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The Wizard of Oz (1925).

December 16, 2008

The Scoop:
It is best to check your expectations at the door with this silent screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel. It is a very different creature than the classic Judy Garland version.

What it is, mainly, is a vanity project for popular silent film comedian Larry Semon. Not only did he star in the film as the Scarecrow, but he also directed and co-wrote (along with L. Frank Baum Jr. and Leon Lee). The result strays pretty far from both the novel and the 1939 film. There are no witches, no yellow brick road, no Muchkins, and no Toto. What plot is left is minimal — Dorothy, who was born the princess of Oz and sent to Kansas as an infant (for reasons that are never adequately explained), is whisked off to her homeland with some friends (who merely dress up in the familiar parts of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion) and reclaims her throne with only token opposition.

The rest of the film’s running time is filled, essentially, with Semon’s ego, rendered in the form of seemingly endless, unfunny pratfall sequences and long, loving close-ups of Dorothy (played by his wife, Dorothy Dwan). The physical comedy is, frankly, a product of its time and, as such, does not hold up well today. It is well performed, particularly by Semon and the young, up-and-coming Oliver Hardy (as the Tin Woodsman), but isn’t very inventive. Especially when compared to the work of Semon’s contemporaries, Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin.

And then there’s the Cowardly Lion, played as a mincing charicature by African-American actor Spencer Bell, who is also given the unfortunate screen name of G. Howe Black.

It is sad to say, but an evening watching this movie is just not time well spent.

Best Line:
“In spring, the young man’s fancy turns to — lollipops.”

Side Note:
The androgynous Phantom of the Basket is played by Frederick Ko Vert, a well-known drag performer of the time. He had a handful of similar film roles throughout the 1920s, and also designed the costumes for “The Wizard of Oz.”

Companion Viewing:
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939).


Take a Look:
An abridged version of the first half of the film:

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