Scott Andrew Hutchins | Bronx, NY, USA | 07/05/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Frank Joslyn Baum felt that he, as L. Frank Baum's eldest son, was the best person to carry on the Oz series, and was struck aghast when his father's publisher employed Ruth Plumly Thompson after his father died, and with his mother's approval. Later on, they even halted the publication of his Oz Big Little Books (the first of the intended two has become one of the most sought after BLBs of all time due to its low print run--and its publication is still barred to the present day). Despite a 1918 letter from LFB praising how much better written FJB's letter to him was than anything he had written, FJB, like most of his other descendents clearly did not have the talent of his father (though Roger S.--directly descended from FJB, is the worst).
The younger Baum, however, was able to negotiate business deals that brought about this film, the 1933 animated short (which he wrote), and the 1939 MGM musical.For some reason, the younger Baum, who even had the audacity to bill himself as "L. Frank Baum, Jr." (even though L. Frank Baum would never have named his son "Lyman") decided that the material made a suitable vehicle for Larry Semon, a second-string star battling alcoholism (and who would die of stomach cancer a few years later), and proceeded to change it heavily.Taking a partial cue from his father's 1914 film, _His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz_, which was based on _Wizard_, but so heavily different that Baum expanded it into the novel _The Scarecrow of Oz_ the next year, FJB , with Semon and Leon Lee, wrote this all-a-dream story about the politics of the Emerald City, which was also a major subject of the 1902 musical, though much more successfully. (_The Scarecrow of Oz_ mentions the death of Kind Kynd of Jinxland, so the name Prince Kynd was probably not created independently.) MGM bought the rights to both this film and the musical, resulting in the use of the poppy field snowstorm (from the play), and the all-a-dream and farmhands-to-companions elements of the MGM film.A large portion of the film was set in Kansas, with slapstick humor young and teenage audiences might find funny (I thought so when I was 14), but which quickly grows old and tedious, even if it does mix many animated effects into live action. Once the characters, including three farmhands played by Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy, and Spencer Bell, with Uncle Henry and Dorothy (Dwan--Semon's wife), get to Oz--we are treated to elbaorate production design and a lot of fleeing from lions. Bell is billed as G. Howe Black and is the only farmhand named, and it's "Snowball" at that. The film is not racist enough to stand out during its time period, but at least we have the consolation that in some scenes, Bell's character appears to be brighter than Semon's (though one can't say the same for the unfortunate shots of some unbilled black children in the Emerald City). He is a coward who spends much of the film in a lion suit, while Hardy creates an ominous image, even with Semon's silly costume design, as a Tin Woodsman [sic] who comes out of a tin pile brandishing axe, becomes the heartless Knight of the Garter, thus they do not in any way contravene what they believe about themselves, as LFB intended. Also on board with Dorothy is obese Uncle Henry (Frank Alexander), an even nastier man than Hardy, who is not really Dorothy's uncle, who is proclaimed "Prince of Whales" upon arriving in the Emerald City. Josef Swickard's performance as Prime Minister Kruel anticipates that of Sam Jaffe in Josef Von Sternberg's _The Scarlet Empress_, though Jaffe improved on the characterization.The film has amazing production design as one of its few strong points, but this silly melodrama is hampered by such things (stirking as they are) as female impersonator Frederick Ko Vert (who designed all of the costumes except for the Scarewcrow and Tin Woodman) emerging from a basket as a demonstration of the Wizard's powers, and a tacked-on concluding scene Semon trying to fly a plane with Bell on a hanging ladder crashing into a water tower (whcih leads to the all-a-dream revelation). This unforgettable image is good at least in that contemporary technology is allowed to appear in Oz as it did in the books, something MGM made people forget.This is a fascinating film I have watched a number of times, but it doesn't make me like it any better with subserquent viewings. I have not seen the DVD in question. My tape of this film has one of Rosa Rio's better organ scores for Video Yesteryear (most of them are boring, but this isn't), though VY's primitive speed correction weakens the image.It's also worth noting this film bankrupted the studio (Chadwick) and was barely released. After its premiere, it was not able to supply prints to theatres that had already booked it (one older Oz fan noted his disappointment as a youth when learning hs local theatre was not able to obtain a print--before he knew just how bad the film was).Were it not for its cast or connection to a literary classic, the film would likely be unavailable today. The film is actually pretty typical of its time, and gives us a glimpse of what big summer movies that didn't become classics looked like in the 1920s. Like many lesser-known films of its day, it was cross-genre--an odd mix of melodrama, comedy, and adventure.While it proved a step on the long and prolific career of Oliver Hardy, neither Semon nor Bell, who frequently appeared together, would live for long after the film (Semon 3 years, Bell 10), and Frank Joslyn Baum's biography of his father is largely a concoction due to further estrangment from his family. Therefore, its historical interest, production design notwithstanding, not its art, is what sustains it."
Don't waste time or money.
Scott Andrew Hutchins | 02/05/2002
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Only if you are the most die hard movie buff should you get this movie. It is interesting to see another version of the Wizard of Oz, especially with a Oliver Hardy appearence in it. But the production of the DVD is amaturish. The music switches back and forth from appropriate old piano music to a digital score that sounds like it was produced from "baby's first keyboard". Even more bizzare and annoying is the fact that the producers saw fit to have someone read the dialouge out loud every time a card pops up. It boggles my mind why anyone would think these are good ideas. The movie is easier to take if you watch it with one push of the fast forward. Its too bad that an old silent on dvd has to be ruined by idiotic "improvements". Hopefully this company won't have any more silents at their disposal to trash."
I don't think they're in Oz anymore!
Joe Libby | 12/06/1999
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Nearly forgotten today, Larry Semon was a top comedy star during the 1920's, even rivaling Charlie Chaplin in popularity. His downfall, late in the decade, resulted largely from disastrous business decisions compiled by numerous personal problems. He was a creative and talented comedian, but seemed content to reuse the same gags again and again while overspending lavishly on his productions.THE WIZARD OF OZ displays all the virtues and faults of Larry Semon's work. For no good reason, Semon abandons most of the classic Baum story and replaces it with a Ruritarian satire about political operatives who would stop farmgirl Dorothy from taking her rightful place as Queen of Oz (are you still with me?). Dorothy Dwan (who was Semon's wife) was certainly an attractive and quite talented comedienne, but too mature to be a genuine Dorothy. Semon and Oliver Hardy are farmhand rivals for Dorothy's attention. Late in the film, almost as an afterthought, Semon disguises himself as a scarecrow and Hardy as a Tin Man. Semon's brief turn as the scarecrow is one of the film's best moments, making it all the more frustrating that he didn't film the original story. Babe Hardy doesn't have a whole lot to do, but he still brightens the film whenever he's onscreen. Ironically, Keystone comedian Charlie Murray is woefully underused in the title role.The film is an interesting curio and the source print for this tape very good. Unfortunately, it has a bizarre and inappropriate music track that will drive you crazy after a while. My advice would be to mute your TV and use your stereo to make your own musical accompaniment."
Alright movie, bad music
KNO2skull | United States | 02/21/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It's not really fair to call this movie, "Wizard of Oz", although it is based, very loosely, on that story. Essentially,Dorothy in this story is a 17 year old about to turn 18, when she is to discover she is the ruler of Oz. There are designs to keep her from ascending the throne by the evil Emperor Kruel and cohorts. The tin-man, cowardly lion, and scarecrow are disguises taken on by Dorothy's friends to avoid detection. The wizard is truly a shyster, and only vaguely useful.
The highlight is Oliver Hardy in an early role. The low points are stereotypifications of the one African American actor; especially a scene where he eats watermelon and a scene where 'dark meat' is referred to jokingly in regards to a lion's dietary preference. However, this actor was very humorous in the slapstick role he performed, and most of the main actors are involved in slapstick roles throughout.
There are some nicely done 'stunts' performed that seem amazing for the time. The print it was taken off of was very good, although the music and narration were not only unnecessary, but inapproprate. For the low dollar amount, this film is worth having in your collection. I'd much prefer the 1910 "Wizard of Oz" made by L. Frank Baum if it was available."
It was okay...
KNO2skull | 02/20/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not complaining about the quality of the film. I love old movies and this was no exception. I'm upset about the content. I had understood that Baum himself had helped with this movie. I read all 14 of his nooks on Oz and expected this to be more accurate to the book than the 1939 version with Judt Garland. Instead, this seemed to be worse.I'm not sure if it was Baum or Hollywood, but this to not keep at all with the original book. I was very dissappointed. As far as being an early movie, it was good. It just wasn't what I expected. Unless you want an accurate version, don't let my review disuade you. It was still a good movie. It was definitely a comedy."