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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

There have been many adaptations of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, but the most faithful may be the 1933 Paramount film, directed by Norman Z. McLeod. The film was chock full of the stars from Paramount, yet it was an expensive flop. It remains the only live-action film directly based on the books (the others, including Tim Burton's successful 2010 film, use the characters but have completely different plots).

For 1933, this film is very weird, almost grotesque. The weirdness captured the flavor of Lewis Carroll, but the grotesqueness has to do with primitive makeup effects. For example, the Duchess (Alison Skipworth) is made to look like her John Tenniel drawing, with massive jowls. It could scare small children. Perhaps the most notable actor in the film is W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty (it's my favorite scene) but he is just voicing a puppet (I think) and it's not cute and cuddly at all.

The script is by heavies Joseph L. Manckiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, and they merge the two books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Instead of beginning with the white rabbit, they start with the opening of Looking Glass and Alice passes through the mirror and then sees the rabbit. This works fine, and manages to incorporate most of the characters (unlike the Disney version). The only major piece that is missing is Alice's trial, which ends the first book, instead they end with her reaching the end of the chessboard in the second board and being proclaimed queen.

The star was Charlotte Henry, who got typecast into playing innocent fantasy characters (her other famous role is as Bo Peep in Babes in Toyland). Other stars were a very young Cary Grant, who you don't see as the Mock Turtle under his costume, but the recognizable voice is there, and Gary Cooper, very much out of type, as the accident-prone White Knight. Edna May Oliver is perfect as the Red Queen because she looks exactly like the drawings. I also enjoyed Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, also in hideous makeup, who recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter"(which is animated).

We have not yet seen the perfect film of Alice, but I suggest that they take this script and remake it, updating the special effects (the low may be the raggedly old mouse costume). It's the most faithful, and is quite engaging. Just get all the new makeup whizzes (and, of course, CGI) involved. It would be very good.

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