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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
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His Majesty,
the Scarecrow of Oz

(1914)
 

In the mid-1910s, author L. Frank Baum decided to further cash in on the popularity of his Oz children’s books by producing his own motion picture adaptations. This allowed him to control the cinematic productions, presumably to ensure they captured the tone of his books, but also to reap more profits than if he’d simply license the stories to another film company. The adaptations were inexpensively and imaginatively made, but the company lasted only a few months before production was suspended.

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), the final production of Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Company, features the familiar Baum characters, including Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, and also other characters that are familiar to Oz book fans, including King Krewl and Mombi the witch.

The production is quite animated and entertaining for adults, especially those interested in silent cinema, but possibly will not be enough to hold the attentions of modern children.

In a supporting role as Button Bright is Mildred Harris, only four years before she became the first wife of Charles Chaplin. Animal impersonator Fred Woodward is featured as the Cowardly Lion, the kangaroo, the crow, the cow, the mule, and the wooden horse.

In this film adaptation, we like watching the bat witch character most of all. — Carl Bennett

2009 Warner Home Video Blu-ray Disc edition

The Wizard of Oz (1939), color and color-toned black & white, 102 minutes, Rated G,
including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 59 minutes, not rated.

Warner Home Video, 3000024968, UPC 8-83929-05736-8, ISBN 1-4198-7873-5.
Full-frame 4:3 MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, two single-sided Blu-ray Discs, and one dual-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region A, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard BD keepcase, $49.99.
BD release date: 1 December 2009.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 6 / audio: 6 / additional content: 8 / overall: 6.
This 3-disc Emerald Edition of The Wizard of Oz contains in its supplemental materials five surviving silent era adaptations of L. Frank Baum Oz stories. This edition of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz has been mastered from a very-good 16mm reduction print from the Em Gee Film Library, which is not known for the best available print material. The somewhat contrasty source print loses some picture details in its highlights, and is darker is deep, plugged-up shadows later in the film. The original print, from which the 16mm materials were copied, was speckled, dusty, scratched, emulsion gouges, and in places showing some beginning decomposition. The 16mm print is tightly cropped, and the full-frame video transfer further sacrifices some picture information at its edges to overscan cropping, resulting in some cropped off decorative edges to intertitle cards and the tops of heads (chiefly the tall King Krewl, during the discovery of Button Bright, the soldiers on the castle wall, and the wizard talking to the canned Mombi).

The standard-definition video transfer has been lifted, without HD remastering, from the 2005 Warner Home Video DVD edition (noted below). While many viewers would not see anything wrong in this and will be happy with this edition on Blu-ray Disc, discerning viewers will see aliased ‘stairstepping’ to some diagonal edges and around intertitles type. Most Blu-ray Disc players, when playing a DVD disc, will upconvert the standard-definition interlaced 480-line NTSC signal of a DVD to a progressive-scan signal and approximate image details between scan lines of picture information, filling in picture information where there is none. The results are not high-definition, but are much smoother and filmlike. A standard-definition video transfer is not upconverted when played back from a Blu-ray disc because the player assumes the content is an encoded HD signal.

The film is accompanied by a compiled music score of compositions by John Thomas, Paul Tietjens, Theodore F. Morse, Louis F. Gottschalk and Frederic Chopin performed on piano by John Thomas and Michael Sushel, which is abruptly edited in places by John Massari and repetitious but nonetheless far above other accompaniments of the film on other home video editions of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz.

Many viewers will think that we are splitting hairs and won’t be able to see the artifacts that make us slightly critical of this edition, and the new HD transfer of The Wizard of Oz (1939) is stunning and itself worth the cost of this BD disc set. But, if you want to take advantage of the line-doubling capabilities of your Blu-ray Disc player to your HD monitor, this is one case where we would advise collectors to purchase the 2005 Warner DVD edition (now out-of-print) over the Blu-ray edition for the very best picture results (of this admittedly subpar print material) on an HD system. It would have been best for Warner Home Video producers to either put these video transfers on a standard-definition DVD or remaster all of the films at high-definition for Blu-ray Disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Warner Home Video DVD edition

The Wizard of Oz (1939), color and color-toned black & white, 102 minutes, Rated G,
including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 59 minutes, not rated.

Warner Home Video, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number, unknown ISBN number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, three single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, plastic trays on roll-fold cardboard case in cardboard slipcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 25 October 2005.
Country of origin: USA
This multifilm edition containing His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz has been mastered from a very-good 16mm reduction print from the Em Gee Film Library, which is not known for the best available print material.

The results will be similar to those noted on the Blu-ray edition reviewed above.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Alpha Video DVD edition

The Wizard of Oz Collection (1914-1925), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 258 minutes total, not rated,
including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 59 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 48310, UPC 0-89218-48319-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 4 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 23 August 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 6 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This budget edition of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz has been transferred from a very-good 16mm reduction print from the Em Gee Film Library, which has been digitally color-tinted and color-toned in a too-rich lime green. The full-frame, natural-speed video transfer does well enough with the OK reduction print that appear to be the only materials available to home video producers.

The musical accompaniment composed and performed by Paul David Bergel on MIDI synthesizers shows marked improvement over his previous compositions for silent film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Brentwood Home Video DVD edition

The World of Oz (1914-1925), black & white and color-toned black & white, 259 minutes total, not rated,
including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), black & white, 60 minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, 46303-9, UPC 7-87364-63039-4.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, two double-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, two-disc DVD keepcase, $9.98.
DVD release date: 12 July 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This edition collects all four films previously released on VHS videotape, and this edition of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz is virtually identical to Brentwood’s 2001 single-disc edition (noted below). The most noticable feature of the print is its dark flatness graytones range, which makes discerning picture details tough going.

The presentation on this disc includes narration of the intertitles by Jacqueline Lovell. Accompanying the film is an adequate music score (with bubbly sound effects) by Steffen Presley, performed on digital piano and synthesizer.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2001 Brentwood Home Video DVD edition

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), black & white, 60 minutes, not rated,
with Came the Brawn (1938), black & white, 11 minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, 44070-9, UPC 7-87364-40709-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $4.99.
DVD release date: 3 July 2001.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 5 / additional content: 4 / overall: 5.

The video transfer for this edition of the film utilized a good 16mm reduction print at a proper running speed. The resulting transfer is quite flat, but we slightly prefer this over a more contrasty transfer. The reduction print obviously has little of the quality of the original 35mm prints, its being compromised by some exposure fluctuations, speckling, emulsion chipping, scratches, dust, and the beginnings of print decomposition, but the intertitles are easy to read (if you don’t like having them read to you, as they are in this disc) and the action is easy to follow. The transfer framing appears to be too tight (King Krewl is too tall to stay in frame when he stands closer to the camera), but that is likely the faulty cropping of the reduction print.

The presentation on this disc includes narration (with reverberation effects) of the intertitles by Jacqueline Lovell. Clearly, the intent is to make the film accessible to children that are too young to read the intertitles, but the narration is likely to annoy older viewers who are capable of reading (thank you very much). We encourage Brentwood, in the future, to consider providing separate DVD audio tracks that would provide a music and narration track and a music-only track.

Accompanying the film is an adequate music score (with bubbly sound effects) by Steffen Presley, performed on digital piano and synthesizer.

As a supplement, the disc includes the Little Rascals short Came the Brawn (1938) in an OK print.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
200? Reel Classic DVD edition

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), black & white, ? minutes, not rated,
with The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914) [abridged 1917 rerelease version], black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Reel Classic DVD, no catalog number, no UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $20.00.
DVD release date: 200?
Country of origin: USA
This DVD-R edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

Both films accompanied by a music score performed by Donald Sosin.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc is available directly from REEL CLASSIC DVD.
Other OZ FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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