Visiting the Wonderful 'Wizard of Oz' on DVD

Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her little dog Toto in 'The Wizard of Oz'

Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her little dog Toto follow the Yellow Brick Road in 1939's classic The Wizard of Oz. Warner Home Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Home Entertainment

Critic Bob Mondello reviews the newly released special-edition DVD for The Wizard of Oz. The three-disc set includes documentaries, outtakes and other special features. He says watching the classic film brought back many memories.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Movie box office receipts have been sharply down this year in theaters, but 2005 has been a boom year for older Hollywood releases on DVD. There have been collections featuring Greta Garbo, Doris Day and James Dean, and this week brings a three-disc, digitally restored "Wizard of Oz." Bob Mondello says it brought back memories.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

The first few times I saw "The Wizard of Oz," my family still had a black-and-white TV set, so Dorothy's arrival into Oz was not the gee-whiz moment it might have been.

(Soundbite of music from "The Wizard of Oz")

MONDELLO: She stepped from her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse into a black-and-white Oz, where the foliage was shiny and the Munchkins looked like tiny gray clowns.

(Soundbite of "The Wizard of Oz")

Ms. JUDY GARLAND: (As Dorothy) Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

MONDELLO: When we finally got a color TV, it was different, but only slightly. When Dorothy stepped through her door, it wasn't so much from black-and-white into color as from sepia into pastel.

(Soundbite of "The Wizard of Oz")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) We must be over the rainbow.

MONDELLO: I have since seen "The Wizard of Oz" on much better TV sets and also on the big screen at a theater where our local Friends of Dorothy greeted Glinda's arrival in her pink bubble by releasing pink helium balloons that floated to the ceiling. On the bigger screen, it was easy to see that in between her lines, Judy Garland had to hide her face in Toto's fur a couple of times because vaudevillian Bert Lahr was cracking her up.

(Soundbite of "The Wizard of Oz")

Mr. BERT LAHR: (As The Cowardly Lion) Is my nose bleeding? (Cries)

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) Well, of course not. My goodness, what a fuss you're making.

MONDELLO: The prints I saw both on TV and in theaters were serviceable, but gave the impression that 1930s cameras made everything a little fuzzy. The Technicolor process used separate film strips for blue, yellow and red, but when the original negatives got warped, the color strips didn't line up right and the crispness disappeared. When the film was restored for the DVD, the negatives were realigned digitally. After 66 years, it's almost as if someone finally thought to clean the lens on the projector.

(Soundbite of "The Wizard of Oz")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) It's beautiful, isn't it?

MONDELLO: The new DVD also has 13 hours of extras: a half-dozen alternate versions of "Over the Rainbow," for instance, including a deleted verse that a scared, miserable Dorothy was to have sung after she'd been locked up in the witch's castle.

(Soundbite of alternate version of "Over the Rainbow")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) (Singing) Someday I'll wake and rub my eyes and in that land beyond the skies you'll find me.

MONDELLO: I'm going to guess this was cut because Judy Garland did it too well. Kids would have been inconsolable if they'd left it in. The film might not have recovered.

(Soundbite of alternate version of "Over the Rainbow")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why...

(Sobbing) I'm frightened. I'm frightened. I am. I'm frightened.

MONDELLO: Isn't that sad? How on earth would you follow it? How am I going to follow it? How about with a version that's more like the one we all remember?

(Soundbite of alternate version of "Over the Rainbow")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land... (Coughs)

Sorry.

MONDELLO: There, now isn't that better? And there are other outtakes, too: a deleted dance sequence for Ray Bolger's Scarecrow and a song that never got fully staged, but that did get recorded, about a big insect called The Jitterbug.

(Soundbite of extra from "The Wizard of Oz" DVD set)

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) Did you just hear what I just heard?

Mr. RAY BOLGER: (As The Scarecrow) That noise don't come from no ordinary bird.

Mr. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) It may be just a cricket or a critter in the trees.

Mr. BOLGER: (At The Scarecrow) It's giving me the jitters in the joints around my knees.

MONDELLO: The scene was never filmed. What we see on the DVD are composer Harold Arlen's home movies, shot from behind one of Oz's apple-throwing trees, so you can sort of see how it might have looked and also see the guys inside the trees.

(Soundbite of extra from "The Wizard of Oz" DVD set)

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) (Singing) There's a parting in the treetops. It's that rascal The Jitterbug.

MONDELLO: So you can see why they cut this number; it was padding, something you could also say about a few of the DVD's extras. Five silent versions of "The Wizard of Oz" dating back to 1910 don't add much, even though one stars Oliver Hardy, the big half of Laurel & Hardy. If those, why not shows that came later, the African-American musical "The Wiz" and "Wicked" and that dreadful Chevy Chase movie, "Under the Rainbow"? But then wandering too far afield would hardly be in this movie's spirit.

(Soundbite of "The Wizard of Oz")

Ms. GARLAND: (As Dorothy) If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.

MONDELLO: That's sort of what the restorers discovered and why they labored so hard to revive the film's color, clarity and sound. The point was to make the film not better, but just the way we think we remember it, and now it is. Not quite enough to make you say, `There's no place like home video,' but close. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music from "The Wizard of Oz")

Mr. JACK HALEY: (As The Tin Man) (Singing) Gosh, it would be awful pleasin' to reason out the reason, the things I can't explain. Then perhaps I would deserve you and be even worthy of you, if I only had a brain.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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