The Wizard of Oz (1925) is a vehicle for the physical comedy of director and star Larry Semon rather than a faithful retelling of any of the Oz tales.
A toymaker tells the story of how Dorothy, the rightful ruler of Oz, was sent to Kansas as a baby. Oz is under the rule of Prime Minister Kruel, who is determined to stop Dorothy from taking her place on the throne…
Made fourteen years before Victor Fleming’s film, The Wizard of Oz appears a stark contrast to its successor. Much of the plot has been altered, with much less focus on Dorothy’s quest. Semon’s The Wizard of Oz is more of a comedy than a fantasy, with many of the magical elements of Oz being toned down.
The main reason that this 1925 film is not as memorable or cherished as the 1939 movie is undoubtedly because of where the emphasis lies. The focus is on Semon’s farmhand character rather the Dorothy. She becomes a secondary player in this adaptation. The film is more concerned with the farmhand getting himself out of scrapes.
Moreover, Kansas dominates as the prime location, instead of Oz. Semon’s film misses the magic of the land; an element so intrinsic to later versions. Even the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are not actual characters but the farm workers purposefully dressing up. Downplaying the fantasy elements of the books is a significant misstep.
Performances are fine,with Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy and G. Howe Black making the most of their athleticism. There are some good stunts in the film, particularly given the era in which it was produced.
Overall, The Wizard of Oz is not a bad film in its own right. However, it is not a memorable version of Baum’s tale.
The Wizard of Oz (1925) was screened with animated short The Wizard of Oz (1933) as part of the BFI’s ‘Returning to Oz’ season Piano accompaniment was provided by Stephen Horne.