Paul Ford’s Uncle Henry comes off at first as impatient and angry, but as Aunt Em makes clear, he is only nervous about the approaching cyclone. His smile upon Dorothy’s return shows how much he truly loves his niece.
Milton Berle’s Lion is pretty much just a leonine version of Berle himself, full of bluster and wisecracks. Despite his resurgence of cowardice (and to be sure, that would be consistent with the books, in which the “courage” the Wizard gave the Lion didn’t last), he remains loveable.
Risë Stevens presents possibly one of the most accurate Glindas ever put into a dramatization. Her calm and serenity in the face of impending danger are straight out of the literary Glinda’s personality, and her commanding voice when conjuring leaves no doubt as to who is the most powerful sorceress in Oz.
The team of Larry Storch (speaking) and Danny Thomas (singing) combine for an easygoing, kind-hearted metal monarch. As with the Lion, the Tinman’s “chickening out” (as Woodenhead rightly calls it) shows a not-very-bold heart, but that is the fault of the writers, not the performers.
Paul Lynde, eschewing his trademark sarcastic delivery (for the most part), gives Pumpkinhead an innocent, childlike, and yet quietly wise demeanor quite in line with Jack Pumpkinhead of the books. It’s easy to empathize with Dorothy when she thinks he is dead.
What can be said about Ethel Merman as Mombi? It is one of the best bits of casting in a movie full of perfectly chosen actors and actresses. Never one for underplaying, she attacks the role with gusto, filling every line and song with witchy delight. And despite her anger at losing her cousin the Wicked Witch of the West, she is not afraid to outdo her late cousin, who never got to sing in the MGM Wizard, by singing not one, but two songs.
Herschel Bernardi, playing less an adaptation of the sawhorse and more a male relative of Merry Go Round, is sarcastic, acerbic, and yet loyal and brave. And he seems to come from da same part o’ Oz as Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion.
Omby Amby (the name, by the way, is not used in the movie, but it does appear in the Journey Back to Oz cast list given on the Internet Movie Database), even with red whiskers, is well played by Dal McKennon. Not given a whole lot to do, McKennon nevertheless does a lot with it, creating a stalwart, if slightly befuddled, Royal Army of Oz.
Jack E. Leonard as the Signpost is definitely befuddled, and hilariously so. His parting words to Dorothy are, “If you get lost again, just look me up. Uh, by the way, gimme a call when you do.”
Mel Blanc as the Crow? It’s Mel Blanc. How can it not be a good performance?