Friday, June 12, 2020

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Wizard of Oz,’ In Which the Cowardly Lion Has His Mettle Tested)

[The Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man consider how to rescue Dorothy from the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West.]

The Scarecrow [played by Ray Bolger]: “I've got a plan how to get in there.”

The Cowardly Lion [played by Bert Lahr]: “Fine. He's got a plan.”

The Scarecrow: “And you're going to lead us.”

The Cowardly Lion: “Yeah.”[Suddenly stopping.] “Me?”

The Scarecrow: “Yes, you.”

The Cowardly Lion: “I... I gotta get her out of there?”

The Tin Man [played by Jack Haley]: “That's right.”

The Cowardly Lion: [determined] “All right. I'll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I'll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I'm going in there. There's only one thing I want you fellas to do.”

The Scarecrow, The Tin Man: “What's that?”

The Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”—The Wizard of Oz (1939), screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum, directed by Victor Fleming

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of doing something I hadn’t done in more than a half century: watch The Wizard of Oz from start to finish. Many aspects of this film made it a classic. But what struck me more than ever this time was the performance of Bert Lahr.

Among the co-stars of Judy Garland, only Lahr was given not one but two solo songs: “If I Only Had the Nerve” and “If I Were King of the Forest."

Burlesque, vaudeville and Broadway audiences already knew Lahr’s work quite well. But, as film historian Roger Dooley related in his narrative of movies of the 1930s, From Scarlett to Scarface, Lahr, after appearing in an adaptation of the biggest Broadway hit of 1930, Flying High, had a mostly forgettable Hollywood career until The Wizard of Oz brought a fresh reminder of his dazzling comic gifts, with a wild assortment of different facial expressions and hilarious ad-libs.

Lahr’s brilliance as The Cowardly Lion came under the most stressful conditions. Buddy Ebsen already had to be replaced when he developed an allergic reaction to his Tin Man costume. Lahr was lucky he did not collapse from exhaustion. 

Under 100-degree lights, he sweated so much in his 60-pound costume made of African lion pelts that it required two people on set to dry the costume out. It continued to reek even after constant washing, so eventually another Cowardly Lion costume was pressed into service. (Those two costumes sold at auction back in 2014 for $3 million and less than $1 million, respectively.)

Few other heights of creativity have been reached under such physical duress.

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