Imagine–if you can–The Wizard of Oz reconfigured as a slapstick comedy with some elements of political intrigue. According to IMDb, director and actor Larry Semon’s career took a serious hit from Wizard of Oz, since he just didn’t get the material. Near as I can tell, however, all the vitriol against the movie is based on its differences from the 1939 and the original novel, not so much against the film. It’s a standard slapstick comedy and some of the scenes are very well choreographed.
Even some of the other elements–but not the political intrigue–work out well enough. Dorothy’s farm life–in Kansas, Dorothy is still a character, in Oz she is not–has a few nice bits, even though it’s obviously filmed in California. California has a different look from Kansas, especially when shooting on location instead of in a studio. The tornado, one of the few familiar elements (the Yellow Brick Road, the witches, and any recognizable version of the Wizard are gone), has some great special effects. It’s one of those miniature effects where the viewer only knows it’s a miniature because he or she stops to think about how it couldn’t possibly be anything else.
The Wizard of Oz, apparently, is not a material to be taken lightly. Semon even had Baum’s son working on the film and he couldn’t even cut it any slack. The film uses a strange framing device, a man reading his daughter the novel (even she’s bored with the political mumbo-jumbo, in one of the film’s funnier self-awarenesses). The device isn’t so strange, since it’s still used today–and in some inexplicably beloved films–but its set looks German Impressionist, with rounded corners. It adds an ominous air to the scenes, but like the rest of the film, never pays off. Still, there’s nothing wrong with the film, just so long as you aren’t expecting Keaton slapstick. Or The Wizard of Oz.
Produced and directed by Larry Semon; screenplay by Frank Joslyn Baum, Leon Lee and Semon, with titles by Lee, based on a novel by L. Frank Baum; directors of photography, Frank B. Good, Hans F. Koenenkamp and Leonard Smith; edited by Sam Zimbalist; released by Chadwick Pictures Corporation.
Starring Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy/Princess Dorothea), Mary Carr (Aunt Em), Virginia Pearson (Lady Vishuss), Bryant Washburn (Prince Kynd), Josef Swickard (Prime Minister Kruel), Charles Murray (The Wizard of Oz), Oliver Hardy (Farmhand/The Tin Woodsman/Knight of the Garter), Frank Alexander (Uncle Henry/Prince of Whales), Otto Lederer (Ambassador Wikked), Frederick Ko Vert (The Phantom of the Basket), Larry Semon (Toymaker/Farmhand/The Scarecrow) and Spencer Bell (Snowball/The Cowardly Lion).