Al Batt: Favorite movies can change with the times

Published 9:39 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt

Life is like watching a bad movie.

I often have no idea what is going on.

I visited with a fellow named Shane recently. I asked him if he’d ever seen the old western movie, “Shane.” That movie starred Alan Ladd and is famous for the line, “Shane! Come back!”

How could you not watch a movie bearing your name? I enjoy listening to Paul Simon’s song, “You Can Call Me Al.” I lend an ear in support of others sharing my forename.

I like movies that move me, if you like to find one of the following, visit here Not like a laxative, but films that tell a story and make me laugh, cry, learn, think or feel like Scrooge McDuck taking a leisurely swim in a pool of gold coins. “The Godfather,” “Forest Gump,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Groundhog Day,” “Michael,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the Pink Panther series, “Lincoln,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and many others are among my cinematic darlings. They all entertain, but my favorite varies with the day.

Growing up, it appeared that “The Wizard of Oz” was everyone’s favorite. The 1939 film was nominated for six Academy Awards, but lost Best Picture to “Gone with the Wind.” It won the hearts of millions when it made its TV debut in 1956, becoming an annual tradition for many to gather around the TV and watch the tale of a girl (Dorothy Gale, played by 16-year-old Judy Garland) and her dog Toto traveling the Yellow Brick Road. Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids. Toto was a female Cairn terrier named Terry. Toto was paid $125 a week, which was more than many of the Munchkin actors received. In L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written in Chicago not Kansas, Dorothy’s slippers were silver. The color was changed to ruby in order to take advantage of Technicolor. Flavored Jell-O powder was used to color the horses for the Emerald City scenes. The horses attempted to lick themselves clean. Baum got the name Oz from his filing cabinet when he found himself looking at a filing cabinet. The three drawers were marked, A to G, H to N, and O to Z. Oz was born.

Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West and was depicted as an old hag. Hamilton was only 36 years old at the time, while her on-screen nemesis, the more beautiful Glinda the Good Witch of the North (played by Billie Burke) was 54. Hamilton’s face stayed green for weeks after the filming was finished due to copper-based ingredients in her makeup.

Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion) and Jack Haley (The Tin Man) ate in their dressing rooms during breaks because their costumes frightened diners in the MGM cafeteria. Their characters had respectively, no brain, no courage and no heart. They were like Congressmen not allowed to operate heavy equipment. The Cowardly Lion costume, made from real lion pelts, weighed 90 pounds. After the Scarecrow got his brain, he stated the Pythagorean Theorem incorrectly. He was grasping at straws. Buddy Ebsen (who played Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies”) was the first choice for the Tin Man, but he suffered from an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust in his makeup.

The tornado in the film was created with a 35-foot-long muslin stocking that was spun while dirt, dust and wind blew against it. The Kansas farm was a miniature. The scenes of Dorothy’s house falling from the sky were captured by dropping a miniature prop onto a painting of the sky.

The movie gave us many catchphrases (“There’s no place like home,” “It’s a twistah! It’s a twistah!” “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” “What would you do with a brain if you had one?” “Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!” “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” “I’m melting,” and “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog, too!”), plus timeless songs like “Over the Rainbow” “If I Only Had a Brain” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Not all movies are well done. Special effects have replaced plot, character development, dialogue and flying monkeys.

“The Wizard of Oz “could have been describing a bad movie when he said, “You billowing bale of bovine fodder!”

Not every film is my Oz, nor should it be.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune Wednesdays and Saturdays.