Friday, November 11, 2011
While we're on the subject of Oz, let's get away from dead munchkins hanging from trees for a while and look at a little snippet of Margaret Hamilton's screen test for The Wizard of Oz. This wasn't an audition, as she was an obvious shoo-in with her ascetic face and gorgeously witch-y voice. I think this was a test of makeup and costume: the producers didn't want another Buddy Ebsen on their hands (he nearly expired from the lead-based makeup for the Tin Man and had to wait thirty more years to attain legendary status as Jed Clampett on The Beverley Hillbillies).
She does a little good-natured witching, showing her hands to the camera, etc., but from .16 to .20 she suddenly smiles so radiantly that you wonder how she ever could've played such a . . . witch. She actually looks lovely, sunny, and full of good humour.
Who'd a thunkit, eh?
Do you sincerely wish to be creeped out? Then watch this. There's been an internet rumour around for years about The Wizard of Oz: supposedly you can see a munchkin hanging himself in the background while Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow do their sprightly little "Off to See the Wizard" quickstep.
I have no idea if the tape has been doctored, or if it's just something else in the background (though it does appear to swing oddly). In other versions, definitely doctored, you see legs kicking out. In still others, the munchkin is hanging upside-down. Not the best way to kill yourself.
The reason given is that he was up for the part of the third flying monkey from the left, and didn't get it due to his Armenian accent.
How many times have I seen this movie? I still watch it once in a while, and it's crackin' good. It holds up well and is beautifully performed all the way through by actors who seem to relish their parts. (Next time you watch it, pay close attention to Ray Bolger when Dorothy is saying goodbye at the end: those are real tears in his eyes. Something about Judy Garland grabbed the heart of even this seasoned old pro.) It even has a timeless message: you gotta find everything out for yourself, kid - no matter how obvious the lesson is in retrospect.
When I was a kid, it would come on once a year like Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (the one with the "razzleberry dressing"), and nobody had a colour TV. But everybody got excited about it and talked about it in school. It didn't bother us that Dorothy stepped from the black-and-white world of the barnyard to the magical, astonishing black-and-white world of Oz because we thought it was spozed-ta be that way.
When I first saw it in colour, and God knows when that was, maybe on TV much later, I was blinded by all the sequins. Everything seems to glitter in this, but then again, Oz is a supernatural sort of place, isn't it? And I'll bet all those sequins were sewn on by hand.
And it took me forever to figure out that it was the same guys at the beginning, you know, that guy that falls into the piggy poo and stuff. And why'd they have such a runty little dog on a farm? I guess the border collie didn't get the part.
And oh, I still cry when Dorothy's imprisoned in the witch's tower and the hourglass is running out and Aunty Em appears in the crystal ball and says, Dorothy! Dorothy, where are you? I'm embarrassed, but I always do.
My grandkids watched this on DVD a couple years ago, and while Caitlin squirmed around and stood on her head a lot, she seemed to enjoy at least parts of it. She had fun imitating the actors' nasal New England and Bronxian accents, i. e. "If I only had a haaahhhht," and "Dah-rah-thee!" Surprisingly, Ryan, then four, was playing cars as usual, but dropped what he was doing, sat cross-legged, and watched the whole thing almost without blinking. I asked him what he liked best, and he showed me his dimple and said, "I liked the ending."
Ah, yes - so do we all.
So anyway, what's creepy about this clip isn't so much the shadowy "something" in the background (and God knows what it really is; most movies have multiple flubs in them even now), but the way the sound keeps slowing down and slowing down until it's an inhuman, dragged-out, almost Satanic groan, the music pounding and thudding and the voices bawling like tortured animals.
S'cool! I liked it, too.