Director: Victor Fleming
Original Release: 1939
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
I envy the world of 1939. That's not easily said. With war looming (or already well underway in the Pacific Theater), 1939 was a very dark time for much of the world. But 1939 was Hollywood's Golden Year, considered by many to be the single greatest year in the history of American film. 1939 was the year of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach and many other classic movies.
Even with all of those great movies to choose from, my envy is specific. I want to know what it was to see one particular scene from The Wizard of Oz for the very first time. Nope, it's not the one you're thinking. Yes, the moment when Dorothy opens the door to Oz and the world goes from drab to vibrant color is one of the greatest scenes in all of film. But there is one I love even more.
With one single word, with one octave leap, a teenage girl from Minnesota vaulted to international super-stardom. Now, as with so many great things, Judy Garland's performance of "Over the Rainbow" seems almost cliche. That's why I want to know what it was like to hear that voice sing that song for the very first time. Garland was all of 16 during filming. As has been well-documented, her personal life afterward was disastrous. But for two minutes in 1939, she was perfect.
I have watched The Wizard of Oz so many times over the years. I'm in good company, of course. It is the most viewed film in the history of television syndication. I remember the last scene I was allowed to see before I was sent to bed the first time I watched as a kid: the Cowardly Lion jumping out the window. We've watched it several times as a family, too, and there aren't many surprises anymore. However, in this most recent viewing, I was struck by the elegance of the pre-cyclone scenes. Obviously, most of the fun happens after Dorothy steps out the door into Munchkinland but Kansas is just as vivid. We meet Aunt Em and Uncle Henry as they are hurrying to rescue chicks from a broken incubator. Dorothy's whining about her dog as they're struggling to preserve their livelihood. They don't know or care about her impending adventures. They're farmers. They're real. The fantasy that follows doesn't work without them.
"Over the Rainbow" has taken on a life of its own over the decades since, firmly entrenched in the mythical great American songbook. In recent years, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole picked up a ukelele and breathed new life into the classic tune. I leave you with IZ: