The Wizard of Oz (1925)
Article 5542 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Larry Semon
Featuring Larry Semon, Dorothy Dwan, Oliver Hardy
What it is: Not quite what you’d expect
Court intrigue in the land of Oz affects the lives of several residents of a farm.
I’d heard about this movie for years, but I’d never seen it until now. I was mainly curious as to why the movie had such a poor reputation. Sure, I didn’t expect it to live up to the 1939 version, but not many movies do. But what really ended up startling me about this film was something I really didn’t expect; its fantastic content is in question. Instead of Oz being a fantasy land, here it’s just another in a long line of mythical countries. Munchkins, flying monkeys, witches, talking trees, magic of all sorts – none of these things are to be found here Sure, there’s a wizard, but he’s established as a charlatan huckster in the opening reel. Yes, we have a scarecrow, a tin woodsman and a cowardly lion, but not as separate entities; they’re all disguises taken on by the farmhands for one reason or another. What we have left is an alternate take of the Baum story, stripped of its fantasy elements and made to serve the purposes of slapstick comedy; it only qualifies as marginally fantastic due to the mythical country angle and some cartoon-like moments of comic exaggeration. Most of the movie consists of either court intrigue or slapstick antics, and most of that is pretty lame. It does have a few items of interest; one is the presence of Oliver Hardy lacking his moustache and some of his poundage. The other is that this is the earliest movie I know of to have a recurring slapstick concept – that of somebody mistaking a wild animal for a man in a costume. No, the movie’s not a total loss, but if I were a big Baum fan going into this one with certain understandable expectations, I’d be appalled.