UPON FURTHER REVIEW: THE WIZARD OF OZ … Revisitied by Brad Eastland, Dr. of Ancient Filmology

February 13, 2011
Share this story:

      The Wizard of Oz, MGM’s 1939 fantasy classic, is on pretty much everyone’s list of favorite movies.   We loved it as kids, we loved it as young adults, and we love it now.   We love how our own kids and grandkids love it.   We love how it still makes us feel young, we love how it still makes us believe in the magic of the universe.   We just flat-out love it.   It reminds us that there’s joy in simply being alive.

      Relax.   I’m not about to blow all that to smithereens for you.  (I hope.)

So is this Dorothy or William Jennings Bryan???

So is this Dorothy or William Jennings Bryan???

      I am, however, going to point out some very weird stuff in Wizard that you are very likely not aware of.   To enlighten you.   To startle you.   To broaden your horizons.   To remind you that being alive is not only about joy, but also about facing hard truths and then finding joy in removing one’s head from the sand.

      To start with, let’s ask ourselves: What’s it about???   I’m sure most of you would say that it’s a story about young Dorothy Gale from Kansas, who, during a tornado, takes a blow to the head and slips into a phantasmical world of mean witches and goofy creatures and magical red shoes and whatnot, and learns (or rather dreams) that there’s no place like home.   There’s no place like home, that’s the message.   Fine.

      But did you know that The Wizard of Oz is based on a book entitled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” written around 1899 and published in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, and that it was designed to act as a political allegory to reflect and influence the times in which Baum lived?   Well, it was.   Most scholars of the book agree on this, it’s not a secret.   There are many splinter interpretations of Baum’s story, but the most accepted version is generally that Wizard is supposed to be about the Populist movement of the 1890s in this country.   Populism in America started with the farmers, who believed that their economic problems grew out of Eastern control of the money supply by Eastern bankers, pressured by greedy Eastern industrial interests.   In the election of 1896 the Populists backed the Democratic presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan, for President.   Bryan remains—to this day—the youngest-ever major political party nominee for President in this nation’s history.   He was only 36.

      Bryan is also Dorothy.

      Yep.   Basically it’s like this: William Jennings Bryan (Dorothy) travels to the Emerald City (Washington) to do battle with the Republican nominee, Oz (William McKinley).   It’s all about gold versus silver.   In his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1896 Bryan declared that farmers were being crucified “on a cross of gold”.    Bryan supported free coinage of silver, in order to help out the farmers by inflating the money supply and helping get farmers out of debt.   He wanted silver to be coined and distributed right along with gold; “bi-metalism” they called it.   McKinley, a gold-standard man through and through, opposed free coinage of silver.  

      Symbolism abounds in Wizard.   The Scarecrow is the American farmer.   The Tin Man is the American worker.   The winged monkeys are the evil Eastern bankers who make life so miserable for both the American farmer and the mechanical, oft-dehumanized American worker.   Some theorists believe the Cowardly Lion is Bryan rather than Dorothy, which is possible (“Bryan” does sound like “Lion”, and the Republicans did think the pacifist Bryan a coward), but to me it makes more sense that Bryan is Dorothy; youthful, optimistic, the simple, silver-loving champion of the common man (i.e. the Munchkins).   Also, in the book, the ruby slippers we see in the movie are actually silver slippers, not ruby red slippers, a fact which strongly suggests to me that Dorothy is indeed the free-silver advocate Bryan.  

      Some theorists believe Dorothy is future president Theodore Roosevelt, pointing out that Dorothy and Theodore are “sound alike” names….never mind that Roosevelt was a New-Yorker, not a Midwesterner like Bryan was.   And some theorists believe that the wizard is Grover Cleveland and not McKinley, seeing as how Cleveland was the sitting President in 1896, and seeing as how William Jennings Bryan ultimately defeated Cleveland for the 1896 Democratic nomination.    I can live with that.   Each of those career politicians—Cleveland and McKinley—represents the Oz-like political status quo in America, whereas Bryan, the youthful Populist, is the ultimate upstart iconoclast.   And Cleveland, like McKinley, was a gold-standard guy through and through.   So either McKinley or Cleveland works fine for me as the wizard.   The “yellow-brick road” which Dorothy and her friends follow to the Emerald City is certainly symbolic of the gold standard which dominated America in the 1890s.   Even the wizard’s name “Oz” is obviously reflective of the official abbreviation of the word “ounce”, as in ounce of gold.    Isn’t this fun?  

      One person who provides few clues to the mystery is Baum himself.   He maintained till his dying day that he wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” solely for the enjoyment of children.   (Of course Baum was well known to be an imp and a prankster, and was also an ex-newspaperman who loved to write at length about political issues.   And he was a big William Jennings Bryan supporter in 1896.   See?   People lie all the time.)

      Anyway, the youthful Bryan loses the election of 1896 to McKinley.   In the movie, Dorothy goes back to Kansas.   In real life, Bryan returns to his own Kansas, otherwise known as Nebraska.   There’s no place like home.

      Now that you’ve been enlightened, I know you’ll want to run out to your local library and check out as many books as you can on the symbolism and political allegory implicit in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.   Knock yourself out.

      Now, part two.   Back to the movie itself.      

      I saw it again just last week (with my son and my sister), and uncovered some more neat stuff, fun quirky stuff I had never noticed before.   For instance, when the Tin Man is dancing around right after Dorothy oils him up, in the background there’s a big turkey and a huge emu or ostrich of some kind.   Two huge, irrelevant birds just walking around the set.   I’m not trying to making any particular point by revealing this, I just think it’s funny.   Also, at the end, remember when the wizard’s hot air balloon gets away and floats up into the sky to everyone’s surprise and dismay, when Dorothy is off chasing Toto as Toto tries to mix it up with a cat?   Remember how depressed everyone was that Dorothy wouldn’t be able to catch a ride back to Kansas with the wizard?   Well, the hot air balloon doesn’t just get away.   The Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man let it go on purpose!   Really.   You probably have a copy of the movie on VHS or DVD right there at home, pop it in and look at it.   While your eyes are being distracted by Toto running into the crowd and chasing the cat, and Dorothy chasing Toto, the Cowardly Lion is covertly untying one of the ropes, somewhat clumsily, while the Tin Man is quietly, blatantly, and meticulously unwinding another of the ropes from the hitching post that’s supposed to be holding the hot air balloon in place!   Were special effects in 1939 so infantile that they really had to use cast members to do stuff like that???   It’s so ridiculous and amateurish it’s beyond laughable.   I’m just surprised I never noticed it earlier.

      But the weirdest thing of all in The Wizard of Oz I did notice earlier.   About 20 years earlier.   You better brace yourself for this one.   I’ve revealed my discovery to dozens of people over the years, and everyone I have shared this information with has admitted to me, grudgingly, that I am right.  

      Here goes.   Remember the scene near the end when the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow are fighting with a few of the green-faced Cossacks who guard the witch’s castle?   They’re all behind the rocks so you can’t see anyone, but you can hear them fighting, remember?   Well, during the mêlée there’s a bunch of yelling and screaming and grunting-type fighting noises, the usual, but then, out of the blue, you hear one of our heroes yell, “Heil Hitler!”   I swear.   In some versions you can actually hear it twice, but in every single version of the movie I have seen during the last 20 years you can hear it—as clear as a bell—at least once.   “Heil Hitler!”, someone says.   Heil friggin’ Hitler.   I think it’s Ray Bolger’s voice.   You know.   The Scarecrow.

      My sister had to admit she heard it.   Even my 14-year-old son admitted he heard it, and he never gives me credit for anything….

      Play it, listen for it.   Trust me.   It’s there.

      Now I’m not saying anyone associated with The Wizard of Oz was a Nazi sympathizer.   I’m not trying to make any political points, the way L. Frank Baum was impishly doing 110 years ago when he wrote the book.   Maybe the actors were just bored that day, and just wanted to see if they said something outrageous if anyone would notice.   That’s probably what happened.   It was 1939, Nazism was on the rise, on everyone’s mind, and that would therefore make “Heil Hitler!” just about the most topical and shocking thing anyone could have tried to sneak into a children’s movie.   

      So no, I’m not making any political statements.   I’m just saying that somebody definitely said it.   I’m just saying.   And that’s all I’m saying.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:




Leave a Reply