Watch the Earliest Surviving Filmed Version of The Wizard of Oz (1910)

The Tech­ni­col­or Oz that greet­ed Judy Gar­land in 1939 seems a far less col­or­ful place than the one in 1910’s silent short, The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz, above. (A ver­sion with music added can be found below.)

Adapt­ed in part from a 1902 stage ver­sion, this Wiz­ard — the ear­li­est to sur­vive on film — feels quite close to the spir­it of author L. Frank Baum and illus­tra­tor William Wal­lace Denslow’s orig­i­nal cre­ation.

Audi­ence mem­bers who had no famil­iar­i­ty with the source mate­r­i­al must’ve been very, very con­fused. There’s a lot of bang for the buck, but title cards aside, not much in the way of con­text.

No mat­ter. There are plen­ty of spe­cial effects and a crowd-pleas­ing cho­rus of gra­tu­itous beau­ties in tights and bloomers, just as in Georges Méliès’ sem­i­nal A Trip to the Moon.

It’s con­ceiv­able that Jack Haley and Burt Lahr, the MGM version’s Tin Woods­man and Cow­ard­ly Lion, might have been tak­en to see the 13 minute short as chil­dren. (Scare­crow Ray Bol­ger was a mere babe at the time of its release.)

Despite the pres­ence of all the well-known char­ac­ters, includ­ing two Totos, for my mon­ey, the project’s true star is Hank, the scene steal­ing mule.

I think the actor in the mule suit like­ly agreed, though Hank’s role in the Oz pan­theon is minor at best.

It’s unclear to me if the Wizard’s dark make­up is meant to be black­face. Accord­ing to Robin Bernstein’s Racial Inno­cence: Per­form­ing Amer­i­can Child­hood from Slav­ery to Civ­il Rights, the stage play that inspired the film fea­tured min­strel songs and pop­u­lar black­face actors Fred A. Stone and David Mont­gomery as the Scare­crow and Tin Woods­man.

The film cast’s iden­ti­ties have been lost to his­to­ry, though a rumor per­sists that the young actress play­ing Dorothy is fre­quent Harold Lloyd co-star, Bebe Daniels. The orig­i­nal piano score is unknown, but like­ly hewed close­ly to Paul Tiet­jens’ music from the play, which is what we hear in the online ver­sion.

Five years lat­er, the movies returned to Oz, with the Baum-pro­duced and ‑script­ed fea­tures, The Patch­work Girl of Oz, His Majesty, the Scare­crow of Oz, and The Mag­ic Cloak of Oz.

The Wiz­ard of Oz (1910) will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

You can also down­load the com­plete Wiz­ard of Oz Series, as free eBooks and free audio books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

A Trip to the Moon (1902): Where Sci Fi Movies Began

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She was shocked to find out how much her child­hood Oz books are worth, but has thus far resist­ed part­ing with them. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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