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Endings: What Works and What Doesn't? [TALKING IMAGES]

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St. Gloede
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Endings: What Works and What Doesn't? [TALKING IMAGES]

#1

Post by St. Gloede »

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Evil? Does Whiplash' ending endorse abuse?

Hi all,

In this episode, Blocho, Teproc, and I investigate how important endings actually are.

Can the ending alone make or break a film?

Should a good ending clear up all loose ends and give definitive closure, or are films that leave more to the imagination more powerful?

Oh, and is Whiplash just an evil, evil movie made by equally evil people?

We will look at the tried and tested formulas, share our frustration of films that turn out to be a dream, chash over iconic endings and, at the end, share our favourite endings of all time.

You Can Listen Here:

Sounder: https://talking-images.sounder.fm/episo ... ie-endings

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5LMBOeTfF52YST0fQF7rER

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/t ... 1542580739

Timestamps:

00:00: Spoiler-Free Discussion
20.36: The Spoilers Begins - Formulas / What Works & What Doesn't
57.48 - Films Saved by their Endings
1.09.29 - Films That Are All About Their Endings
1.15.29 - Endings That Almost Ruined the Film
1.25.30 - Our Favourite Endings of All Time

Spoiler notice

There will be extensive spoilers for The Grey, Phoenix, The Last Laugh, Taxi Driver, Whiplash, The Holy Girl, Jacob's Ladder, Inception, Chronicle of a Summer, A.I., Psycho, Signs, The Usual Suspects, Z, Life of Brian, All That Jazz - as well as milder spoilers for many others.

Join the conversation

(l) (l) (l) Share your favourite film endings of all time (l) (l) (l)

What should a good ending do?

Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?

Is simply stopping a film before the presumed climax bad?

Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?

Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?

Are there films that are "made" or saved by their endings?

(l) (l) (l) Share any opinions you have on what works or doesn't in film endings (l) (l) (l)

Oh, and is Whiplash just evil?

Is the ending of Taxi Driver real or a fantasy?

Was The Last Laugh improved or hurt by the studio-forced ending?

:banana: And feel free to start any similar discussions :banana:
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#2

Post by St. Gloede »

I'd also like to share some great "almost" titles for this episode, courtesy of Sol:

- "I'm thinking of The Ending of Things" - play on Kaufman
- "It's Only the End of the Movie" - play on Xavier Dolan
- "Until the End of the Movie" - play on Wim Wenders
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#3

Post by Onderhond »

As someone who is more of a "journey" person than a "goal" person AND someone who cares more about style and atmosphere than plot, I don't think most endings are all that special. I checked my personal top 50 and there were only 3 or 4 endings I actively remembered/stood out. I think about half of that 50, I wouldn't even know anymore how they ended. I guess this episode isn't really for me then, still I had a lot of fun listening. Good job guys.

(l) (l) (l) Share your favourite film endings of all time (l) (l) (l)

- I've always liked the Reconstruction ending, as Boe start off the film explaining the magic to you, but then you still fall for it in the end. That's certainly one neat trick to pull.
- When it comes down to emotional power, Hana-bi is probably the one that stuck with me the most. Kitano has this way of building up likeability even when he's annoying, then to pull the rug underneath you like that. Harsh, but still very beautiful.

What should a good ending do?

- Fit. But I guess the podcast already made it obvious that's a very personal thing. Sometimes I'm very invested into the characters and a "bad" ending still works, sometimes it feels dirt cheap. Or the good ending still feels too cliché. Sometimes I don't care much for the characters, but I'm still glad there's a good ending. But "surprise" always works for me, that's maybe the only keyword I can think of that always makes an ending great. Of course, again, very very personal.

Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?

- See above I'm afraid. I don't have any real preference there. Can be entirely open-ended, it can stop before the actual finale starts. Sometimes I hate mysteries where the entire last hour is an explanation of the mystery, sometimes I like that structure.

Is simply stopping a film before the presumed climax bad?

- See above I'm afraid :D . I remember a film (MMMM) that had a very sudden ending, it was pretty great. But it really has to do with a lot of other variables I think (mostly: can the director pull off the ending I'd like to see). An interesting film there to mention I think is Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, where the ending is actually the beginning (origin story) and the finale isn't very climactic at all.

Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?

- Sure, even when the internal logic is somewhat flaky when watching it again. Switchblade Romance is a good example. As long as the ending works, I'm fine with it. Coherency is rarely my biggest worry.

Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?

- Not that I can think of. In fact, I think the ending of my favorite film ever (Avalon) is probably its weakest part. Still at the very top for me :)

Are there films that are "made" or saved by their endings?

- No, I think an ending can have a 0.25* effect on my rating max, so it's only good for tipping half points.
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#4

Post by OldAle1 »

Interesting. I probably won't listen to the episode anytime soon - don't want to spoil The Holy Girl for myself, though maybe this will get me to prioritize it. I've seen everything else mentioned in the OP except for The Grey which never looked interesting to me.

Ondherhond's initial sentence is interesting - I might say, sometimes, that I care more about the journey than the goal, but I also care just as much, sometimes more, about plot/narrative as about style. But when it comes down to looking at my actual favorites and thinking about what's important to me, it's clear that in narrative films endings are often - maybe usually - of paramount importance to me, and every film I've ever put in my top few has been a film that had what I thought was a GREAT ending.

(l) (l) (l) Share your favourite film endings of all time (l) (l) (l)

Well, obviously La La Land. And Once Upon a Time in America is probably second. And I'm a fan of a lot of the endings that you're going to find on a lot of mainstream best-endings lists, like The Third Man, Planet of the Apes, The Searchers, etc. But here are some lesser-known, or less-celebrated favorites:

Batang West Side
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
A Moment of Innocence
My Brother's Wedding
Random Harvest

What should a good ending do?

Eh that depends so much on what came before it that it's fairly impossible and meaningless to answer. There are words like "closure" of course, but how do those apply to films that are open-ended for sequels, or just open-ended generally (Margaret is a good example - sure, the story we've seen is over, but the lives are just as complex and challenging as they've been for the last 3 hours).

Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?

Again, depends entirely on the film. I suppose the "false happy ending" is one of my favorites; you could call it a trick ending of sorts, but it allows you the experience of two (or more) potential endings, and depending on other factors in the film, you might choose the one that suits you, rather than the one the filmmakers had in mind. LLL and Brazil are both great examples.

Is simply stopping a film before the presumed climax bad?

Not necessarily, though it takes a great filmmaker to get that right.
Spoiler
John Sayles' Limbo is an example that really works.
Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?

Sure. I have no problem with this kind of ending and you could argue easily that my two favorite endings mentioned above are examples, or sort of examples, of this. But it's hard to pull off for sure and there are probably more bad examples than good.

Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?

Hard to come up with a great example but here are a few that strike me, after a bit of thinking. Remo Williams has a rather poor ending and it's still a favorite of mine, but it took quite a few viewings before I got over the weaknesses of the last 1/4 of the film. But of course - given that I do attach real importance to endings - it's hard for me to see the "greatness" in a film where I hate the ending. I re-watched Stromboli not that long ago, there's a film with an ending I really dislike, and it sort of hurts the whole film, but I wasn't loving the film up to that point anyway. Actually, now that I'm looking, Ann Hui's Boat People has an ending that I found very irritating and that may have kept the film from potentially "great" for me.

Are there films that are "made" or saved by their endings?

Also hard to come up with anything immediately; one I saw recently was Butterfly Sleep which isn't great or anything, but where the ending probably kicked the film up a bit for me.

(l) (l) (l) Share any opinions you have on what works or doesn't in film endings (l) (l) (l)

While I love the kinds of simple, occasionally ironic endings that you find in, say, Ozu or Naruse, I suppose what I love most in an ending is a fair bit of emotional complexity and discord. What I mean by that is an ending that twists you around a bit, where you're not sure whether it's going to be "happy" or "sad" or "exciting" or whatever until the last minute, and you get some false flags. I suppose that sounds like Shyamalan-style twists, but it's not really what I mean, and I think several of the films I've mentioned offer good examples of this. I often want films to end on emotional peaks, and when they do so successfully there's nothing better.

What doesn't work? Lots of things but one that comes to mind is introducing brand-new, important plot developments or characters in the last scene or two, because you don't know how to end things right with your main storyline. Distractions, I guess. And the lengthy battle sequences that end so many Hollywood action films these days tend to bore the hell out of me, especially when there is absolutely nothing really at stake. And maybe the worst - the undeserved happy ending. People getting everything they want at the end without making any sacrifices - often despite a sense throughout the film that sacrifices are necessary. Ron Howard's The Paper was the film that first really stuck in my craw in this respect; Spielberg's Read Player One is another more recent example.

Oh, and is Whiplash just evil?

Of course not. blocho is just insane, he's watched too many Cage films.

Is the ending of Taxi Driver real or a fantasy?

I'm gonna say real, but it certainly could go either way, and that's certainly one of it's positives.

Was The Last Laugh improved or hurt by the studio-forced ending?

Been too long since I've seen it. Pass.
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#5

Post by Torgo »

Let me just say that in general, endings are a bit overrated. And that even more so by casual moviewatching folks who weight plot too high already. There are perfectly finely entertaining films with few missteps, good acting, convincing dialogue and so on for 2 hours which finish on a less good note and those people will be like: "BAD FILM, terrible ending, why did the wiener dog behave like that, a 5-year-old could write a better end to this story!" and I'll be like "Um it was a 8/10 for almost the whole running time for me, I don't see it drop to 4/10 now because of that, besides it's alright, what do I care how the fictitious dachshund decides after all." They too often cling to the meaning of all, not understanding how life isn't always about that and art/stories don't have to be either.

I'm more in the Onderhond camp for this.
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#6

Post by blocho »

OldAle1 wrote: October 1st, 2021, 5:04 pm Of course not. blocho is just insane, he's watched too many Cage films.
I concede the insanity bit, but that's actually a product of not seeing enough Cage movies. :D

Of the four or five episodes I've recorded, I think this was my favorite. All credit to my co-hosts for an enlivening discussion.
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#7

Post by blocho »

Incidentally, Chris, since we recorded that episode, I saw All That Jazz for the first time. And it's certainly a good ending, though it went on a bit long for my tastes (as did the whole movie). As a work of autobiography by Fosse, it's a particularly bizarre ending, upbeat in tone, yet morbid in implication.
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#8

Post by sol »

St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?
When I was younger, I was very big into everything being clear and resolved at the end of the film. These days though, I prefer the ambiguity. Much more chance of a film staying with you if it leaves with some uncertainty in the air.
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#9

Post by hurluberlu »

St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am
Oh, and is Whiplash just an evil, evil movie made by equally evil people?
Actually a very sane question, intentionally or not, it ends with the feeling that materialistic ambition justifies all - same for La La Land.
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#10

Post by mightysparks »

Share your favourite film endings of all time
Hard off the top of my head. Cabin in the Woods had a pretty cool one.

What should a good ending do?
Depends on the film but generally it should just be satisfying I suppose.

Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?
Depends on the film.

Is simply stopping a film before the presumed climax bad?
Don't really know what this means but I guess it depends on the film.

Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?
Sure.

Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?
Not ruined but it sure can be soured. An ending is like any other element of a film and one bad element might not destroy the film but it won't help it either.

Are there films that are "made" or saved by their endings?
Yeah. Contracted was one of those for me. Thought it was ok/mediocre with an amazing ending that put it in the good books for me (though definitely needs a rewatch).

Share any opinions you have on what works or doesn't in film endings
I don't think there is a definite thing, it always depends on the film.

Oh, and is Whiplash just evil?
No

Is the ending of Taxi Driver real or a fantasy?
Don't remember it

Was The Last Laugh improved or hurt by the studio-forced ending?
Don't remember it
"I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don't want." - Stanley Kubrick

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#11

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St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?
Spoiler warning (obviously)
I can think of a couple of anime movies that did this type of ending well:

Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer

Madoka Magica: Rebellion

I guess what makes them work is that they both handle the trope in a very unique way, so it's not as simple as just waking up from a dream.

If anyone is planning to watch Rebellion, be sure to watch the series before the movie. Otherwise you'll be completely lost.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?
It's hard to think of a real example. If I can cheat a little bit, I would say the English dub of Spirited Away. In the original ending, they drive the car without saying anything, and it's a great ending. In the English dub they say this:
Chihiro's Father: A new home and a new school? It is a bit scary.
Chihiro: I think I can handle it.
I hate this ending, because it completely changes one of the main themes of the film.
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#12

Post by sebby »

My initial reaction is to say endings matter a lot -- but in truth I remember films vividly for moments peppered throughout and very rarely remember endings.

I don't know if I have a favorite. I think Wes Anderson does endings extraordinarily well. Ballad of a Soldier was good. Burmese Harp. The schmaltzy man inside me (giggity) has to mention Groundhog Day and Planes, Trains, Automobiles.

Great films can't be ruined by bad endings, but decent films can. Films that kind of exist in that 4-6/10 range. Identity was a fun little thriller that lost a couple points from me due to the ending. Fight Club had a bad ending/reveal, but the film has so much going for it that it wasn't ruined at all.

Bad films saved by great endings? Someone mention an example bc I can't think of a single awful film that somehow tacked on a great ending after 100 minutes of shitshow. Usual Suspects is the closest thing that comes to mind. But it's a mediocrity that gets elevated. Same with something like The Mist. These aren't bad films. They're watchable but forgettable before being punctuated with endings that make them seem better than they are.
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#13

Post by RolandKirkSunglasses »

St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am (l) (l) (l) Share your favourite film endings of all time (l) (l) (l)


Off the top of my head:

Aguirre has a memorable final shot. Woman in the Dunes makes sense and still leaves some ambiguity. Au Revoir les Enfants has the right amount of sentiment without being maudlin or emotionally manipulative. Through the Olive Trees is a unique way of filming what could've been a clichéd ending.

If we're talking penultimate scenes trumping the final I have to mention El Verdugo and Ugetsu.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am What should a good ending do?
It really depends on the film and everything that came before it. You can have a memorable ending which brings a character arc to a dramatic end and you can have a memorable ending with lots of ambiguity. Some great endings provide closure, some don't.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Do you prefer clear resolutions or ambiguity?
Depends on the film but I prefer a little ambiguity in my characters and some open-ended questions at the end, leaves a little mystery and incentivises rewatches. An open-and-shut movie can be largely understood in one viewing, a really open ending with nothing resolved can be chalked down to lazy screenwriting.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Is simply stopping a film before the presumed climax bad?
Depends on whether the climax is a foregone conclusion: audience might feel cheated out of an epic finale or it might make narrative sense to cut the story early and focus on character's acceptance of said fate.

For running time's sake it might be better to end a story early instead of letting it drag onto 4 or 5 endings like a certain Tolkien movie about a ring.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?
Wizard of Oz pulls it off without cheating the audience, so yes it's doable but requires work to not make it feel like a cheap gimmick.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Have a great film ever been ruined by its ending?
Ruined is a strong word but some good films have disappointing endings for various reasons. Original cut of Magnificent Ambersons was said to be superior to the studio-enforced happy ending; the ending of Monty Python & the Holy Grail can be explained by a lack of money; Ordet and Taste of Cherry have very divisive endings.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Are there films that are "made" or saved by their endings?


Some films try to build towards a big ending but if everything that came before isn't enjoyable it's going to have a limited effect. I disliked Shura all the way through and wasn't swayed by the final 20 minutes, whereas Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji was enjoyable all the way through, the ending added that little bit extra to the whole thing.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am (l) (l) (l) Share any opinions you have on what works or doesn't in film endings (l) (l) (l)
I like endings with a little ambiguity and a couple loose ends, I also enjoy a darkly ironic ending or just a plain ol' bleak ending to complement my pessimistic nature. There isn't a hard or fast rule on what I enjoy in endings it really depends on the type of story and how it unfolds.

As for what doesn't work, films with arbitrary twist endings tend to cheat the audience and smacks of self-important screenwriting. Dislike unrealistic happy endings completely jarring with everything that came before it. Ultimately I hate endings which feel forced, where a character or story has to go from A to B and the screenwriter has to contrive some deus ex machina or implausible event to reach said destination.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Oh, and is Whiplash just evil?
The combined value of each letter in "Whiplash" is 96. Turn the '9' 180°, stick another '6' onto the end and you've got your answer.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Is the ending of Taxi Driver real or a fantasy?
I'm going with fantasy but can understand why people would choose real.
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Was The Last Laugh improved or hurt by the studio-forced ending?
Hurt. Tonal shift and contrived happy ending was too jarring, would've been very difficult for anyone to make that forced ending work to be honest let alone Murnau.
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#14

Post by mjf314 »

RolandKirkSunglasses wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 11:31 am
St. Gloede wrote: October 1st, 2021, 9:05 am Has everything turned out to be a dream ever actually worked?
Wizard of Oz pulls it off without cheating the audience, so yes it's doable but requires work to not make it feel like a cheap gimmick.
I prefer the original ending. In the book everything was real and not a dream. I don't understand why they felt the need to change it.
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#15

Post by RolandKirkSunglasses »

mjf314 wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 8:43 pm I prefer the original ending. In the book everything was real and not a dream. I don't understand why they felt the need to change it.
Probably to show off 3-strip Technicolor and appeal to youngsters, the producers were worried older viewers wouldn't buy it as "real" so opted to make it all a dream.
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#16

Post by OldAle1 »

RolandKirkSunglasses wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 9:24 pm
mjf314 wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 8:43 pm I prefer the original ending. In the book everything was real and not a dream. I don't understand why they felt the need to change it.
Probably to show off 3-strip Technicolor and appeal to youngsters, the producers were worried older viewers wouldn't buy it as "real" so opted to make it all a dream.
Yeah. The concept of a whole fantasy world as such was something pretty alien to adult sensibilities at the time - there was no "adult fantasy" as such, certainly not in the mainstream of American culture. Though curiously monster-type horror was pretty accepted; then again those Univeral horror films were mostly low budget and not aiming I assume for the huge general audience that MGM wanted/need for a very expensive film like Oz.
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#17

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sebby wrote: October 2nd, 2021, 3:14 pm The schmaltzy man inside me (giggity) has to mention Groundhog Day and Planes, Trains, Automobiles.
This is interesting. I liked Groundhog Day a lot from the beginning, and it's only grown on me over the years but the VERY ending - Murray's comment about "we'll rent first" - just seems too blasé; a very minor irritation but one I can't shake. Planes, Trains on the other hand is a film I really disliked at first and have done almost a 180 on, and it's mostly because of the ending, which I just HATED originally - and I still hate most of John Hughes' films and in particular many of the endings. But in this case he's got an asshole character who is redeemable, and a nice-guy character who maybe isn't all he seemed to be, and for whatever reason it just works, it feels very human and real despite the schmaltz.
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#18

Post by mjf314 »

RolandKirkSunglasses wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 9:24 pm
mjf314 wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 8:43 pm I prefer the original ending. In the book everything was real and not a dream. I don't understand why they felt the need to change it.
Probably to show off 3-strip Technicolor and appeal to youngsters, the producers were worried older viewers wouldn't buy it as "real" so opted to make it all a dream.
I don't understand this. As far as I know, the original novel was successful enough without the dream ending. Did people's taste really change that much from 1900 to 1939?

How does making it a dream make it more appealing to anyone? Fantasy haters are still going to hate it. No one is going to suffer through an entire movie, and then at the end of the movie, suddenly decide that they like it because it was all a dream.
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#19

Post by Teproc »

mjf314 wrote: October 3rd, 2021, 11:44 pm Did people's taste really change that much from 1900 to 1939?
39 years is a long time. We're talking 1982 compared to now. I'm pretty sure you'd agree people's tastes have changed quite a bit since then.

It's not an twist ending in The Wizard of Oz though. We see the neighbors early on and recognize them when they show up as the Tin Man, Wicked Witch etc.
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#20

Post by mjf314 »

Teproc wrote: October 4th, 2021, 10:39 pm 39 years is a long time. We're talking 1982 compared to now. I'm pretty sure you'd agree people's tastes have changed quite a bit since then.
That's true, it's a long time, but I'd expect the change to go in the opposite direction. Doesn't the population usually become more accepting of different things as time passes?

Were there really so many fantasy haters in 1939, or was it just a baseless assumption made by one of the producers?

Even if there are hints earlier in the movie that it's a dream, I don't see how that would make it more enjoyable for fantasy haters.
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#21

Post by Teproc »

Audiences don't actually grow more sophisticated with time, they only get more sophisticated if a medium/artform becomes less popular (ie cinema now, theater and opera in the 20th Century etc.)... I mean I think if you look at 1900s cinema and 1930s cinema, you'll find a much bigger proportion of fantasy films in the former, though there are a myriad of factors at play here. I'm not knowledgeable at all about the market The Wizard of Oz (the book) was intended for or the cultural context in which it was written, but surely it can't have been as heavily policed as Hollywood was at the height of the studio era, especially at MGM which was the least adventurous of the major studios.
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