WIZARD OF OZ
(director/writer: Larry Semon; screenwriters: L. Frank Baum Jr./Leon Lee/based on the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum; cinematographers: Frank Good/H.F. Koenenkamp/Leonard Smith; editor: Sam Zimbalist; music: Robert Israel; cast: Larry Semon (The Scarecrow/The Toymaker), Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy), Charles Murray (The Wizard), Oliver N. Hardy (The Tin Woodsman), Frank Alexander (Uncle Henry/Prince of Whales), Spencer Bell (Snowball/The Cowardly Lion), Josef Swickand (Prime Minister Kruel), Otto Lederer (Ambassador Wikked), Mary Carr (Auntie Em), Bryant Washburn (Prince Kynd), Virginia Pearson (Lady Vishuss); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Larry Semon; Turner Entertainment; 1925-silent)
“Terrible version of The Wizard of Oz, that’s filmed as a heavy-handed slapstick comedy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Larry Semon (“The Stunt Man”/”My Best Girl”/”The Rent Collector”) is producer, director and star of this terrible version of The Wizard of Oz, that’s filmed as a heavy-handed slapstick comedy. It comes fourteen years before the brilliant surrealistic version that starred Judy Garland (the ninth version of the classic Baum story), and there’s no comparison between the two. Semon was once thought of in the same breath as Chaplin and Keaton, but died at the young age of 39 and was quickly forgotten. After this film (which failed miserably and led to Semon’s rapid downfall and nervous breakdown), I could also see why he was forgotten–he just wasn’t very funny and seems like a hack director. This silent version of L. Frank Baum’s classic fairy tale has Baum’s son as one of the screenwriters, and he doesn’t seem to mind butchering his father’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with a lot of monkey business and going far afield from the original story.
The story is framed around a toy maker (Larry Semon) reading a fairy-tale to his bored granddaughter, who only cares about when Dorothy is in Kansas.
The fairy-tale tells of an infant girl named Dorothy from the faraway magical kingdom of Oz (which in this film doesn’t appear to be magical) is abandoned at the Kansas farm of a hot-tempered chubby Uncle Henry (Frank Alexander) and serene Aunt Em (Mary Carr), and a sealed letter is attached to the basket that says the letter is not to be opened until the girl’s 18th birthday or death and desolation will occur. After being raised on the farm, on her 18th birthday Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan, married Semon just before the film’s release) discovers she’s the rightful heir to the throne of Oz, that was usurped by the prime minister dictator Kruel (Josef Swickand) and his henchman Ambassador Wikked (Otto Lederer) and vile cohort Lady Vishuss (Virginia Pearson). They overthrew the kind-hearted Prince Kynd (Bryant Washburn) over the objections of the common people, whom they subject to an intolerant regime. When Kruel’s henchmen show up by airplane in Kansas and try to steal the letter and prevent Dorothy’s arrival, a tornado brings her and the farmhands over the rainbow to Oz. Once there, they take disguises fearing capture and a fake wizard (Charles Murray) pretends to bring them to life as a scarecrow (Larry Semon), tin man (Oliver Hardy) and cowardly lion (Spencer Bell) — minus a little dog named Toto. The three bumblers, with the tin man as the villain, attempt to halt the marriage of Dorothy to Kruel.
Oliver Hardy plays the role of the villain, who lusts after Dorothy who instead prefers the other farm hand. Hardy appears without his famous partner Stan Laurel, as they didn’t team up until 1926 under Hal Roach.
Wizard of Oz was not well received by the public and some critics took exception to its “custard pie atmosphere,” finding it was top heavy with slapstick and a contemporary audiences will probably find the film’s blatant racist caricatures a real bummer. The African-American actor Bell’s character is first introduced as a lazy loafer eating a watermelon and then as a cowardly lion, as he’s racially typecast to get cheap laughs. To further advance the racist stereotype, the actor was billed as “G. Howe Black.”
REVIEWED ON 12/22/2008 GRADE: C- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/