Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Wizard of Oz

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, November 27, 1999

She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead!

Special features

Awards Listing8
Cast Information6
Contemporary Coverage5
Deleted Scenes7
Making Of5
Poster Gallery5
Production Photographs6
Special Effects Notes6

This is a wonderful transfer of the 1939 classic musical. If you missed the 1998 re-release to the theaters, you’ve almost certainly never seen this movie this good. And the disk itself is chock full of wonderful extras. MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” DVD is a great buy.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
DirectorVictor Fleming
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating9
  • Academy Ratio

If you are any kind of fan of MGM’s “Wizard of Oz”, you’ll want this disk. This is a beautiful example of what DVD disks should be, from the packaging materials to the movie to the extras. I have never seen this movie so clearly!

The care put into making this DVD is evident from the moment you open the package. There are two paper inserts. One describes what you’ll find on the disk to watch, and the other describes what you’ll find on the disk to listen to. Unlike most DVD inserts, these are actually useful. The video insert contains a short list of what features you’ll find, and what screen you’ll find them on, along with the picture of that screen. The “audio supplements guide” is a little bigger, eight pages, and lists each of the musical selections on the “jukebox”, along with an occasional tidbit of information about that selection.

The “jukebox” is one of the coolest parts of this DVD. It contains a whole bunch of alternate song versions and musical outtakes and rehearsals. Other audio-only features include a radio trailer and an entire hour of MGM’s “Good News” radio show. MGM used their June 29, 1939 broadcast to hype “The Wizard of Oz”. It includes many of the Oz stars, including Judy Garland.

The “making of” documentary is very interesting and has some nice interviews with principals and with Judy Garland’s children. But my God, Angela Lansbury is annoying! I assume it has to be the direction, because she’s not a bad actress by any means, but her acting in hosting the documentary is atrocious. That’s right: her acting in hosting the documentary. No, they don’t recreate scenes or anything like that. She’s basically just a talking head. But she acts so incredibly patronizing I find her nearly unwatchable. Fortunately she’s only really onscreen at the beginning and end. Most of the documentary is movie clips, Oscar clips, and interviews with people having to do with the movie.

The production stills are also cool: they include some “make-up” tests and costume tests. Whoever wrote the captions made a somewhat overblown attempt to be humorous. One of the discarded costume ideas for Dorothy was described as “Lolita Gale of Kansas”, and one of the discarded make-up ideas for the scarecrow was described as the “Boy George” scarecrow.

They apparently couldn’t find the original theatrical trailer, so they included the 1929 “teaser”, the 1949 reissue trailer, the 1970 Children’s Matinee trailer, and the 1998 reissue trailer (I really kicked myself for missing the 1998 theatrical re-release). Most weird is the 1949 reissue trailer aimed at adults! It uses fifties-style art as animation and doesn’t include any movie clips. Within ten years, “The Wizard of Oz” had been so clearly identified as a children’s movie that MGM felt they had to go out of their way to market it to adults. They even redid the music for the trailer! You really have to see it to believe it.

They went out of their way to bring us outtakes and deleted scenes. Only one true deleted scene still exists, an “extended dance mix” of the Scarecrow singing “if I only had a brain”. It is wonderful, although I can see where they might have thought it went on too long. The rest of the outtakes, except for the Jitterbug sequence, consists of audio outtakes with stills in place of the missing video—a good idea. Most interesting, however, was the deleted Jitterbug sequence. The deleted scene is apparently lost for good. However, producer Harold Arlen took “home movies” of the production, and one of his home movies captured the jitterbug. It is black and white, and you can see the people controlling the menacing trees, because Arlen, of course, was not filming from the same vantage point as the real cameramen were shooting from. The scene was supposedly cut because the musical number didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. You still see a reference to the jitterbug in the movie, when the wicked witch tells her flying monkeys that she has “sent an insect on ahead to soften them up”.

The three interviews, with Ray Bolger, Margaret Hamilton, and Jack Haley were interesting, but were presented in a very strange manner. The video from all three of them are presented at the same time. The audio changes depending on which interview you originally chose. Each interview only takes up a small portion of the screen—which isn’t a big deal because it looks to have been originally filmed at fairly low quality for television. The problem is that not all of the interviews are the same length! So if you view one of the shorter interviews, you have to press the menu button yourself when its over with to get past the (silent) longer ones! No idea why they did that. You can even switch the audio with the audio button, moving between interviews, but there isn’t any reason to: the interviews are unrelated.

The poster gallery is a gallery of a few foreign posters, and a bunch of foreign book covers. Very interesting. One of the strangest extras is a bunch of cartoon inserts for some cartoon show. There was apparently a cartoon show which used the Wizard of Oz characters to provide the “We’ll be right back” messages, and the DVD reproduces these, along with the “Coming Next Week” trailers starring the Wizard of Oz divining next week’s cartoons. It’s fascinating, and an example of how far the DVD producers went to find extras for this disk.

The quality of the video and sound is amazing. There are so many details that I missed only seeing this on the standard television version. The colors in Oz are bright and meticulously designed. Look in the backgrounds. Look at the water behind the leaves. This thing is wonderful!

There are two versions of this special edition available: the disk on its own, and the “gift set”. The “Gift Set” edition includes, besides the disk, a reproduction of the original script. The back of the normal edition also lists “shooting script” as an extra. I think this may be a misprint, as I have not been able to find it on the disk. The “Gift Set” also includes still photos, and “poster reproductions”, and is correspondingly more expensive. It might make for some nice decorations for your movie room if you have one. As near as I can tell the disk is the same for both versions, and the disk alone is well worth the price of the non-gift set special edition, however, and I strongly recommend this as a purchase. Beautiful, beautiful movie!

Recommendation: Purchase Now!

DirectorVictor Fleming
Based onThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz
ActorsJudy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke
Spoken languagesEnglish, French, Spanish
SubtitlesEnglish, French
Special FeaturesAwards Listing, Cast Information, Contemporary Coverage, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, Interviews, Making Of, Poster Gallery, Production Photographs, Sketches, Special Effects Notes, Trailer
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