Goodness gracious me, lookit what I found! There is a positive glut of Oz movies out there, and I’m not talking about any of the recent ones. The Judy Garland film was nowhere near the first Oz movie ever made, oh no.
There is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1910, available on Youtube here. It’s a one-reel movie, about sixteen minutes long. It’s got no quest for heart, home, brain and courage; just a bunch of friends wandering through Oz, and finally liberating the Wizard from his enslavement by Momba the Witch (he’s got to be king, poor sucker, and he’s tired of it – “on the level”, as he says in a proclamation). Dorothy stays in Oz in this one, but the Scarecrow, who was already walking and talking in Kansas before he and Dorothy got blown into Oz, becomes king. And Dorothy is actually played by a little girl in this one; the actress was just nine when it was filmed.
Then there’s The Wizard of Oz from 1925 (on Youtube here). It’s a full-length movie, 1hr 35min long. I haven’t watched it yet, but apparently it’s not got all that much to do with the book. It involves some fellow named Prime Minister Kruel, and a love triangle between Dorothy, the Scarecrow (played by actor/director Larry Semon, the real-life husband of Dorothy Dwan, who plays Dorothy), and someone named Prince Kynd. My sources tell me that Dorothy marries the prince. Oh, and Uncle Henry is mean, and also gets blown into Oz, and the Tin Woodman, who is played by Oliver Hardy (as in “Laurel & Hardy”, that one), is evil. But so far that’s all hearsay; I can let you know if it’s true when I’ve watched it. Or you can watch it yourself and find out. Oh, and Baum’s oldest son, Frank Joslyn Baum, was involved in the making of this movie; apparently he’s credited as L. Frank Baum Jr. among the scriptwriters.
And then there are three movies written and produced by L. Frank Baum himself in 1914, in his Oz Film Manufacturing Company in Hollywood. There is The Patchwork Girl of Oz, The Magic Cloak of Oz, and His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz, which was renamed The New Wizard of Oz and is the most elaborate of the three (or so my sources say). None of the films were very successful, unfortunately. They’re each about an hour long (from 45 minutes for The Magic Cloak to 1:06 for The Patchwork Girl), and feature a disembodied Ozma head floating in the first frame and giving a creepy grin. Shudder. She does look just like the Ozma from the book illustrations, though.
I haven’t actually watched those last three movies yet, either; I just clicked on them and looked at the first minute or so. And there’s something that struck me: the meaning of a silent film. We’re completely used to film having sound, especially music, to go with it. The 1910 and 1925 movies on Youtube, even though they’re “silent”, have a soundtrack underlaid (the 1910 one appears to be the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies”, for the most part). And I think nothing of it; I expect people on a screen to move to music. But those three Oz Film Manufacturing Co. movies, they’re just the movies, silent. And that’s really weird. Funny how sometimes you can come up against the things you’re used to, and realise they’re not a matter of course at all.
I don’t know if I’ll get around to watching all of those movies; but it’s quite interesting to see how the Judy Garland Oz has almost completely obliterated all other film versions of Baum’s stories, even the ones he wrote himself. I had no idea they even existed.