Happy New Year! I pray that it brings peace, prosperity, and much happiness to you and the world. Today, it rings in my new series - Movies in The Public Domain and the first feature chosen is the 1925 presentation of The Wizard of Oz. Be warned. This is not like the beloved Judy Garland version with our favorite little dog, Toto, the cheerful and highly grateful Munchkins of Munchkinland for the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East, or the Yellow Brick Road leading our heroine and her band of misfits to the Emerald City to find the great and powerful OZ.
None of these things exist in this retelling.
Loosely based from the children's book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baun, a toymaker reads to his granddaughter the tale of Dorothy, the royal heir to the throne of OZ and her quest to regain her rightful place from the Wicked Prime Minster Kruel with the assistance of three Kansas farmhands and her Uncle Henry.
Distributed by Chadwick Pictures and directed by Larry Semon, this fantasy, adventure silent comedy stars Dorothy Dwan as Dorothy, Semon as the Scarecrow, Spencer Bell as the Cowardly Lion, and Oliver Hardy of the Laurel and Hardy act as the Tin Man. This would the first full feature film adaption of the Wizard of Oz, running 93 minutes.
Though there were mixed reviews amongst critics and movie goers, it still garnered favorable critiques from the New York Times and Photoplay, a Chicago based publication. Variety also predicted that this film would be a box office success, noting that "the laughs are there." Unfortunately, this wasn't to be. Chadwick Pictures went bankrupt during the promotion and release of the film. Theatres, waiting for their reels to present the Wizard of Oz in their establishments, never received them. This aided in the film's failure. Semon, who made a huge personal investment in the picture, never recovered from the blow. He would file for bankruptcy in March of 1928, listing debts at nearly $500,000. Five months later, he would die of pneumonia and tuberculosis. He was 39. The Variety reported that his financial woes was a factor in his death.
In 2005, the 1925 Wizard of Oz was included in a three disc "Collector's Edition" with the MGM's 1939 Wizard of OZ, starring Judy Garland. Though widely considered one of the worst silent films ever, being racially insensitive and a bit dark, I believe this film is still worth the watch, at least once.
So, lean back on your couch with mug in hand and bear witness to an interesting telling of the Wizard of Oz. It can be seen on YouTube for free.