sequence was edited out, the negative for this part of the scene was flipped over and processed from the wrong side so as to keep the three characters in the correct order throughout.
- When Dorothy first meets the Lion, Judy Garland had a terrible time keeping a straight face opposite Bert Lahr. Even in the take used in the finished film, she nearly loses her composure before blurting out, "My goodness, what a fuss you're making."
- In several scenes, the fishline holding up the Lion's tail is visible.
- When it's snowing in the poppy field, why aren't Dorothy and the Lion shivering or otherwise acting cold?
- Hey, how come the door knocker on the gates of the Emerald City makes noise even before Dorothy touches it?
- In the Emerald City, the purple version of the Horse of a Different Color seems to be trying its darnedest to lick the color off. The horses were all colored with Jell-O, and this one must have liked grape.
- In getting their makeovers, the Tin Man, who's been rusty all this time, is now well polished, the Lion gets a permanent and a bow for his mane, and Dorothy gets not only a new hairstyle, but a subtly more puffed up dress.
- The guardian at the gates of the palace has his mustache turned up when our friends approach him — but then it suddenly turns down. This is due to a "changing of the guard" scene that was cut.
- During "King of the Forest," Bert Lahr can be heard singing after the instrumental bridge, even though the Lion's mouth isn't moving right away. Neat trick, that. Also, his "crown" in the close-ups is different than the one placed on his head in the long shot. Oh, and Dorothy stumbles on the red carpet.
- Climbing the rocks to the Witch's castle, the Tin Woodman hangs on to the Lion's tail at one point — where you can see the outline of a board or something reinforcing the Lion's costume. The Lion looks like he has a square bottom.
- After rescuing Dorothy from the room the Witch has trapped her in, our friends try to leave the castle, only to have the door slam in their faces. In the long shot, the order is (from left to right) the Scarecrow, Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Lion. But when the scene cuts to a close-up, Dorothy and the Tin Man have mysteriously swapped places. One sharp-eyed viewer noticed a similar switch in the Wizard's throne room.
- When the Scarecrow chops down the chandelier in the Witch's castle, the candles go out. But moments later, the candles are lit again.
- When Dorothy first takes the Witch's broomstick, the burnt bristles are all ragged and uneven. But it looks like they've had some time to trim and straighten them by the time they give it to the Wizard.
- How does the Wizard's balloon leave so easily after Toto chases that cat? The Tin Woodman is undoing the ropes! Maybe this is his way of telling Dorothy to give back his oil can, since she still has it as she's about to leave.
There are, of course, many others. See how many you can find! Some examples can be found on movie blooper websites, such as http://www.moviemistakes.com/film1418 and https://www.moviemistakes.com/blog/20-biggest-mistakes-in-the-wizard-of-oz. The entry for The Movie at the Internet Movie Database lists some as well at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/goofs/.
Why didn't they go back and refilm the messed-up parts?
Because they weren't considered to be messed-up enough to do again. Making a movie is a complicated process, involving many, many artists. During production of The Movie, once a set was put up, all of the scenes for that set were filmed, and then the set was taken down and a new set built, while the actors and crew went to another soundstage. If a mistake was discovered after a set was used, there was little chance to go back and reshoot. Also, a movie is not made continuously and in order, but as a series of short scenes that are then edited together. Sometimes two adjoining takes were actually filmed days or even weeks apart, and nobody would have noticed small errors until the film was put together. And some of the errors came about as a result of parts being cut out. These would have crept in during the editing process, after the actors and most of the crew were finished and all the sets put away. So Victor Fleming and Blanche Sewell did their best with what they had, hoping that most people wouldn't notice or care. Even if they'd known that, decades later, people could buy a copy of The Movie to play at home over and over again and analyze each and every scene, there wasn't a lot they could have done about most of these errors. (This is hardly unique to The Movie. There are books and websites devoted to pointing out these sorts of movie mistakes, and just about any film you'd care to name has some flubs.)
Why didn't they keep the parts that were cut out?
Because nobody had any idea that people would want to, or could, see them. Back in 1939, the only way to see a movie was to go to a movie theater. There were no movie channels on television (there was barely even any television), videotapes, laser disks, or DVDs on which people could watch their favorite movies over and over again. There was also little interest in film preservation or the moviemaking process, even in Hollywood. So nobody saw any need to keep the unused takes or cut scenes. While many people involved with The Movie suspected they were making something special, nobody had any idea that it would become the most watched movie of all time, and that people would actually want to see the unused portions.
Wasn't The Movie a flop at the box office when it opened?
That depends on how you look at it. It cost nearly three million dollars to make The Movie in a day when most big movies were made for around a million, so from the start MGM knew it would be tough to make back its costs. Nevertheless, it was one of the biggest hits at the box office in 1939, earning over three million dollars and breaking attendance records in many cities. It officially lost money, however, because of the high cost of publicity (The Movie was one of MGM's most ballyhooed films up to that point), prints, and other related expenses. Other factors that cut into The Movie's earnings include the high number of children attending screenings, who paid less than adults; the high turnover rate for movies that year, as there were so many other films being made in 1939 that none of them could stay at one theater for very long; and the start of World War II in Europe, which cut heavily into its earnings abroad. This was all right with MGM, however, as Oz was their "prestige" picture of the year, and wasn't expected to make a profit anyway. MGM was able to recoup its costs on Oz with a successful, high-profile rerelease in 1949.
Didn't the critics pan The Movie when it first came out?
Not really, no. In fact, The Movie was nearly universally acclaimed by critics, who often singled out Judy Garland and Bert Lahr's performances. But the praise was not unanimous. Some of the positive reviews were guarded or reserved in their judgment, and of the very few bad reviews, most came from the more well-known, influential critics of the time. It wasn't until The Movie's 1949 rerelease that the reviews became generally enthusiastic in their praise.
How many times has the film been rereleased to theaters?
In the United States, the film was first rereleased in 1949, when it did almost as well as upon its initial release. MGM tried once again in 1955, but it was too soon after its last release, and television was taking off at the time, so it didn't do as well. Later, it was released for children's matinees in 1970 and 1972, and became a staple in college theaters and revival houses around the country. In 1998, the "Special Edition" of The Movie, with its color and sound digitally restored, was shown in theaters all over North America. In 2013, a 3-D conversion was shown in several IMAX theaters for a week, and that proved to be so successful that it moved to other non-IMAX theaters the following week. The Movie has also been released a number of times in other countries.
Did The Movie win any Oscars?
If The Movie had been released in just about any year other than 1939, it might have gotten more attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But that was the year of Gone With the Wind. Victor Fleming's other big 1939 film dominated the Academy Awards by winning eight Oscars, two honorary awards, and a special citation for producer David O. Selznick. In the same year, Hollywood released many other films that are now considered classics — among them Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka, The Women, Gunga Din, Beau Geste, Stagecoach, Jesse James, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, Young Mr. Lincoln, Babes in Arms, Love Affair, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Of Mice and Men, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Intermezzo, Dark Victory, Destry Rides Again, and Drums Along the Mohawk. Many movie historians, in fact, consider 1939 to be the best year ever for the American film industry. Therefore, The Movie would probably have done very well at the Oscars if Gone With the Wind had come out a year later, but even so it faced other strong competition.
The Movie was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, along with Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, and Wuthering Heights. The Movie was also nominated in four other categories: Special Effects (the first time an award was ever given in the category), Original Score, Best Song, and Art Direction. The Special Effects Award went to The Rains Came, and Gone with the Wind won the Art Direction and Best Picture awards. The only category in which The Movie won over Gone with the Wind was for Original Score, where Herbert Stothart was presented the Oscar. Under present day Academy rules, songwriters Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg would have also shared in the Original Score award, but they did receive an Oscar for writing the best movie song of the year, "Over the Rainbow." Judy Garland was also presented with a scaled-down Oscar, a special award for outstanding performance as a screen juvenile in 1939. Garland later referred to it as The Munchkin Award, but it was the only Oscar she would ever receive. Had Best Make-up been a category at the time, it's likely The Movie would have won. Victor Fleming picked up the Oscar for Best Director, but it was for Gone with the Wind, not The Movie.
Where can I see a widescreen version of The Movie?
You can't. Like most movies of it's time (including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and numerous others), The Wizard of Oz was made with a 4:3 screen ratio — nearly square, and very similar in shape to an older television screen. It wasn't until the 1950s that widescreen movie formats were introduced. So if you should ever see any sort of widescreen presentation of The Wizard of Oz, odds are the top and bottom of the picture are being cut off! For more information about screen ratios and how they relate to The Movie, take a look at http://hollywoodgothique.bravejournal.com/entry/7296.