The Bad Movie Report

The Wonderful Land of Oz - as if!

Own It!

It seems impossible but it was two years ago that I wrote a review for a Something Weird Video trailer compilation, The Dusk to Dawn Drive-In Trash-O-Rama Show, Volume 5, and of a certain movie called The Wonderful Land of Oz I said, " Please, please, Dear Lord, let this movie be sitting in someone's closet, somewhere. If I could have any movie ever made in the whole world magically appear in my hands, it would be this one. It is that unbelievable. "

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. The Wonderful Land of Oz didn't magically appear in my hands; I had to pay cash money for the damned thing. Countless children were also charged 25 cents to see this thing in theaters back in 1969, and that was still too much.

This is one of those cases where a little background information will be useful before I start spouting snotty comments.

In 1961, a Florida businessman named K. Gordon Murray had a brainstorm, and created what came to be known as "The Kiddie Matinee". Up until this point, movie theaters on weekend afternoons simply played whatever was scheduled for the evenings. Murray masterminded special shows for children in those time slots and only those time slots, with low ticket prices and heavy media campaigns. Parents could dump their children at the theater for the afternoon, where the sugarbuzzed lawn monkeys became the problem of the staff.

Murray entered into a production agreement with Mexico’s Churubusco Studios to provide a supply of material for the matinees, starting with the popular Santa Claus, which is certainly a mind-melting experience, but not totally horrible in the way of tonight’s picture. Santa Claus proved so durable, it was still being shipped around in the 80s! Many children were psychically mauled in the 60s by other dubbed Mexican Murray imports like Puss N' Boots, Tom Thumb (in serapes and sombreros!) Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red Riding Hood and her Friends, Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters… well, you get the picture.

Oh look - Satan has a new logo!Murray had a great deal of success with this arrangement -so much so that NBC was even considering a Wonderful World of K. Gordon Murray, similar to their Wonderful World of Disney (My God! Just imagine!). Successful enough that imitators started to crop up. The most (in)famous is Childhood Productions, whom we can thank (?) for Wonderful Land of Oz. A New York-based outfit, Childhood imported most of their stuff from Europe as opposed to Mexico; and unlike Murray (who it seemed actually did have a hand in producing his kiddie flicks), the only flick Childhood was directly involved in was Rossano Brazzi’s The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t.

So we can’t totally blame them for Oz. That dishonor goes to Barry Mahon, who has other cinematic crimes for which he must answer. He made a series of kiddie movies in and around the Pirate World amusement park in Florida while also turning out more of his usual softcore fare, like Fanny Hill Meets the Red Baron and Love Pirate. Next to Mahon fare like Oz and Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny, Murray's Mexican imports do indeed compare favorably with Disney.

The major studios eventually pressured the theaters into relinquishing the weekend afternoons back to them, and the kiddie matinee vanished into a realm of memory populated by double features, newsreels, and animated shorts. But while it was around, it produced some amazingly horrid cinema.

First, if you were unfortunate enough to miss The Dusk to Dawn Drive-In Trash-O-Rama Show, Volume 5, rest assured that you will not miss the trailer that so engaged my sensibilities, as it is replicated at the very beginning of the movie. Perhaps, just as Shakespeare's plays all begin with two clowns arguing with each other over nothing, this is a device to make the audience notice the show has started and hopefully gravitate to their seats. Or perhaps Mahon was desperate to stretch the movie out to over 70 minutes. (It's 71. Just barely.)

This preview/teaser segment also has the unfortunate effect of letting you know exactly what you're in for: I said this looks like a high school pageant laid to film, and this is still pretty much the case, with minimalist sets, fairly decent costuming, and a theme song that is far too reminiscent of the Cracker Jacks jingle. If the children had not already squandered their allowance money on Fizzy Pop and chocolate coated sugar bombs, this sequence doubtless had them hitting the pay phones, begging their parents to come rescue them.

"And stop upstaging me, you unnerstand!"As the movie itself gets underway, we find Tip (Channy Mahon, please note the last name) constructing a scarecrow-like dummy with a Jack-O-Lantern head to frighten his guardian, the witch Mombi (Zisca) when she gets home. He explains this through expository speech to the only other occupant of the barn: a papier-mache purple cow, which is, frankly, beating Tip in the acting sweepstakes. Take all the annoying child actors you have ever seen, leach them of every single interesting trait they might have possessed, and you will have Channy Mahon: monotonous, sing-song delivery, constantly pulling up his pants during scenes, shuffling about when he is not talking. A more generous critic would call him unaffected or natural. It's me, though, so we'll just leave it at awful.

Mombi returns to her tiny soundstage home, walking past a fence that appears to be an unfolded refrigerator box. Not finding Tip in hovel #1, she proceeds to hovel #2, the stable. There, she is indeed startled by Jack Pumpkinhead, but thinks better of smashing him – instead she decides this is a good opportunity to test out her Powder of Life, which "cost me an arm and a leg!" She prepares to bring Pumpkinhead to life, prompting competing reaction shots from Tip and the papier-mache cow. Once again, the Cow wins.

Once Mombi's experiment succeeds, she has to tell us about it in song. There areTip attempts to hide from the singing witch.  I know how he feels. times I would like to climb into a time machine, find whoever it was who decided that all children's entertainment must include songs, and smack him upside the head with my cane. Or at least make him sit through The Wonderful Land of Oz as many times as I have. This particular song is A Witch Like Me, and it details all the trouble the Powder of Life can get you into, if you don't have the right training. Then again, the song draws Jack out of hiding so he can join in on the chorus, so I guess it serves a purpose after all.

Mombi decides it's time to punish Tip for building scarecrows instead of doing chores – which actually seems pretty fair – and orders him to Hovel #1. Jack Pumpkinhead tries to follow, under the delusion that Tip is his father; Mombi, however, commands him to stay in the stable. This leads to a scene between Jack and the Cow. That statement does not quite do the scene justice: it leads to a scene between two characters with inexpressive, papier-mache faces. And it's still more entertaining than watching Tip.

Yeah, speaking of Tip: he's in Hovel #1, whining for his supper. So it comes as little surprise when Mombi announces that she's going to turn the little goober into a stone statue. "I swore to watch you day after day… I'll put you in the garden, where I can watch you very well!" Tip makes the case that if she does that, there'll be no one to do the chores, and he does at least some of them (proving the old adage about people being their own lawyers). Mombi responds that Jack will be doing the chores from now on, and at least he doesn't whine all the time. She retires to bed, leaving Tip to eat his final dinner, with the proclamation that she'll turn him into a statue tomorrow (proving a new adage, that wicked witches are idiots).

This is the production of "Waiting for Godot" you get to see in Hell.Tip naturally enough, does not want to become a statue. Unnaturally enough, he has to sing a song about it. As hard as it watching him trying to act, watching him attempt to sell a song – and it was written with no eye toward his abilities, so his voice cracks and he has to gasp for breath in awkward places – is a survival course all on its own. After tormenting us, Tip decides to run away, taking Jack with him. He also steals the Powder of Life from the sleeping Mombi in a stultifyingly unsuspenseful sequence.

Tip’s plan involves journeying south to the Emerald City and petitioning the Scarecrow for asylum. This leads to Tip recounting the events of the original 1939 movie and explaining the color-coding of Oz to Jack. Oh, good, let’s give more long speeches to the kid who can’t act, and at the same time, remind everyone of a much better movie.

But... I feel like I have to pause to recuse myself here, for two reasons: first, the speech is somewhat necessary, not only for those who somehow might not be aware of the mythology of Oz, but also for those (like Dr. Weasel) who were wondering "Where’s Dorothy?" (Dorothy does return to Oz, but not until the third book, Ozma of Oz). Second, I’m starting to feel like I’m ragging on Channy Mahon a little too much. Then I remember he’s supposed to be the star, and my wishing that someone had given this speech to the papier-mache cow is only natural.

Tip finally decides to stop annoying us and go to sleep. Anyone suspecting the movie is willing to give us a break, however, is in for a rude awakening when a pink-garbed beauty contestant appears and starts crooning a ballad. Though the movie won’t bother to introduce us to her for another half-hour or so, this is Glinda the Good Fairy (Hilary Lee Gaess). Glinda has become a Fairy, I suppose, so as not to confuse the target audience with any moralistic folderol such as the possibility of witches being good.

You've come a long way, Barbie.Glinda is wearing someone’s idea of a Cinderella ball gown, pink with a high collar. If you gave this dress to some little girl so she could play princess, she would likely run away crying, and who could blame her? Also, whoever is doubling as hair stylist should be shot – the fall draped over her tiara looks dreadful. Even by high school pageant standards.

Glinda belts out her ballad, Try To Touch A Star, while Tip sleeps fitfully, probably because someone nearby is howling an overproduced song. During this song, that is what we are given to look at: Glinda lip-syncing, Tip sleeping, and Jack scratching his plastic pumpkin head. I can almost hear the deafening sound of bored children shuffling in their seats.

Eventually Glinda runs out of song and vanishes, and Jack, since he can’t sleep (cripes, who could?) decides to do something useful like finding the Emerald City. When dawn breaks, Jack has not returned, and Tip is awakened by the arrival of a drum majorette. Okay, not really, it’s General Jinjur (Caroline Berner), on the way to join her all-girl "Army of Revolt". The two proceed to try to out-pout each other. "I was gonnaemmerulcity," explains the mush-mouthed Tip, and since Jinjur’s mission is to conquer said city, she declares Tip to be a prisoner of war and commands him to carry her bags. Tip agrees, since as a prisoner, he gets to eat some of her sandwiches.

Jack, meanwhile, has located the somewhat less-than-magnificent Emerald City on another soundstage, which is pretty surprising, considering that he's been directed to stagger about like the Frankenstein Monster on a Jagermeister bender. Dang, but the place has shrunk since the 30s… must be all the downsizing and privatization since the Scarecrow took over.

"No way - this CAN'T be Oz!"With the arrival of the Scarecrow (Michael R. Thomas), at least we finally get another decent actor. If you're keeping score, the last person who showed any proficiency in the field was Mombi, a half-hour ago. And if Thomas' rather loose-jointed portrayal gives the impression that the Scarecrow is gay, well, I'm just going to chalk that up to my jaundiced adult eye.

On yet another soundstage, Jinjur addresses her crack army of drum majorettes as they prepare to march on the Emerald City, armed with knitting needles. As this conference (and later scenes) will demonstrate, there is a reason why Jinjur is the leader: she's the only one that can come close to acting. And since we haven't had a song in nearly ten minutes, Jinjur belts out "On This Great Take-Over Day", with the scintillating chorus:

On this great take-over day,
Throw your pencils and books away!
Give them to your brother Gus
No more homework – for us!

I can envision the pre-production meeting, where Barry Mahon told the lyricist that Jinjur and her army are basically revolting against having to do housework. You know, chores, stuff like that. And somehow "housework" got turned into "homework"… And of the resulting production number, it is probably best to only say that precision marching is not the Army of Revolt's forte.

Kindly leave the snotty editorial comments to me, Jinjur.So the army storms the flimsy plywood gates of Oz. Actually, they first stop to palaver with the Doorman, a scene rife with line delivery more wooden than the doors and, of course, the sight of Tip adjusting his costume. The Doorman first asks the army to wait a minute while he saunters back into the Emerald City, then returns to menace them with a musket. When asked if he would "shoot a defenseless girl", the shocked doorman responds that he would never do that, and besides, the gun isn't loaded. Perhaps Sheriff Andy didn't come 'round to dispense the bullet that day. Anyway, Tip takes advantage of this Komedy to run to the central palace and warn the Scarecrow of the coming revolution.

The Scarecrow opines that being King sucks anyway, and rather easily tosses off his crown. He leaves through the back door of Oz with Tip and Jack, as the Army of Revolt goes about prying the jewels from the walls of the Emerald City. Wimmin! Always with the jewelry!

As continues to happen whenever we skip portions of Baum's book, a poorly-drawn map of Oz appears as a narrator explains that Tip has convinced the Scarecrow that for the good of the people of the Emerald City, he should seek the help of his friend, the Tin Woodman (Al Joseph), who is charge of the land of the Winkies, late of the Wicked Witch of the West. The Woodman receives his old friend joyfully, adding that he hopes nothing is seriously wrong. "If I may, sir," drones Tip, "I'll explain." Despite the screams of the audience, Tip brings the Woodman up to speed, and in a flash of hubris worthy of Marcus Brutus, the Woodman decrees that they four ("and my axe!") will be enough to strike terror into the hearts of "those naughty girls".

Back at the Emerald City, Jinjur decress that there shall be no curfew, and everyone will sleep as late as they want. Yep, looks like the Democrats are back in charge again.

Why do I think Larry Buchanan did the makeup FX?Back at the map of Oz, we are informed that our four heroes have set back out for the Emerald City. Tip pauses to rest, and in doing so, 1) catches a mouse, which he assures us wants to travel with them, and 2), makes the acquaintance of "H.M. Wogglebug, T.E." (Gil Fields), a mansized insect with cardboard eyes and moustache. The initials stand for "Highly Magnified" and "Thoroughly Educated", incidentally. Wogglebug offers to tell Tip how he came to be "Highly Magnified" and "Thoroughly Educated" as they walk to the Emerald City, which is likely a good thing, as in the book this takes two chapters and twenty pages.

Back at the Emerald City, however, life is not all beer and skittles for the new queen (whatever the hell "skittles" are…). The water system needs to be upgraded, and the Scarecrow's reluctance to raise taxes has left the treasury empty. "Then raise taxes!" says Jinjur (see? I told you they were Democrats! * ). "I'll have to tax your girls, too, since they are now residents." "They don't have any money. Tax the old people!" Somebody needs to introduce this girl to the joys of deficit spending. Then members of the Army of Revolt show up to complain that they're hungry, because their moms always handled the meals and none of them know how to cook.

"Uh, Mr. Mahon?  Could we make the movie slightly less crappy, please?"Into this study of domestic policy run amuck come our heroes, who quickly find that the Woodman's axe is no match for Jinjur's grip of ethics; she points out that the throne belongs to whoever can sit on it, and by attempting to overthrow her, they are breaking the law. This puts our rather dim collection of heroes into a moral quandry, and they surrender. Tip, however, wants to let his new mouse go free, and (of course) at the sight of the rodent, Jinjur and her Army desert the palace, screaming. Komedy! The mouse, having served her purpose, will now vanish from the movie.

Our heroes are not out of the cheaply constructed woods, however; though they bolt the doors, the palace is still surrounded by the Army of Revolt. The girls are getting hungry, and Pumpkinhead is probably looking pretty good (and the Wogglebug is doubtless wondering why he threw in with this bunch of losers). Tip, however, lashes together a creature made of sofas, the mounted trophy head of a gump (a woodland creature of Oz) and palm frond wings. Employing the stolen Powder of Life, he does the Herbert West bit, and they use this animated amalgamation to fly to the pink pylon-and-scrim palace of Glinda, the Good Wit --- Fairy. The Good Fairy. The Gump, having served its purpose, will now vanish from the movie.

First, Glinda has to sing a song called "I Have Watched Over You", in which she assures us "I know when you've been good, I know when you've been bad", which sounds sort of familiar, I just can't put my finger on it… and she hasn't gotten any better at lip syncing, either, but her fall does look better in this scene.

"Crap.  Even the frickin' WAND is out-acting me!"The Scarecrow tells Glinda about his doubts concerning the ownership of the throne of Oz, prompting Glinda to deliver a brief history lesson (what is with giving the exposition to all the bad actors? Wasn't there some way to give this to the Scarecrow or the Wogglebug, who at least show some presence?). When the previous Wizard (remember him?) usurped the throne of the Emerald City, he hid away the rightful heir, Princess Ozma. (Glinda was apparently vacationing at Ozumel or something while all this was going on). Glinda has never been able to find Ozma, though she does know that the Wizard made several trips up north to visit a woman named Mombi…

Deciding that it is the dramatically appropriate time to confront Mombi, Glinda spirits them all away to Hovel #1 (and I note that Glinda's Magic Bubble has been thriftily replaced by Glinda's Magic Baby Spotlight). Confronted with Glinda's Lie Detecting Wand, Mombi eventually admits that the Wizard brought her Ozma as a baby, offering her the proposition what he would allow her to practice sorcery if she would never let the true heir out of her sight. This she did, and to better hide Ozma, she turned her into a boy – in other words, Tip is really Ozma.

Well, that would seem to solve everything, except that the sullen, whiney Opie doesn't want to be a girl. His intrepid companions assure him that they'll still be his friends, and for the good of the Emerald City, he has to be turned back into Ozma. Glinda further muddies the water with this bewildering little speech:


It is not exactly that you are going to be a girl. You're going to remain Tip. The girl is Ozma. You are not exactly Ozma now, you have grown into an adventurous boy. When I transform you,Ozma will be the girl, and Tip will be your spirit, a wonderful, adventurous spirit, that will float out into the land beyond, and become a part of every little boy.

The hell-? This is sounding increasingly like a death sentence to me, new age philosophy or no. Tip, however, buys it hook, line, sinker, and a packet of chips. Glinda teleports them all to the Emerald City, and gives Jinjur her walking papers. The transformed Ozma (Joy Webb) regards her old friends and says tonelessly, "I have a feeling that I know you wall." Yep. She's Tip, alright.

Here's something you don't see often in this movie: three good actors in one scene.Glinda vanishes, the Wogglebug prepares to educate Ozma (which would later be subject of a movie starring Michael Caine), the Tin Woodman goes home, followed by the Scarecrow and Jack, who will be Ozma's "Ambassadors of Good Will"*. Cut to the gates of the Emerald City, as that blasted "Wonderful Land of Oz" song plays. Jinjur's Army of Revolt mopes out into the land, looking like they really need to sleep off last night's bender, or maybe they just came in from "The Party" segments of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Eventually, Jack, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman exit too, at least trying to make it look like they're singing the song. The end.

The most dismaying thing about The Wonderful Land of Oz is that it is possible to discern an earnest attempt to make a movie version of L. Frank Baum's book. Sure, there's some abridgement, at least as much as evidenced in the '39 movie, and a lot of concessions to budget. Oz seems terribly under-populated, for instance, except for as legion of mini-skirted young ladies who are doubtless left over from Mahon’s more salacious movies. But there is obviously a desire, at the core of this, to bring the book to the screen. It is just a shame that the desire is not backed up by things like budget or talent.

The sets really do look like they were constructed for the stage; trees and flowers have a cut-out, two dimensional look to them, and buildings are far too often obviously made of painted wood. The cyclorama is frequently visible, and more than once people cast shadows on the canvas sky. There are long stretches where the camera is simply locked down as the actor speechifies.

And the acting – oy God, the acting! Mombi, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Wogglebug all acquit themselves well, but special ire must be set aside for the star, Channy Mahon. And even then, you know in your heart,it’s not really his fault. It’s the job of the producer or the When the revolution comes,  fear the majorettes.director to say, "Look, the kid isn’t working out, we need to recast." Unfortunately, the producer and director were the same person, and that person was also Channy’s father, Barry Mahon. There is a reason why nepotism is considered a bad thing.

My grousing at some length is going to lead some of you to view the rating for this movie, below, with some surprise. But I remind you that this rating reflects not the movie's technical quality, but the quality of the experience of watching it. I am rarely surprised or dumbfounded by a movie, and this one did both. This movie is unquestionably bad (and its companion on the Something Weird DVD, Jack and the Beanstalk, is even worse), but it is also, for me, a gateway to a new, undiscovered land: the terra incognita of the sixties kiddie matinee, a land which seems as least as wondrous as Oz at this remove, full of bad songs and worse acting. It's like I've stumbled on a box full of previously undiscovered Ed Wood movies, and to a crap cineaste like myself, that is a powerful good feeling.


Good Lord. Just... Good Lord.

- January 18, 2003