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Oz on Film, Part Ten: The Oz Film Company's Manufacturings, Part Four

Dorothy and her friends outside King Krewl's castle.
Dorothy and her friends outside King Krewl's castle.
Public domain image

His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz, like The Patchwork Girl of Oz, is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through Baum’s fairyland, as well as an excellent example of early fantasy film and the techniques used to bring fantastical places and beings to life, many of which have echoes in modern moviemaking.

As with his stage productions, Baum combined aspects, characters, and scenes from different stories into something new and yet thoroughly “Ozzy” (a formula which would be employed seven decades later in a film called Return to Oz). The special effects, while elementary, are no less impressive for that; among the more startling are when Mombi makes Gloria’s heart appear in her hand preparatory to freezing it, and the witch’s decapitation by the Tin Woodman.

For the latter, the director had Pierre Couderc slowly swing his axe to just beside Mai Wells’s neck. Then the camera was stopped, a black hood was put over her head, and a false head made to look like her own (complete with Mombi’s absurd hat) was balanced on the blade of the axe. When the camera rolled again, the head fell to the ground and Wells, against the black interior of the tin castle’s front door, appeared to be truly headless.

Speaking of the film’s villain, she is an interesting amalgam; she bears Mombi’s name, looks like the Wicked Witch of the West (eyepatch, pigtails, umbrella and all), and fills in for Blinkie, the one-eyed witch of the book The Scarecrow of Oz. Her house, like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, is bigger inside than outside. Mai Wells obviously had a ball playing the old witch; she mugs and scowls and cackles in a style which prefigures just about every screen witch that followed her, including Margaret Hamilton, MGM’s world-famous Wicked Witch of the West.

The rest of the cast attack their roles with equal gusto; the energy is almost palpable. Violet MacMillan as Dorothy is bright, funny, and amazingly expressive (every inch the “Darling” the publicity claimed), while Mildred Harris plays the dunderheaded Button-Bright with a sweet gormlessness. Pierre Couderc, so boneless as Scraps, gives the Tin Woodman a herkimer-jerkimer way of moving that must have recalled David Montgomery's stage portrayal.

In his multiple animal roles, Fred Woodward shows an incredible range of moods, especially considering the bulky suits he wears. As the Cowardly Lion, his perplexed reactions to the fruitless biting of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman’s legs are hilarious to watch.

As the young lovers Pon and Princess Gloria, Todd Wright and Vivian Reed hold their own against any loving pair from any other film, and when Gloria’s heart is frozen, Reed assumes a distant, aloof manner which is both pitiable and unnerving.

Raymond Russell as King Krewl as all bluster and fist-shaking and cloak-twirling in the tradition of all villains who have ever tied an ingénue to a railroad track, Arthur Smollett delivers the obsequious goods as Lord Googly-Goo, and C. Charles Haydon presents a truly theatrical Wizard.

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