Comfortable and Furious

Come to My Woman’s Breasts and Take My Milk for Gall: Part One

I like a bitch in the movies. There’s something fascinating about a woman being nasty and doing evil stuff. I prefer my spiteful Sheilas to be sane, though. I mean, I’m fond of someone like Misery’s nutso Annie Wilkes, especially when she indulges in a bout of hobbling, but she pales next to Cuckoo’s Nest steely Nurse Ratched or the avaricious Simone Signoret conspiring to drive a frail colleague to death in Les Diaboliques. Being in control, knowing what you’re doing, and not giving a fig about the consequences… Oh yeah, that’s my kind of badass gal.

Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” Good quote, and most people wouldn’t have much difficulty in recognising that it comes from the twisted lips of the Wicked Witch of the West. Most also know she fails to sort out Dorothy and Toto and is eventually defeated.

However, it’s not too well grasped that her watery demise changes nothing. After all, the Wicked Witch is not real. She’s a cackling creature in a land of fantasy that only bursts into Technicolor life because Dorothy receives a blow to the head, knocking her unconscious. Once our teenage heroine awakens on her Kansas farm at the end she’s back to square one. What do I mean? Well, Miss Almira Gulch (the fantastic Hamilton) is still hell-bent on her fiendish course of action.

We first meet Dorothy (Judy Garland) fleeing with her beloved terrier. Turns out the dog has once again got into Miss Gulch’s garden and chased her ‘nasty old cat’, a situation that has caused the irate homeowner to swipe Toto over the back with a rake. As Dorothy relates the tale to friends and family, her nemesis is described as the ‘old Gulch heifer’. She soon turns up with an expression so grim that it’s obvious she’s the sort of person who puts a fair chunk of energy into making other people’s lives worse. “I’m all but lame for the bite on my leg!” she tells Dorothy’s uncle, a remark somewhat contradicted by the fact she’s arrived after a stint of furious cycling. Exaggeration, however, is just one of the tools she employs to get her way. Just listen to her talk about Toto, a clearly affectionate, well-behaved dog. “That dog’s a menace to the community! I’m taking him to the sheriff to make sure he’s destroyed!”

With her hair in a bun, a makeup and smile-free face, clothing that covers just about every inch of her body, a harsh voice, and a shrill, imposing persona, the finger-pointing Miss Gulch has no feminine attributes. She’s a rich, powerful, landowning spinster, although we never learn whether men have rejected her or she’s rejected them. 

Whatever the case, this is a bitter woman, utterly impervious to Dorothy’s distress and the heartfelt suggestions to restrain Toto in future. “If you don’t hand over that dog,” she barks at Dorothy’s aunt, “I’ll bring a damned suit that’ll take your whole farm!” What’s more, you know she means it.And so Toto escapes from Miss Gulch’s basket of doom, but in reality the dog’s death sentence has only been postponed not reprieved. Wizard of Oz’s happy ending depicting Dorothy surrounded by her loved ones is a cheat for it’s only a matter of time before an enraged Miss Gulch returns, no doubt doubly determined to kill her treasured pet.


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