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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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The
Wizard of Oz

(1925)
 

Larry Semon is at his unfunniest as a leading man, writer, gag man and director in this misguided final silent era adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic childrens’ novel, The Wizard of Oz. The film was a pet project of the comedian’s, who should have been talked out of it. But the film was nonetheless made, released, and has survived, which is ultimately bad news for fans of the Baum books.

Everything is wrong with this film: poor direction, poor set-up and choice of shots, lame film business, tired comedy gags, brainless plotting and stupid story structure. Need we say more? How about dopey visual effects, dumbfounding racial stereotypes, confusing characterization and questionable casting? Dorothy Dwan is too old for her childish character and its ill-defined characterization, as is Semon for his — but he is the star and she is his wife. Bryant Washburn is OK as Prince Kynd, but looks like he’s trying to emulate dapper Norman Kerry. Frank Alexander as Dorothy’s uncle is mean only for the sake of propelling Semon’s need of escape into a series of gags.

The comic business is tediously unfunny. The farm gags are senseless and predictable. The bees business is routinely plotted, lamely executed, and relies too much on the poor effects animation. And every lightning strike is a groaner, from deus ex machina conflict resolutions with Kruel’s men and Semon’s indecisive escape for cover, to stupid leaping comic reactions by Semon and Hardy and Snowball’s air pursuit by lightning — which at least harkens back to The Twentieth Century Tramp (1902). And, is comedy in 1925 really nothing more than a chase? Say, is this an Oz film or a Keystone comedy? Because we lost track of the number of chases. Really.

The film’s plotting is amateurish. Dorothy is terrorized by Kruel’s men who look like a bunch of Zorro wannabees who have seen too many film melodramas. Hang Dorothy from a tower by a rope then set alight a fire beneath it? Really? What about Larry’s later escape from death by ladder hanging from a biplane? Really? Is this an Oz film or a serial?

What can you say about story revisions to the Oz books that make the scarecrow, the tin woodsman and the cowardly lion nothing more than escape disguises for Semon and his homies. Really, now?

And then there’s just plain Larry Semon himself. Not at his top form here, which is always something comedically less than Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and Hamilton, Semon attempts to beat Harry Langdon at boyishness when contemplating giving Dorothy a lollypop but comes off like a childish, unfunny guy with no sense of comic instinct and timing. C’mon, Larry, make a decision! And what farmhand wears such a big-ass, self-conscious ring as Semon does? Really?

After an introduction and some Oz-based conflict establishment, the film spends entirely too much time gagging around in Kansas, and by the time it gets back to Oz we’re looking around for an escape through the exits. After another half-an-hour of dungeons and lions, we’re reaching for the razor blades. But suddenly it’s nothing more than a dream. Whew. For a long while there, it was feeling more like a nightmare. — 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,
with The Wizard of Oz (1925), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 72 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 0, ? 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: 7 / 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 The Wizard of Oz has been mastered from very-good to excellent 35mm print materials, and is presented in the full-frame standard-definition video transfer prepared in 2005 for broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies network. There are broad and evenly balanced ranges of tones and image detail in this color-tinted and color-toned original source print. The print is only lightly speckled and dusty, and is missing a few feet of footage here and there to splices.

The film is accompanied by an orchestral music score arranged and composed by Robert Israel that is more entertaining than the film itself.

While this is the best-looking source print we have seen of this film, we have our criticisms of this Blu-ray Disc edition. The standard-definition video transfer has been lifted, without HD remastering, from the 2005 Warner Home Video DVD edition (noted below). While some viewers would not see anything wrong in this and will be happy with this BD edition, discerning viewers will see aliased ‘stairstepping’ to some diagonal edges and around intertitles type, especially on an HD system. The inset shot of the cover of the Wizard of Oz novel is a prime example of this aliasing. Any still frame will readily reveal the artifacts of picture compression for DVD encoding. And this is easily the most artifact-riddled transfer of the silent films presented in this set.

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.

Many viewers will think that we are splitting hairs and won’t be able to see the artifacts that make us 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 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,
with The Wizard of Oz (1925), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 72 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, three plastic DVD trays in roll-fold cardboard wrap in cardboard slipcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 25 October 2005.
Country of origin: USA
This multifilm edition containing The Wizard of Oz has been mastered from a very-good to excellent 35mm print materials, as originally prepared for broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies cable network. The results will be similar to those noted on the Blu-ray edition reviewed above.

Our recommended DVD home video edition.

 
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 The Wizard of Oz (1925), color-toned black & white, 96 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: 4 / audio: 6 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This budget edition of The Wizard of Oz has been transferred from a very-good but dark 16mm reduction print, which has been digitally color-tinted and color-toned in a too-rich blue. The full-frame, natural-speed video transfer holds many highlights well enough, but the backgrounds are totally plugged up, with thick, detailless shadows.

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 The Wizard of Oz (1925), black & white, 95 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 The Wizard of Oz is 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.
2002 Brentwood Home Video DVD edition

The Wizard of Oz (1925), black & white, 95 minutes, not rated,
with Came the Brawn (1938), black & white, 11 minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, 44098-9, UPC 7-87364-40989-1.
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: 1 January 2002.
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 dark, with deep gray plugged-up shadows. The source print is compromised by some exposure fluctuations, speckling, scratches, and dust, 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 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.
2002 Miracle Pictures DVD edition

The Wizard of Oz (1925), black & white, 100 minutes, not rated.

Miracle Pictures, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 2 February 2002.
Country of origin: USA
This cheapy edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is likely accompanied by a cobbled-together music score of preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other OZ FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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