Thursday, April 16, 2020


When I was a kid and other people knew what was best for me, I was literally forced to watch those annual television airings of THE WIZARD OF OZ whether I wanted to or not! And given all those years of boredom and the utter fright of seeing the wizard's huge head surrounded by bursting flames all I gotta say is that I hope I never do get to see that 1939 megamillion atrocity again as long as I have peepers to watch films with! 

However, I will admit that the early silent-era Oz films, whether they be the original L. Frank Baum-helmed series from the early 'teens or the mid-twenties edition with Larry Semon, Dorothy Dwan and Oliver Hardy, should be worth the effort to view if only to help demystify the overpowering image of the Big 'Un. The historical significance of the early Oz films also appeals to me pretty much in the same way it did back when I was just popping into my mid-teenbo years and I'd watch OLD MOVIES, THE GOLDEN ERA on channel 25 in Cle if a tornado warning just happened to be drawing that station into the Youngstown viewing market. That's what kind of a devoted viewer I was in the face of a lack of engrossing culture (and fun and jamz) on ALL fronts!

It might be surprising to some that there even were early moom pitcher versions of the original Oz books, loosely adapted I'm told, to warrant at least three films in the series. I believe this one was the last...dunno if there were any more and I'm too lazy to find out...but if you were a kid in 1914 and wanted your parents to drag you to the theatre I guess this would be a good 'un to see. Mom 'n dad wouldn't be so pleased, but I'm sure they'd do it just to keep your yap shut!

Before I start, don't take that much stock in the above TV GUIDE blurb. The film credits on the NEW WIZARD OF OZ reissue were in error when some historical revision led to the notion that "Frank L. Baum" was indeed the director, a gross mistake which I am told many believed as gospel truth for years. Actually J. Farrell MacDonald directed but Baum did write the screenplay and I do feel it is my PERSONAL DUTY to correct such previously held misrepresentations before such rumors really get out of hand!

Anyhoo, this particular Oz story is one that I'm sure will please kids from ages two to at least three. But I still like it plenty if only for its early filmic qualities that were created looooong before the idea of "cinema" became a buzzword for pretentious intellectuals who like to chatter about how virtuous they are in between issues of THE NEW YORKER. But more on that far as the basic outline of it goes the evil King Krewl wants to marry off his daughter, Princess Gloria, to some old turdburger names Googly-Goo. However, daughter ain't havin' none of it because she's in love with the palace gardener named Pon who might not be rich like Googly, but he's young and good looking enough to appeal to her even if he's only working at a low-level paying job with little if any room for advancement. That don't matter to the Princess, even if it's more likely that if she does hitch up with Pon she's gonna be eating grass clippings the rest of her life!

Not that the King's gonna have any of THAT, so he summons the witch Old Mombi to put a spell on his daughter which results in the freezing of her heart (nice special effects there!) rendering Gloria to the point of neo-zombiedom where she wanders around for the rest of the film in a daze sorta like some of those brain-damaged types you come across while shopping at the grocers. For his problems Pon gets turned into a kangaroo which goes to show ya that you don't screw around with these black magic types or bad things just might start a'happenin'. Just ask Jimmy Page.

Oh yeah, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion all show up to help things out (the Scarecrow's "origin story" is rather interesting, he owing his mere life to the existence of corn!), and a rather dapper Wizard eventually enters into the story to put a stop to all of the chicanery that the witch has been tossin' out. Don't wanna give it all away since you can watch the thing yourself in the comfort of your own fart-encrusted bedroom by clicking on the very image below, and lemme tell ya you probably haven't spent a better hour or so of your time since you discovered DR. WILSON'S HOME MEDICAL BOOK that afternoon when everyone was away.

I like the look of this. The early static cinematography (if you can call it that!) actually lends a certain olde tymey story-book-y feeling while the various twists and turns and primitive editing sure digs up that affection I grew up with for old things like film before technology issued in a new generation that perhaps was not as exciting. Like most early silent filmage, this has an overall (dare I say) "charm" which seemed way more fleshy and human than the hippie spew that was accepted as all the rage when I was a kid but irritated me to no end. Sheesh, in many ways I think I would have preferred living in 1914 rather than 1969 given the overall entertainment value goin' 'round then!

The costumed animals, fake as they are, certainly do give a corny yet sentimental touch while film itself, which at times is perhaps a bit stagnant, woulda fit in swell with those same kinda kids a few generations later had this been some old foreign film and K. Gordon Murray dubbed in Amerigan voices for a whole new audience. Come to think of it, considering this was a silent flick maybe Murray shoulda gotten hold of it, added a soundtrack with dialogue and tinted it for those not-so-discerning children who would go to the mooms to see just about anything. I mean, more ridiculous things in the name of making a quick buck have been done, like reissuing this in 1996 with narration.

Before you watch it, a little about a coupla members of the cast. Frank Moore, who played the Scarecrow, was once part of a vaudeville team with James C. Morton, the once omnipresent character actor whose toupee would always be removed either by Larry Fine's violin bow or the Little Rascals' razzing. Really, who could forget the look on Buckwheat's face when he turned around and said "YOU KIDS ARE BEGINNING TO GET INTO MY HAIR!" Also appearing as "Button Bright" is none other than Mildred Harris, the same Mildred Harris who tricked Charlie Chaplin into marrying her before he discovered that she also liked playing the field herself, allegedly with Nazimova and Lillian Gish! Sheesh, who would have known that she was also a little tramp! Or maybe in this case a pearl diver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hah! Keep 'em comin', Chris! Cheers! Alvin Bishop