“The Wonderful Land of Oz”: Barry Mahon’s 1969 Oz feature is quite possibly “childsploitation”

By on June 26, 2015

“How’d you like to meet a purple cow, with four big horns a-growin’ from her brow? Well you can in the Land of Oz,” sings the chirrupy chorus in Barry Mahon’s The Wonderful Land of Oz, an extremely low-budget 1969 production, based on Frank Baum’s novel The Marvelous Land of Oz.

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In this no-budget children’s film — released on a Halloween night, Friday, October 31, 1969 — Dorothy continues her adventures in the land of Oz with her companions, the Pumpkin Man, the Purple Cow, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, Mombi the witch, and Glinda the good fairy. Dorothy also meets Ozma, the Queen of Emerald City; Jack Pumpkinhead; Tip, a little boy; General Jinjur, the girl chief of the army of Oz; a talking sawhorse; the scholarly Wogglebug; and the Gump, a huge bird made of sofas.

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The credit, or blame, for this can basically be given to one man, grindhouse director/producer/cinematographer Barry Mahon (born Jackson Barret Mahon, in Bakersfield, CA), who early in his career tended to focus on what were commonly called “nudie” flicks. By the time Land of Oz was being lensed, Mahon had already lived quite a life. Both Mahon’s Wikipedia entry, and his IMDB bio, in fact, focus more on the fact that he was a fighter pilot than a filmmaker, which may be because they were updated by a family member who want him to be known for his pre-filmmaking exploits. But who knows?

He joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 after learning to fly a plane while still in high school. Then, he ended up flying and fighting in World War II — the Wiki entry details many of his bombing missions and various crashes and details about his capture by the Germans and imprisonment at multiple escapes from their Stalag Luft III prison. The part played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963) is said to have been loosely based upon Mahon’s life; at Stalag Luft III, Mahon worked on the tunnels made famous by the movie. He had escaped before that breakout, but was captured on the Czech border when his feet became too sore to go on. He escaped later only to be recaptured and was finally liberated by Patton’s 3rd Army in 1945.

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After the war, he became the personal pilot for, and later manager, of actor Erroll Flynn, then segued into producing movies by Flynn and actress Gina Lollobrigida. Mahon eventually established his own production company, The Production Machine, before getting behind the camera to make something of reputation for himself as a director of (mostly) smutty sexploitation fare, including (and this is just a partial filmography, and not in chronological order): Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), Morals Squad (1960), Jukebox Racket (1960), Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961; a Cold War propaganda film released not too long after the launch of Sputnik, intended to rally public support for an anti-ballistic missile program), The Dead One (1961), Pagan Island (1961), Bunny Yeager’s Nude Camera (1963), 1,000 Shapes of a Female (1963), Hollywood Nudes Report (1963), She Should Have Stayed In Bed (1963), Censored (1965), Nudes, Inc. (1964), Bunny Yeager’s Nude Las Vegas (1964), Nudes on Tiger Reef (1965), Nude Scrapbook (1965), The Story of 8 Girls (1965), The Girl With the Magic Box (1965), Confessions of a Bad Girl (1965), Crazy Wild and Crazy (1965), International Smorgasbroad (1965), P. P. S. (Prostitutes’ Protective Society) (1966), Girl Smugglers (1967) Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico (1967), Sex Club International (1967), Run, Swinger, Run! (1967), Sex Killer (1967), Sex Club International (1967), Fanny Hill Meets Lady Chatterly (1967), and Prowl Girls (1968). He also appeared as an actor, briefly, in his film, The Beast That Killed Women (1965).

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By the time Mahon gets around to The Wonderful Land Of Oz in 1969, one of then 48-year old Mahon’s first attempts at making a children’s film, he had already become so experienced in all aspects of filmmaking that you’d half-expect the quality level of his films to continue to get better as he went on. They didn’t. Not ever. EVER. (Watch the entire movie below if you dare).

The entire film was made on a miniscule budget of just $50,000, and then Mahon had to offer his distributor $90,000 for advertising and promotion. The songs were written by George Linsenmann, with lyrics by Ralph Falco. The Wonderful Land of Oz actually helps to create a new kind of genre, in fact, let’s call it childsploitation for lack of a better description, in which the films continue to have the kind of lurid, low-budget look that early “nudies” do, but now they’re mixed with a childish amateurish storytelling sensibility.

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There are provocative looking women walking around in mini-skirts, who were no doubt holdovers from the sexploitation flicks that Mahon had been making just months earlier, and popular rumor is that Jinjur’s sullen-looking Army of Revolt was actually composed of actors who had previously appeared in Mahon’s nudie films, but apparently this was not true: Mahon’s nudie films were made in New York City, while the children’s films were made in Florida, and Mahon did not bring any of his former performers to appear in the film.Mahon, by the way, worked with Florida nudie photographer Bunny Yeagar on many films.

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There’s something about the way this film looks… the sets look to have been made for some kind of junior high school stage production, and give the movie a kind of juvenile appearance. Mahon told The New York Times that he was planning to get Judy Garland to narrate the film, but the film has almost no narration.

The film was, however, a family affair — Mahon’s youngest son Channy (Chandos Castle Mahon), then ten years old, starred as Tip. Channy’s mother Clelle was the movie’s script supervisor. Mahon also worked with many first-time actors and filmmaking enthusiasts who received on-the-job training while working on their first movie, which also gives everything a kind of amateurish feel.

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Zisca Baum (no relation to Frank) as Mombi, Caroline Berner as General Jinjur, George Wadsworth as Jack Pumpkinhead, Gil Fields as H. M. Woggle-bug T. E., Michael R. Thomas as the Scarecrow, and Al Joseph as the Tin Woodman. Ozma is played by Joy Webb. Jellia Jamb and Omby Amby appear, unbilled.

The Gump is voiced by Ray Menard, the production designer, also unbilled (wonder why?), but remembered by Thomas, who also remembers that Hilary Lee Gaess, who played Glinda, had extreme bouts with stage fright.

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As the trend toward more overtly pornographic films drove Mahon away from sexploitation into his new chosen field of childsploitation, he directed: Thumbelina (1970), Jack and the Beanstalk (1970; a collaboration with George Wadsworth), The Love Cult (1970), Santa and the Three Bears (1970), Musical Mutiny (1970), The Love Pirate (1971), and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972). The latter film is often singled out as the worst movie ever made. Seriously.

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Mahon died in December, 1999, at the age of 78, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before his death, he was also awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross, in 1985. As far as we know, he won no actual awards for any of the nudies or childsploitation films he made.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Carl Hossli

    Throw in some Sid and Marty Kroft and a few tabs of acid and you would have REALLY had something.

  • Mike Fitz

    I watched it. It has the look and aesthetic of a middle school play filmed in Barry’s basement.
    I understood that Zisca Baum was a grandchild of L Frank Baum. Maybe I’m wrong.

  • Dana W

    You posted my Youtube of it! :)

  • Bryan Thomas

    Thanks for posting it!

  • JP

    I thought the Love Pirate was a sexploitation film and the Glinda actress, Hilary Lee Gaess, is also listed as being in that one

  • Bryan Thomas

    Yes, looks like you are correct. You win the prize!