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the Scarecrow of Oz His Majesty

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914) Movie Poster
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USA  •    •  59m  •    •  Directed by: L. Frank Baum.  •  Starring: Violet MacMillan, Frank Moore, Pierre Couderc, Fred Woodward, Raymond Russell, Arthur Smollet, J. Charles Haydon, Todd Wright, Vivian Reed, Mai Wells, Mildred Harris, Louise Emmons, Jacqueline Lovell.  •  Music by: James Patrick Doyle, Marc Glassman, Louis F. Gottschalk, Steffan Presley, John Thomas.
     Small town Kansas girl Dorothy gets stuck in the Land of Oz and teams up with Princess Gloria, the gardener Pon, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodsman. King Krewl has hired the old witch Mombi to freeze Gloria's heart in order to force her to marry the wealthy Googly-goo.

Review:

Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Image from: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
As his books about Oz became increasingly popular, L. Frank Baum tried to branch out into other media. His novel "Tik-Tok in Oz" was originally a grandiose stage musical. Eventually, Baum (never a good businessman) used the profits from his novels to finance a low-budget film studio which turned out several silent films, nearly all of them fantasies. "His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz" is the best of Baum's films. His Oz book "The Scarecrow of Oz" (still in print) is actually a novelisation of this silent fantasy film, which was produced before the novel was written.

Although crudely staged, with some low-budget special effects that were laughably obvious even for 1914, "His Majesty" is an action-filled and imaginative movie that should still appeal to viewers (including children) even today. There are some flaws: the actress playing "little girl" Dorothy is clearly an adult woman; worse luck, the "little boy" Button-Bright is obviously played by a teenage girl (who became Mrs Charlie Chaplin!).

The plot of this film is almost identical to the main plot of the novel (which contains several subplots not found here ... including one about creatures named Orks, long before Tolkien invented Orcs). Princess Gloria is in love with Pon, a lowly gardener's boy, and he loves her. Because Pon is far beneath Gloria's station, King Krewl and Googly-Goo decide to break up the romance by engaging Mombi the witch to freeze Pon's heart. There are some interesting Georges Melies-type special effects here: crudely done yet imaginative. Mombi holds her hands in front of Pon's chest. In a slow dissolve, his (valentine-shaped) heart appears in her hands. In another slow dissolve, icicles appear on his heart. Then another dissolve as the heart (now frozen) is replaced within his chest.

There is one bizarre scene in which the Tin Woodman uses his axe to chop off a witch's head ... but fear not, parents! Your kiddies will probably laugh when they see how it's done. The special-effects trickery in the decapitation sequence is blatantly obvious to even the most unsophisticated viewer.

SPOILERS COMING. Eventually the Wizard of Oz arrives. (Looking a great deal like the Wizard in the Oz books ... which is more than I can say of Frank Morgan in that overrated MGM movie.) The Wizard takes out a tin can with a misspelt label reading "CANNED SANDWITCHES". A wave of his hands, and the can grows giant-sized. Another wave of his hand, and Mombi the witch is trapped inside the tin can, which the Wizard then shrinks back to its original size. He takes a paintbrush and carefully paints out certain letters on the label, so that it now reads "CANNED WITCH". This sort of humour is actually quite effective here.

An amazing performance (or group of performances) is given by Fred Woodward, who plays a large number of animals in this movie ... including a human-sized jackdaw. For most of his roles, Woodward walks on all fours, holding short stilts in his hands to lengthen his arms so that they become forelegs.

AMAZING TRIVIA NOTE: L. Frank Baum had been involved in amateur theatricals ever since his adolescence, and he owned a large number of costumes. After his death, his widow sold these to a Los Angeles costume jobber. One particular item -- a shabby frock coat which had seen better days -- was later worn by Frank Morgan in his role as Professor Marvel in "The Wizard of Oz". Supposedly, the coat was chosen utterly at random because it fit Morgan and its shabbiness suited the character ... and it wasn't recognised as Baum's coat until his widow saw the film in a preview. True story!

I thoroughly enjoyed "His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz", and I continue to enjoy it after repeated viewings. I wish that a certain overrated MGM musical (starring Judy Whatsername) were less popular, and that L. Frank Baum's short films were better-known.


Review by F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales from the Internet Movie Database.