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Today in history... first outing for The Wizard

12:00am | & News

One of cinema's best-loved movie musicals and a family favourite every Christmas first burst onto the silver screen on August 25th, 1939.

Filmed at MGM Studios in California, "The Wizard of Oz" starred a young Judy Garland as Kansas farm girl Dorothy, who wakes up in the Land of Oz after being knocked unconscious when her home is lifted up in a tornado and deposited in the strange new world. Accompanied only by her dog, Toto, she is welcomed by the Munchkins, who are celebrating because Dorothy's house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East.

Desperate to get home, Dorothy is advised by Glinda the Good Witch of the North to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the all-powerful Wizard might be able to help her. Along the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, who join her quest all hoping to have their own wishes granted. They must also do battle with the evil Wicked Witch of the West, out to avenge her sister's death and reclaim her magical ruby slippers, given to Dorothy by Glinda. 

The first part of the film, showing Dorothy at home in Kansas before the tornado strikes, is shot in black and white – the norm at the time – but when the action moves to Oz everything is in vivid 'Technicolor', a fairly new film process at the time.

The film also features a number of memorable songs, including "Follow the Yellow Brick Road", "If I Only had a Brain" and, most notably, "Over the Rainbow", which would become Judy Garland's signature song throughout her career. Nominated for six Academy Awards, it won the Oscar for Best Song, but lost out in the Best Picture category to "Gone With the Wind".

In fact, despite critical acclaim The Wizard of Oz was only a modest box office success on its first cinematic release and actually made a loss for MGM. But with a number of re-releases its popularity continued to grow, especially after it was televised for the first time in 1956, with an estimated 45 million people tuning in to watch. Since then it has been aired on TV countless times around the world, especially around national holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and has sold millions of copies on video and DVD.

It was one of the first 25 films to be put on America's National Film Registry, reserved only for culturally or historically significant movies, and has spawned a number of sequels and reinterpretations. These include the hit Broadway and West End musical "Wicked", but none can match up to the enduring and timeless popularity of the original, which is still winning new fans 77 years on.

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