Selig Polyscope released the first "Wizard of Oz" film in 1910. The only film version of the novel made during author L. Frank Baum's lifetime, the movie showcases the designs that W.W. Denslow, illustrator of the novel, made for the popular stage version of the story, which ran for hundreds of performances on Broadway.
The plot of the play would stun modern audiences with its deviation from the novel. There was no Wicked Witch of the West, for example. Moreover, the play featured pretty chorus girls, and the production was not intended solely for an audience of children. In a scandalconnected with the play, a cousin of Czar Nicholas II, Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, drank champagne from the shoe of a girl in the chorus. One may presume he enjoyed watching the play.
Doubtless no one is alive today with a clear memory of this Broadway production, but a short silent film version using many of the costume and set designs survives. This short film is for children and adheres to the story in the book much more closely than the play, yet still differs substantially from both the novel and the classic 1939 film.
A modern viewer will see quite a few differences between this film and the novel or the 1939 film featuring Judy Garland:
- Dorothy meets the Scarecrow before the cyclone, and she meets the Cowardly Lion before the Tin Woodman.
- Dorothy has no dog at first. Her cow (named Imogene in the play) and a mule accompany her to Oz. Toto does appear later in the film. How Toto traveled to Oz is never explained.
- Dorothy hides from the cyclone with the Scarecrow, the cow and the mule in a haystack. The characters are blown to Oz on the whirling haystack.
- The witch's name is Momba. Readers of the sequel "The Marvelous Land of Oz" will recall the similarly named Mombi from that book. Momba lives in a house, not a castle. Nevertheless, the house has a dungeon.
- The first scene of the Wizard's court in Oz features dancing girls dressed as men in tights. Such dance numbers with girls dressed as boys are a common feature of the extant silent Oz films made during L. Frank Baum's lifetime. Apparently he learned a lesson from the play and wanted the films to have adult appeal.
- The Wizard returns to Omaha in a balloon, but Dorothy never returns to Kansas.
"The Wizard of Oz" of 1910 is not a motion picture classic. It's a choppy series of tableaux. Every Oz otaku should see this film, however, because the set and costumes were taken from the designs of W.W. Denslow, the original illustrator of "The Wizard of Oz."
You can see the 1910 version of the “Wizard of Oz” on YouTube:
This article is a revised version of an article with the same name that appeared 14 December 2011 on Triond’s Cinemaroll web site: