Ooooooooooooooooh, we’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of…Rio de Janeiro? With the samba music, sultry women in string bikinis and non-stop Portuguese chatter, we are obviously not in Kansas. We’re in “The Brazilian Wizard of Oz”!
If you thought The Turkish Wizard of Oz took liberties with the L. Frank Baum classic, “The Brazilian Wizard of Oz” from 1984 literally uses the beloved text as a buffet table: picking and choosing ingredients at random and plopping them into an intensely inane story that also tosses in the Virgin Mary, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and black men in crow costumes doing the moonwalk in a cornfield. At the core of this madness are Os Trapalhões (The Tramps), a puerile comedy squad who entertained a generation of Brazilian kiddies by combining the worst elements of the Three Stooges and the Wiggles into a series of anvil comedies laced with exaggerated violence and terminally bouncy music. Os Trapalhões made several films that inserted their characters into stories that were told first (and better) in Hollywood: “Star Wars,” “Planet of the Apes” and, of course, “The Wizard of Oz.”
If you are looking for Dorothy and Toto and Auntie Em, forget it. “The Brazilian Wizard of Oz” takes place in the backwoods of Brazil, where a drought forces Didi (Renato Aragao, the head Tramp) and two of his dimwit friends (Jose Dumont and Arnaud Rodrigues) to put their ramshackle hut on a cart and head off to where water can be enjoyed. The other three members of Os Trapalhões take on the roles of the Oz-bound characters: Zacarias as the Scarecrow (with long straw blonde hair and heavy make-up, strangely resembling Sylvia Miles), Mussum as the Tin Man (his costume is an industrial tin drum) and Dede Santana as the Lion (his costume is a brown afro and a furry vest with a tail hanging from its backside). The Lion is not so cowardly here: he is actually the sheriff of a poor village where the peasants have to pay the local government considerable sums to fill their containers with water.
Brazilian TV personality Xuxa Meneghel plays the Lion’s girlfriend, a local teacher whose wardrobe consists of low-cut clothing which seems fairly inappropriate for a career in elementary school education. Yes, this version of Oz not only gives the Lion a love interest, but it also encourages interspecies romantic encounters. It also encourages plenty of strange behavior one does not associate with children’s films: murder (the crows who torment the Scarecrow are bludgeoned to death with clubs), shoplifting (Os Trapalhões arrive in town and promptly begin to rob a bodega), disrespect for law enforcement (the village police are pelted with flour bombs and eggs), disrespect for women (Os Trapalhões inexplicably get into a knock-down brawl with a group of housewives doing their laundry), and bondage (there are three separate scenes where the characters find themselves in ropes or chains, two of these in public settings where crowds stand by in awe). Perhaps to redeem such behavior, the film also brings in the Holy Family (who apparently followed the Sea of Galilee to the Amazon) so the blessed clan can smile at the camera and bring an end to the drought which plagued most of the movie.
Oh, there is a Wizard. But he is of Oroz, not Oz, and he lives in an underground lair with cellophane walls and the largest mirrors this side of Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu. The Wizard is played by one Dary Reis, who gets to wear a jeweled turban and pink cape while rolling his eyes and screaming his lines with a reckless abandon not seen since Rod Steiger passed away. His chief contribution to the madness is to give Didi a magical bone (yes, a bone) that he uses to clobber a group of brigands who ambush the heroes. One smack of the bone and the bad guys find themselves suddenly and inexplicably semi-naked and chained spread-eagled to the wall. When all of the bad guys are disposed of, the soundtrack swells with an unauthorized snatch of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and the bone is tossed skyward in a completely inane tribute to “2001.” If you are expecting Keir Dullea to show up in his spaceman suit, that’s asking too much. The bone actually grows to the size of a canoe and Os Trapalhões ride it through the air into Rio, where they grab bicycles and engage in a variety of stunts that involve crashing head-first into various food stands, gas stations, and girls on the beach.
Every now and then, the film breaks into musical numbers. The most electric involves the aforementioned black men in crow costumes, who flaunt their superiority over the Scarecrow in a funk-style jamboree. The lead crow is a performer with the most appropriate name of Tony Tornado, and it is a shame his character gets beaten to death (amid a shower of feathers, no less). This particular interlude looks and sounds like it was ripped off from “The Wiz,” though strangely it is more entertaining than the “original” musical numbers that include having Os Trapalhões singing an inane ditty as they drive a clown car through Rio while toting an oversized faucet (don’t ask).
“The Brazilian Wizard of Oz” was originally intended for juvenile audiences, though watching it with that in mind can be uncomfortable given the fairly high level of violence, including stabbings and biting, and vulgar comedy such as having the contents of a chamber pot thrown in someone’s face. Adult audiences coming to it may have some problems, given that the acting is at the level of children’s theater with overstated, cartoonish gestures, voices and mannerism by its cast.
But for fans of demented cinema outside of Brazil looking at this thing fresh, “The Brazilian Wizard of Oz” is a wild hodgepodge which has the so much anti-social and incoherent activity speeding along that it is almost surprising such a production ever got made. If this is any indication of what the films of Os Trapalhões were all about, hopefully more of these lunatic offerings can find their way out of Brazil and into a wider range of cult movie feeding frenzy.
And, yes, that whirring noise you hear is L. Frank Baum spinning in his grave.