Oz Fans Will Welcome New Documentary

Courtesy:  Passport Video

Courtesy: Passport Video

Nearly seventy-five years have passed since author L. Frank Baum’s beloved fantasy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was adapted to the big screen in the equally fan favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz.  That’s nearly three quarters of a century.  In the time since The Wizard of Oz originally debuted, a number of other adaptations of Baum’s books in the Oz series have been sent to the silver screen.  The most recent of those adaptations is Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful.  The movie was released on DVD and Blu-ray in early 2013 after a short stint in theaters.  It was hardly the greatest adaptation of any of the Oz books.  But it was enjoyable in its own right.  That aside, neither it nor any other adaptation has managed to surpass the 1939 hit feature.  And now thanks to Passport Video, audiences of all ages get a glimpse into Baum’s mind and how both the movie and book on which it was based came about in the new release, The Yellow Brick Road and Beyond.

The Yellow Brick Road and Beyond is a relatively short feature.  It runs just over a total of forty minutes.  This is not counting the feature’s end credits.  In that time though, it presents a history that likely many viewers never knew about.  One of the most intriguing facts revealed in the documentary’s short time is that the idea for the Scarecrow actually was the product of an evil scarecrow in Baum’s own nightmares.  One can’t help but laugh a bit in learning this.  While his fear may have been of a scarecrow, it conjures thoughts of the negative images young children have of clowns.  The similarities are there.  It makes this fact that much funnier and interesting to learn.  Speaking of the scarecrow, viewers will be just as interested to learn that before The Wizard of Oz dazzled audiences across the country, a silent film centered on the scarecrow would be the movie that would be closest to the prior film, despite the pair’s differences.  Footage from that film is presented as part of the story here.  It’s not the family friendly story that The Wizard of Oz is.  At one point, apparently, the Tin Man cuts off the evil witch’s head.  There’s no blood of course.  And the movie magic of the time was pretty smart, as audiences will see in watching the feature.  But it still might not be something some parents would want their kids to see even today regardless.

The history behind the roots of The Wizard of Oz makes this documentary a nice companion piece to the bonus included in the movie’s 70th anniversary re-issue, and the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary on the movie.  It doesn’t go into as much depth as the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary.  But it still offers its own interesting insight behind the scenes of the movie.  The insight on the movie’s casting would be a perfect fit with the bonus features included in the upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary release this Summer.  It’s interesting to learn here that the role of the wizard was originally meant for comedian W.C. Fields but was replaced because of his own personal beliefs about the role not being big enough and him not being offered enough money for the role, either.  This is something that isn’t included in the behind the scenes bonuses in the movie’s 70th anniversary edition.  Though, it in itself offers quite a bit of insight. 

The extra insight on The Wizard of Oz offered in The Yellow Brick Road and Beyond makes this an enjoyable addition to the home library of any fan of the Oz franchise.  As interesting as this DVD is thanks to all of its background information, there is one more factor that puts it over the top.  That factor is the inclusion of the black and white silent 1925 film by the same name.  It was included as it originally ran.  There are those that might condemn this.  But it is nice to see the movie—which runs roughly an hour and a half–in its original form complete with original score orchestrated by Louis La Rondelle and conducted by Harry F. Silverman.  Audiences should note that this is not the Wizard of Oz as presented in 1939.  This is one of the earliest versions discussed through the documentary.  It makes for more appreciation of what movie makers in that era had to work with versus the available technology of today’s studios.  It’s one more bonus that any purist movie lover will appreciate and enjoy time and again after picking up this DVD.  It is available now in stores and online.

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New Stooges Set A Good Starting Point For Any Stooges fan

Courtesy: Passport Video/Entertainment One

The Three Stooges (Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, Curly Joe DeRita) are without a doubt, one of the greatest teams in the extensive history of great comics.  This trio of comedians has earned more fame over the decades than even The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy.  Countless DVD’s have been released with Stooges materials throughout the decades, too.   Many of those DVD’s were obviously released with little thought.  However, the newest Stooges release, “A Three Stooges Celebration” isn’t one of those, despite what some would want to believe.

“A Three Stooges Celebration” isn’t just another of the countless DVD releases put out in recent years that randomly culls bits and pieces for what it calls a tribute.  What this new double disc release does is it takes the material that has been collected on those various releases in one double disc set for what is the most definitive set yet.  The first disc in the set follows the early days of the Stooges in the 1930’s and 40’s.  Included is rarer footage from the Stooges performance on the Ed Wynn Camel Hour, as well as the shorts, “Hollywood on Parade”, “Sing a Song of Six Pants”, “Knife of The Party” and “Henry The Ache.”  Again, these shorts have been included on previous sets.  But few, if any, of those sets has actually compiled all of the shorts in one set.  One of the more interesting features in that list is the short, “Henry The Ache.”  Fans will note here how short Shemp’s role was.  Bert Lahr was the star of this short.  It wouldn’t be until five years later that Lahr would really be a star, when he donned the costume of the Cowardly Lion in the legendary picture, “The wizard of Oz.”  It’s actually rather ironic that Lahr would play King Henry in “Henry The Ache.”  Those who remember “The Wizard of Oz” will recall Lahr singing, “If I were King of the forest.”  Who would ever have imaged how prophetic playing a king would be in 1934?

The tidbit about Lahr is a great bonus.  It is, however, just a tiny part of what makes this newest set so enjoyable.  Getting back to the Stooges’ history, the first disc also boasts a near hour long documentary that tells the history of the Stooges.  It starts in the group’s early Vaudeville days, telling of how the Stooges teamed with Ted Healey to form Ted Healey & His Stooges.  It follows the trio throughout is lineup changes to its ultimate ending after the death of the two original stooges, Larry Fine and Moe Howard.  Though the real end, according to the documentary came before either one had died.  The group’s end really came after Larry suffered his first stroke.  It left him unable to perform.  So Moe had made the decision for the Stooges’ career to come to a close.

The history lesson and rare footage included on the set’s first disc are a joy for any Stooge’s fans, having finally been collected on one single set, rather than being spread out over countless others.  The addition of the Stooges’ 1960’s “New Three Stooges” cartoons on the second disc is an extra jewel for the collection.  Some people would like to whine and moan at how bad the Stooges cartoons are.  Given, they may not be as great as other cartoons from that era.  But the mere fact that the footage still exists and looks as good as it does here shows that it has stood the test of time.  And for any Stooges or television historian, this is very important.  In an era when so many cartoons are based in either CGI or anime, these hand drawn cartoons have their very own stylistic identity, and even comic identity.  Love them or hate them, they are an important part of the Stooges’ history.  And they are an important part of television history.  That being noted, it’s nice to see them included on what fans will hopefully see as one of the better Stooges collections to come along in a long time.  The two-disc set is available in stores beginning today. 

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