The Wizard of Oz
Not Judy Garland but Dorothy Dwan. Not Ray Bolger but Larry Semon. Not Jack Haley but Oliver Hardy. And not Bert Lahr but … G. Howe Black? That was the credit name for Spencer Bell, who played a character called “Snowball,” before he became the Cowardly Lion. Bell specialized in bug-eyed, eye-rolling, knee-knocking, “feets do yo’ stuff!” darkies, often opposite Larry Semon, who was a big comic star but little remembered today. The racism here is simply taken for granted. When lightning strikes Snowball he manages to run, in stop-motion animation, right into the air and aboard the flying house that contains not just Dorothy but the other two farmhands, who soon land in Oz. But the story has been totally butchered. There is no “real” Tin Man or Scarecrow or Cowardly Lion; those are the farmhands dressed up, to hide from the evil Wizard and the bad people in the court of Oz. (In case you aren’t sure who is good and who is bad, the characters are named Lady Vishuss, Minister Kruel, Ambassador Wikked, and Prince Kynd.) The story stops dead from time to time for long stretches of slapstick … but that’s okay, since it’s the best stuff in the picture. There’s a lot of inventiveness, and some good laffs, but don’t expect it to be like the story you know, even though the script is co-written by Frank Joslyn Baum, son of L. Frank.