Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1978. Universal Pictures, Motown Productions. Screenplay by Joel Schumacher, based on the book of the musical by William F. Brown, from the novel The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Cinematography by Oswald Morris. Produced by Rob Cohen. Music by Charlie Smalls. Production Design by Tony Walton. Costume Design by Tony Walton. Film Editing by Dede Allen. Academy Awards 1978.
Come on and ease on down the road to where the Wiz lives! This exuberant musical, based on the successful Broadway play, is an African American version of The Wizard Of Oz, with a host of memorable, Motown-inspired music (arranged and directed by Quincy Jones) that make for one of the best movie scores of the seventies. Diana Ross is excellent (even if she is a bit too old for the part) as Dorothy, a shy schoolteacher who can’t seem to find the willpower to muster up any ambition for life, but learns to put her best foot forward when she is magically transported by a snowstorm to a magical land called Oz. There, she meets three friends: the Scarecrow (played most impressively by Michael Jackson), the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, and the four of them travel to see the Wiz (Richard Pryor) and ask him for the various things they’re missing in their lives. Along the way, they traverse a revisionist landscape of Manhattan that gets more impressive with each scene, singing the magnificent songs and doing some incredibly dexterous dancing. The downside to this project is director Sidney Lumet, who never should have been allowed to make a musical, and who never knows how to shoot the numbers (or even the glorious sets). Small children will find the raggedy production design elements a bit creepy (especially the evil witch’s sweatshop, it threw me right off my head as a kid), but adults will appreciate the subtle political messages behind the adaptation of this story and will just love tapping their feet along with the rhythms. Not nearly as good as it should be, but not half bad either.