It’s no secret that The Wizard of Oz has been an American Treasure, certainly one of the most loved and respected films Hollywood has ever produced. While it’s natural to think of the film and its impact in the US, it’s remarkable also to contemplate the effects The Wizard of Oz has had on audiences around the world.
In The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, which is delighting Oz fans everywhere, the authors take a look at the film as it was introduced to the world. The authors kindly provided excerpts from the chapter entitled, “Not in Kansas Anymore: The Wizard Goes Global.”
Mexico and Canada
Shortly after its August 1939 release in the United States, The Wizard of Oz began playing in Mexico and Canada. On September 16, a special screening was held in Manitoba at the Winnipeg Capitol Theatre to benefit orphans. The event was a cooperative between the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Electric Company, endorsed by a telegram direct from Judy Garland: “Would deeply appreciate it if the Free Press and the Winnipeg Electric Company would act as hosts on my behalf to the children of Winnipeg orphanages at the special advance showing of The Wizard of Oz…Please extend my sincere best wishes to all.” A pictorial feature two days later showed the packed house filled with spellbound youngsters.
The Wizard of Oz debuted in South America at the regal movie palace Gran Cine Ideal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 15, 1939. Two days later, it premiered at the Cine Metro in Montevideo, Uruguay. Movie critic W.J. compared the film to the 1935 film version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, except that “The Wizard of Oz is more of a childhood dream with satire in between.” W.J.’s sole criticism missed the purpose of the picture’s dramatic conflict; the review was middy dismayed that all the merriment was marred by the Witch’s death, which introduced dissonance to the harmonious whole.
Australia advertised The Wizard of Oz in November 1939 as a seasonal treat for the upcoming holidays. A suite of song sheets for the film’s tunes was published, and a series of cloth dolls depicting Dorothy and Toto, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion was introduced for Christmas. The picture was still making the rounds in 1941, by which time “We’re Off to See the Wizard” was advertised as a morale-boosting World War ll battle march of the Australian Imperial Force. The battlefield tale, which made US national news courtesy of DeWitt MacKenzie, an Associated Press foreign affairs writer, was that the Aussie troops chanted The Wizard of Oz marching song during the Battle of Bardia, Libya, that January—the first such WWll military pursuit for which the Imperial Force participated as an ally. One columnist, lauding the Australians, cracked that they sang the tune without consulting the ASCAP, the performance rights organization.
Winston Churchill was so taken by the Australians’ spirit of resolve that he mentioned the troop’s singing of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” in his 1949 WWll history Their Finest Hour, noting, “This tune always reminds of these buoyant days.”
A special thanks to the authors for sharing such terrific details from The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion.