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A Pretty Weird Adaptation
Snow Leopard2 January 2003
This is a pretty weird adaptation of the "Wizard of Oz", bearing only a passing resemblance either to the original book or to the beloved Judy Garland version. The story is much different, and the characters look and act much differently. Frankly, most of it isn't really very good, although for those who enjoy silent films there are some points of historical interest. Instead of the more familiar story of young Dorothy's trip to Oz, the scenario here has a melodrama centering on a somewhat older Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan), combined with some slapstick involving the Oz characters. In itself, it's not necessarily a big problem to adapt the story (after all, the great 1939 version also made some significant changes from the book), but this one does not really fit together very well, and it certainly does not work as well as the more familiar story. It really looks as if Larry Semon just tried far too hard to put his own personal stamp on the story, instead of simply trying to make a good movie version of the Wizard. It's interesting to see Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodman, but he doesn't really get a lot to do, and a number of the other characters are ill-conceived, and do not work out well at all. It's also plagued with a lot of excruciating puns in the title cards, plus other similar problems. Some of the finest movies ever made came from this era, when the silents were at their peak, and it should have been possible to make a first-rate adaptation of the Oz story, but unfortunately this isn't it. With its overdone attempts at humor and melodrama, it looks more like the stereotyped images of silent movies that are held by so many ill-informed modern moviegoers. For silent movie fans, there are still a couple of points of interest that might make it worth watching in order to satisfy one's curiosity, but otherwise there's really no particular reason to see it.
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A curio from the silent era but not a good film
DPMay5 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
**Contains spoilers ** Where do I begin with this one? Okay, you'll have gathered that the film is based only very loosely on the book. And by very loosely I mean its taken a few basic ideas - a girl called Dorothy, three workers from her farm in Kansas who (sort of) become a scarecrow, a tin woodman and a lion, and a far off land called Oz where resides a 'wizard'. Larry Semon's complete re-working of the story just fails. It is an awkward mish-mash of ideas. Some of the elements of Baum's original story are shoe-horned into the plot without much logic behind them, and there are a number of sub-plots that are not satisfactorily resolved. Dorothy loves her Auntie Em - but once the action switches to Oz, Auntie Em and Kansas are just forgotten about. Then there's Oliver Hardy's character which is inconsistent throughout the film. When we first see him he's kind and protective towards Dorothy. At the end of the film he's one of the prime villains! Likewise Dorothy's Uncle Henry is initially hostile towards her, then is a protective guardian before becoming a bit of a villain again by the end. Most disgracefully the film's eponymous character, the Wizard, is hardly in the plot at all. He's not a wizard but a charlatan and has little relevance to the story other than to provide a (very tenuous) reason why the farmhands disguise themselves as a scarecrow, tin man and lion. Dorothy totally lacks any motive throughout this film. The plot is more centred around Semon's character who loves Dorothy but spends most of the time clowning around totally independently of her. His gags are mostly physical and some of the stunt-work is impressive but there are also sequences which go on well past the point where the idea has been milked, notably an impossible scene where Semon is hiding in wooden crates and somehow manages to teleport himself from one to another! Given the otherwise complete absence of magic in the film, the sequence defies explanation. Also confused is the idea that the ruling Prime Minister of Oz is going to whatever lengths necessary to retrieve papers that prove that Dorothy is the true ruler of Oz. Now even overlooking the extraordinary coincidence that his men turn up to get them on the very day she is about to be given them, it begs the question why he left the papers there in the first place when they could easily have been destroyed. And to add to the lunacy, even when the papers are found and their contents made public, in the end it makes little difference to his position! As a framing sequence we see a grandfather figure relating the story to a little girl. This starts off well enough as the viewer gets the impression that what we are seeing is what the girl is hearing/imagining, but later on when we cut to these characters the grandfather doesn't even have the book out and the girl is in a separate room! The ending is also muddled. Dorothy falls for the prince she hardly knows (just like that) and the supposed hero of the film, Semon, is seen falling (to his death?) from an aeroplane. And the wizard himself just disappears from the proceedings about halfway through! Hardly a fairytale ending!
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Sometimes it tries too hard... At others it doesn't try hard enough
nineandthreequarters1 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There are a number of reasons for WANTING to like this movie. There are indeed some moments of inspired slapstick and Larry Semon deserves his dues for daring to take the story into new directions. But, uh, good luck reminding yourself of this as you try to sit through the movie. Some boys play with electric trains to feel like big men, Semon played with L Frank Baum's novel and a film camera and then sought to inflict this film upon cinema-goers when it seems to have been made solely to amuse himself. Yes, Semon does some fine physical comedy. Giving credit where it's due, his looseness and comic 'floppiness' contain elements that will later be part of Ray Bolger's performance in the celebrated 1939 film adaptation of this story. Unfortunately, Semon's enthusiasm is effectively much of this film's problem. The movie strings together slapstick moments, a story about Dorothy being a kidnapped and relocated princess of Oz, a perverted uncle, a racially-stereotyped black farmhand, and a convoluted set of scenes with a disturbing-looking grandfather reading the Oz story to his granddaughter and presenting the story. All these ideas that may seem inspired in isolation are not presented in any coherent form here, and the movie comes across as a contrived attempt at a star vehicle for Semon. Yes, every film adaptation of a story will make departures from the original material. However, if other films put a few dents and dings in Baum's novel, this one smashed it into Semon's oncoming ego. Watch it for historical interest, see Oliver Hardy developing the characteristics that would become legendary in his partnerships with Stan Laurel, chuckle at the occasional stunts and pratfalls, but don't expect to be too impressed... or know what the hell is going on
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Oy vey!
JohnnyOldSoul1 May 2003
I approached this film with great interest. Being a fan of Oz in general and silent film in particular, this seemed like a sure fit. Well, it's hard to put all prejudices aside, having (like most people) been bombarded with various adaptations of L. Frank Baum's book that one naturally has preconceptions. Now, I won't bother to comment on the liberties taken in this film, the 1939 film bears, in all truth, barely a passing resemblance to Baum's dark and bizarre novel. The problem is, the changes made for this film just don't work. It's really just a standard silent slapstick film, but not a very funny one. It's hard to sit through 90 minutes of lame jokes and vulgar stereotypes. But, as a historical curiosity, the film merits a once-over. I cannot, however, endorse the release pictured on the IMDb page, with it's "Digital Soundtrack" and "Narration." The music is inappropriate and the narration is silly...I mean, I CAN read for myself thank you! It was like sitting in the theatre with some rude patron talking to the screen! I expect this was added for children watching the films, but I really don't think many young children today would sit through this, sadly. See it at least once, but don't expect too much from it.
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Slapstick showcase for Larry Semon bears little resemblance to the "Oz" story...
Neil Doyle1 December 2008
This WIZARD OF OZ is merely a frantic slapstick showcase for LARRY SEMON, apparently a silent comedian who is unknown to today's audiences and who died at a young age (39). He had a hand in the production and even designed his own Scarecrow costume, but the film is a curio that starts with a toymaker (again, LARRY SEMON) who tells a little girl the story of Dorothy (DOROTHY DWAN) from Kansas who, it turns out, is heir to be ruler of The Land of Oz. But the story he tells has nothing whatsoever to do with L. Frank Baum's story as we know it from the '39 version starring Judy Garland. And this Dorothy is a grown-up young lady of 18 who bats her eyelashes and puts a finger to her lips in a coy manner as though signifying youthful uncertainty. The only connection to the Oz story Baum gave us is the tornado, the effects for which are very good for 1925, and the combination of the Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. OLIVER HARDY is the Tin Man (before his screen partnership with Stan Laurel), SPENCER BELL, a black man, is the Cowardly Lion and LARRY SEMON hogs the whole show as The Scarecrow. The best I can say for Lemon is that his costume and make-up for the role is laudable. But the fragments of story used here are all over the map, the key to everything being the chance to have all of the performers involved in slapstick stunts. Only MARY CARR as Aunt Em is spared this indignity. There are a few well staged moments that one can appreciate but all in all it's a bit too much for any adult to watch and I have no idea what children thought of this bizarre exercise in slapstick comedy.
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I rarely say this about silent films, but this one stinks,...
MartinHafer13 October 2006
This movie was reportedly the one that sunk Larry Semon's career. Instead of the usual short films he was known for, Semon decided to do something "important" and made this (for the time) long film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ,....or at least that's what the title indicates it should be. The story, it seems, bears little similarity to either the 1939 movie or the books. In fact, apart from a few names here and there, it is pretty much unrecognizable as the story about Dorothy and Oz. Instead, it was just an excuse to string along a lot of familiar and not especially funny gags--like I have seen in several other Larry Semon films, the big stunt is his swinging from tower to tower. A neat stunt the first time you see it, but not when it's old material and has nothing to do with the plot. Overall, I consider this movie a wasted effort. I know that Semon COULD be funny--like he was in his short films. But here, it's just a confusing and dreary mess. Likewise, having Oliver Hardy in the film SHOULD have been an asset, but he was pretty much wasted as well. While not exactly a classic, the 1910 short silent version was much better and stuck closer to the original story and the 1939 version is a classic. This one is better off staying forgotten or seen by the morbidly curious as the project that may have ultimately destroyed Semon's career. PS--In addition to being a terrible movie, there is a Black man named "Snowflake" that likes to eat watermelon! Ugghh!!!
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Strange, but interesting. DVD needs help.
JMJedi23 December 2002
This is a strange, sometimes misogynistic, and sometimes racially stereotypical film, reflective of the time in which it was made. It fascinates on a historical level, and on a foundational comedic level. You can see the trademark Oliver Hardy gestures in development, and his interaction with Larry Semon foretells his film relationship with Stan Laurel. Some cute little animation effects (a bee enters one of Semon's ears only to exit from the other), reflective of Disney's contemporaneous mix of live action and animation. The "digital" score and the use of a "narrator" (who horribly reads the subtitles...where did she learn to read???) is annoying. All in all, cute, and worthy of 90 minutes.
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Any Resemblance to the "Real" Oz Is Strictly Coincidental
romanorum14 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
There were quite a few motion picture versions of L. Frank Baum's famous stories before 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." Four are lost. In 1910 there was "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (13 minutes). A few years later, Frank Baum himself produced three Wizard of Oz movies, the most notable being "His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz" (1914). It just might be the best version before 1939.

Larry Semon's "Wizard of Oz" (1925), produced six years after Baum's death, is dreadful. Now, to be fair, it should be stated that the production values are high, and the stunt work is excellent. But where is the fairy tale – or the heart – of what resembles Baum's Oz? There are no witches or Toto or magical fantasy. Rather, the film is a silent showpiece for comedic actor Larry Semon, who not only butchers the basic story-line, but morphs it into a bizarre tale that ultimately bankrupted him. Semon relied on slapstick, not on intelligent plot. And the characters are so inconsistent!! Did L. Frank Baum Jr. really co-write this beauty?

The movie commences with Semon, starring as an eerie-looking toymaker (in one of several roles), who is coaxed into reading the Wizard of Oz tale by his granddaughter. The pages of the book are turned, and we see the opening credits. Next we are in Oz, then Kansas. Dorothy (played by Dorothy Dwan) – Semon's new wife and a bit older than the Dorothy of the book – is constantly brutalized by her ill-tempered and corpulent Uncle Henry, although Aunt Em is nice. Later, Uncle Henry will suddenly and strangely become Dorothy's protector in the Land of Oz, before he again turns malicious before film's end. Anyhow, Dorothy, puzzled by Uncle Henry's behavior, complains to Auntie Em, who explains that Henry is not her real uncle. It seems that Dorothy was the rightful heir to the faraway throne of Oz, but as an infant she was sent away and left on Em and Henry's doorstep with a note stating that an attached secret letter should not be opened for 18 years. Then, Prince Kynd's position was usurped by a bad trio of Prime Minister Kruel, Ambassador Wikked, and "able aide" Lady Vishuss. As Dorothy is turning 18 years old, the letter is opened. It explains that she must return to claim her inheritance. Meanwhile Kruel sends Wikked and some henchmen in a biplane (!) to steal the letter before it is opened; they are unsuccessful. So why wasn't the letter originally destroyed by Kruel, before he had left baby Dorothy in Kansas? Anyway, a gigantic tornado carries Dorothy, Uncle Henry, and two farmhands to Oz. Lightning transports a third farmhand (Snowball) there too.

At the same time, the people of Oz – aroused from their 18-year slumber – are assembling before Kreul's throne, finally wondering what had happened to Princess Dorothy (!). Next we are told that the Wizard (Charles Murray) is just a fake who is commanded to do oddities to distract the unhappy populace. As a title card states, "The Wizard was just a medicine side-show hokum hustler, but he fitted in nicely as the Prime Minister's "yes-man." Then another title card reads, "Do your stuff, Wizzy!" So "Wizzy" produces from a large wicker the "Phantom of the Basket," an appalling transvestite whose dance mesmerizes the people, but not Prince Kynd. Afterward the Wizard turns good.

The three farmhands are played by Oliver N. Hardy, Semon, and Spencer Bell. Yep, that's the same Hardy who later teamed with Stan Laurel (1926) after the movie bankrupted Semon. Hardy, who is not as fat as he would later become, is "transformed" by the Wizard into the Tin Woodsman. But in a wacky twist, he turns bad for the rest of the movie! He becomes the new "Knight of the Garter," and continues to yearn for Dorothy (!!). Ugh! But then, Dorothy here is not so innocent, but quite mature. Hmmm. See, you were warned that this pseudo-Oz movie is bizarre! Hardy would meet his end when he falls from a tower. And yet he earlier survived a similar high fall on the Kansas farm! Semon would become the Wizard's Scarecrow in Oz, and also would court Dorothy, who is really destined for Prince Kynd. Obese Uncle Henry becomes "The Prince of Whales." Get it? By the way, Aunt Em vanishes after the tornado struck Kansas. As there was no explanation, she presumably died in the twister. After Price Kynd regains the throne, and Dorothy's situation is righted, one would think that – at the very least – he would throw dictator Kruel into jail. But he doesn't, as he has to sort things out. Hmmm. With the "investigation" protracted, Kruel regains some power, and Uncle Henry and Tin Woodsman Hardy become his henchmen. Later the defeated Kruel explains that he had to send baby Dorothy away, or else another court faction would have executed her. So there was still another court faction?

The third farmhand, Snowball (Spencer Bell), is a Negro who is superstitious and easily frightened, and likes watermelon (Hmmm). He is billed as G. Howe Black (one of his movie pseudonyms). Get it? And yet he later dons a lion suit (Cowardly Lion), and scares away the bad guys in the dungeon's torture room. Near the end Snowball becomes a hero of sorts as he flies a biplane (!!!) with Semon hanging onto a rope ladder. But it suddenly snaps, and Semon falls from a high elevation for the third time. Snowball may be the only "American" character to "escape" Oz! But then a Scarecrow doll inexplicably falls from a shelf, and the little granddaughter awakens from her dream. Yes, this is all truly weird, and there are still other things wrong with this "adaptation." See this disaster once to say you saw it, and then let it go. But it is so difficult to believe that this nonsense was put into film!
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This is a movie for laying down and avoiding!
mahatmarandy3 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What a terrible film! I should point out that I don't like the famous 1939 version of the film either. I am, however, a big fan of the 40 or so Oz books, and this film really has nothing to do with any of them! In essence, it's set in contemporary (1925) Kansas, and Oz is a modern country off in the third world somewhere. (It looks a bit like Russia). Dorothy was the heir to the throne, who was kidnapped by the prime minister as a baby and dropped off with the Gale family in Kansas. Eighteen years later, the Prime Minister is afraid she'll return to the throne, so he sends some goons to Kansas to off her. (They go by plane!) They fail owing to a tornado, and Dorothy et al end up in Oz, where she becomes queen, but the Prime Minister is still attempting to gain power. A whole lot of pointless and frequently racist slapstick ensues, when, unrelated to any of this, the Prime Minister is deposed, Dorothy marries a Prince of Oz, and lives happily ever after. As inexplicable as all this is, it's even more inexplicably told in a series of flashbacks from a creepy 'grandfather' figure to a little girl; he's reading it from a book. There's no reason for this device, it's just one of a bunch of things they do in this movie to kill time. What amazes me about this isn't so much that they took a beloved 26-year-old children's book (at the time) full of magic and wonder, and they managed to completely wrest any semblance of magic or wonder out of it. That's no mean feat, but they did it. It's as if someone made a movie version of The Bible "Without any of them thar' hokey miracles in it!" Seriously, stay away from this film. I was charged two dollars for it, and feel I got ripped off at that price!
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excruciating (and full of stereotypes)
thewebbiest27 December 2010
They just showed this on TCM. I love silents, the more obscure the better, but this really tested my limits. It is a caricature of a silent picture. Pointless slapstick gags. Cardboard villains. A hair brained and kind of creepy heroine (she is 18 but dresses like an 8 year old). Hammy acting. Racist stereotypes, including enthusiastic watermelon eating. Also lots of negative typecasting of fat people. The score by Robert Israel was the only redeeming feature, who has composed excellent scores for many silent pictures. I would say this movie is strictly for film scholars.
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