Two silent versions of the L. Frank Baum classic children’s tale.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910, 13 mins.)
Starring: Bebe Daniels, Robert Z. Leonard
Plot: Based more on the 1902 stage musical than on the original novel, this early short film (made while L. Frank Baum was still alive and writing more Oz novels) bares little resemblance to the familiar 1939 blockbuster. Despite a staged look and feel to the film (and dance numbers that are clearly from the play), it still holds it’s own quite well, especially considering the early date of it’s production. The Scarecrow is played by Robert Z. Leonard, a vaudeville performer who’d worked with Lon Chaney, and who later had a long successful career as a film director, well into the talkies era (he directed Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli in “In the Good Old Summertime”, among other credits). Dorothy is played by a young Bebe Daniels, who later did much to inspire British radio audiences during the Blitz and played the “seasoned actress” on “42nd Street”. Here, she performs a delightful dance. The nimble Tin Woodman is played by Alvin Wyckoff, who later became a movie cameraman.
The Wizard of Oz (1925, 72 mins.)
Starring: Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy, Dorothy Dwan
Plot: A Toymaker tells a bizarre story about how the Land of Oz was ruled by Prince Kynd, but he was overthrown by Prime Minister Kruel. Dorothy learns from Aunt Em that fat, cruel Uncle Henry is not her uncle, and gives her a note due on her eighteenth birthday, which reveals she is actually Princess Dorothea of Oz, and is supposed to marry Prince Kynd. She, Uncle Henry, and two farmhands are swept to Oz by a tornado.
This is a strange, sometimes misogynistic, and often racist film that only superficially resembles the L. Frank Baum novel. 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. This film is certainly best described, however, as a thinly disguised framework with which to hold together Larry Semon’s slapstick humor.