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Waiting for Protest Marches Along the Yellow Brick Road

A re-release of “The Wizard of Oz” is enchanting audiences all over America, especially youngsters who have never seen this 1939 film and grown-ups who have never seen it on a large screen.

The critics love it too.

“Two thumbs up!” say Siskel and Ebert, one of whom has a heart, the other of whom is stuffed with straw.

“Splashed in splendor!” spouts Gene Shalit, who bears a remarkable resemblance himself to a lion.

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“The best children’s movie ever made,” raves Jack Mathews of Newsday, even though the only child I can remember in it is Judy Garland, who was already 17 at the time.

The movie is digitally restored.

I don’t understand what that means. If this were a Walt Disney film, my guess would be that “digitally restored” means Mickey Mouse finally gets to have five fingers.

But if Turner Pictures-- which is co-distributing this Warner Bros. classic--tells me “digitally restored” is good, then it’s OK by me. I don’t even mind that Ted Turner will probably re-colorize Dorothy’s shoes a lovely shade of puce.

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No, there is only one thing wrong with “The Wizard of Oz” reissue, and I am still waiting for the straw to hit the fan.

Nobody is protesting it.

(Yet.)

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As far as I know, there are no lines outside America’s theaters (yet), with people carrying picket signs and demanding that this controversial film be pulled from national release.

No civic group is insisting (yet) that the filmmakers add a disclaimer to the opening credits, apologizing for scenes of questionable taste.

For example:

During the course of this clearly crude film, a young female in her teens is seen eagerly picking up strangers on the road.

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Without the slightest hint of hesitation, this shameless and irresponsible Dorothy willingly falls into the company of three obviously adult males, walking with them arm in arm, sleeping with them under trees, traveling with them who knows where. It’s like an escort service.

She even oils one of them.

I cannot believe that national women’s organizations are willing to approve of this kind of behavior in a film available to children of all ages. Someone is bound to come forward--don’t you think?--and clarify for the young girls of America that you simply never, never, never risk letting yourself be trapped in the company of heartless, brainless, cowardly men.

Then there’s this brainless business.

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Not one decent American has (yet) pointed out to the American public that there is something truly cruel about making fun of a man who is mentally handicapped. To laugh and sing while this poor suffering creature shuffles around, lamenting pitifully, “If I only had a brain,” is about as insensitive an act as ever was put on film.

What of all the straw men who do have brains? Why are none of these people mentioned?

This man is homeless. His clothes are ragged. He uses a rope for a belt. There is no humor in this.

So what happens to him? I’ll tell you what happens to him. For a laugh, this incendiary film has him set on fire!

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I think it’s shocking that no politician has (yet) called a news conference to condemn this dangerously out-of-date “Wizard of Oz” for its depiction of deliberate acts of violence against a fellow who is simply down on his luck. If someone would just offer the scarecrow a job scaring crows, he could get right back up on his feet.

And what’s with all this animal cruelty?

Dogs that are forced to be toted around in small, cramped baskets. Monkeys that are made to work for evil purposes, probably in fear of their lives. A lion that is ridiculed and threatened until he shudders with fear?

I can’t imagine why animal activists aren’t giving this movie two paws down.

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So far, “The Wizard of Oz” has somehow gotten away with all its incorrectness without stirring up a tornado of protest.

It cannot be long, though, before a parents’ committee, clergy leader, political organization, ethnic group or rights crusader does what someone in America always does, and that’s find a cloud in every silver lining.

I’m betting that “The Wizard of Oz” will come with a warning next time.

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For example, that no actual witches were injured during the making of this film.

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Mike Downey’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail mike.downey@latimes.com


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