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'Wizard of Oz,' more films that prove 1939 was the greatest year in movies

The Emerald City looms in the background in

The Emerald City looms in the background in a scene from the MGM film "The Wizard of Oz," 1939. Credit: AP / MGM Studios

It was exactly 75 years ago this month that Dorothy and Toto realized they weren't in Kansas anymore after a tornado whisked them away to the Merry Old Land of Oz. With its classic story, memorable songs and dazzling special effects like that twister, "The Wizard of Oz" also took audiences by storm.

But that journey down the Yellow Brick Road was only one of several milestones in the groundbreaking cinematic year of 1939. Still to come was the outbreak of Scarlett fever with the December 1939 release of "Gone With the Wind." Here are more reasons to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the greatest year in movies.

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCES "Oz" made Judy Garland a star, but she wasn't the only up-and-comer for whom 1939 was a watershed year. After languishing in B westerns for nearly a decade, John Wayne rode "Stagecoach" to stardom. Ingrid Bergman left Sweden for Hollywood, where she captivated audiences in the U.S. remake of "Intermezzo." Also making the trek from Europe to Hollywood was Irish Maureen O'Hara as the beauty who charms Charles Laughton's deformed Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

But the ultimate star-is-born tale of the year was the American film debut of Brit Vivien Leigh, who won the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" over just about every actress in Hollywood.

THE SUMMER OF '39 Unlike the current summer, which has yet to produce a true blockbuster, moviegoers had their share of future classics to choose from in August 1939. In addition to "The Wizard of Oz," local theaters offered "Love Affair," the original version of "An Affair to Remember"; the Bette Davis tearjerker "Dark Victory"; the ultimate back-to-school drama "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"; and the haunting romance "Wuthering Heights."

Those five made up half the slate of Oscar contenders for best picture that year, along with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Stagecoach" and the ultimate winner, "Gone With the Wind."

WHAT WASN'T NOMINATED Most years, it's hard enough for the academy to come up with five worthy best picture candidates, much less 10. In a year crowded with Oscar contenders, "Beau Geste," "Destry Rides Again," "Gunga Din," "The Hound of the Baskervilles," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "The Roaring Twenties," "The Women" and "Young Mr. Lincoln" were among the gems that didn't make the academy's cut.

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