Jul 16, 2020
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
The Cast of Characters:
Dorothy Gale (Bebe Daniels). Before Judy Garland… Before Fairuza Balk… Before Zeynep Değirmencioğlu… Before them all, there was… Bebe Daniels! Who later went on to make another 230 films. Seriously.
The Wizard of Oz (Hobart Bosworth). Oz, the great and powerful! Or, just the puzzling and confusing.
The Scarecrow (Robert Z. Leonard). Boneless, brainless. A real straw man. Probably lots of fun at debates and on internet forums.
Momba (Winifred Greenwood). Mother to a whole series of handy, room cleaning robots.
You’ve all probably seen the 1939 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland and… some other people. If you thought about it at all, which you probably haven’t, you’d likely guess it was the earliest movie based on L. Frank Baum’s Oz books.
You would be wrong, of course. You’d be off by, oh, almost three decades.
There was an Oz movie made in 1925, featuring Oliver Hardy, which had almost nothing to do with the book. Before that, there was a version that began production in 1921, but was never finished. Before that, there were films like His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914), and The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914). Apparently, 1914 was a good year for Oz, but not so much for Austria-Hungary.
But if you want to go all the way back to the very first Oz film ever, look no further than the subject of today’s recap: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, released in—hold onto your hats, folks!—1910, making this the oldest movie to be recapped on the Agony Booth!
Yeah, that’s right. This movie is one hundred years old! Eat it, The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus! Don’t you be bringing that Wilsonian-era crap into this house! Not when we’ve got a movie filmed during the previous president’s administration. Who was that, you may ask? I’ll give you a hint.
He’s the whitest chief of state that’s a hit with all the ladies… Taft! Daaaaamn right.
Some context. In 1910, World War I hadn’t happened yet. The Titanic was still being built. Zeppelins were viewed as the next big thing. Theodore Roosevelt had only been out of office for one year, and that delightful scamp Ty Cobb was warming his way into the hearts of America. Hell, Joan Rivers still had most of her original body! That’s right, I just made a Joan Rivers joke, and this movie is even older than Joan Rivers’ jokes!
At first, I was surprised to find out there were Oz movies made back this far. I thought that back then, people just had barn raisings, quilting bees, terrorist bombings, and lynchings to entertain themselves. But as it turns out, the Oz books were very much the Harry Potter of their day.
The first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was released in 1900 (and if you’ve never read it, do it now!). It spawned thirteen sequels, all written by original author L. Frank Baum. From there, it became a merchandising bonanza, with a stage play in 1902, a 1908 musical on Broadway, four 1910 movies (of which this is the first, and the only one that still exists), the movies in 1914, the 1925 film, a Technicolor cartoon version in 1933, the 1939 version we’re all familiar with, and then several generations of adaptations, products, and a total of forty books in the Oz canon. Not to mention a popular TV series, which frankly seemed to stray quite a bit from the source material. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember insane, ass-branding Nazis in the Munchkin Kingdom.
In a lot of ways, the 1910 movie is puzzling. First of all, it features several song and dance numbers. In a silent film. Which is already only thirteen minutes long. Second, it only tangentially has anything to do with the Oz books. Third, no one knows who was actually in the damn movie! Yep, everyone is uncredited here. I’m sure for some of them, that was something of a relief.
Oh, the big ones get credited; those are the ones whose names are up above in the Cast of Characters, but everyone else? Bupkis.
And while we’re on the subject of the Cast of Characters, I tried my best to find close-ups of the actors for the cast listing above, but there’s not a single close-up anywhere in the movie. Yes, that’s right; this movie is so old, close-ups hadn’t been invented yet!
In general, I have no trouble enjoying a silent film. Some of my favorite movies of all time, including Sunrise, Last Laugh, and The Phantom of the Opera (which includes a fantastic scene in color), are all silent. So I have no problem watching silent films. In general.
No, I just have a problem with the fact that this film is a big, stinking pile of shite.
So, with that summary in mind, let’s get the recap started!