Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Movies I Want to See: Alice in Wonderland (1933)

I don't think there's ever been a perfect film adaptation of Alice in in Wonderland. The 2010 movie was pretty good, but it was really one of those re-imaginings in which Wonderland (or is the inhabitants call it, Underland) is more grown-up and sensible, and all can be sorted out in a big battle of good versus evil.

Some versions, like Jan Svankmajer's stop motion Alice or Jonathan Miller's surreal 1966 television play capture the creepiness and surrealism of the story, but miss the charm. Other versions, like the Disney one or the 1972 British film, go for nothing but charm. Some even try to shoehorn a moral into the story. (The Disney one's lesson seems to be, don't use your imagination too freely. Seriously.)

The 1933 Paramount version aimed for charm but it struck creepy. The chief culprit was the decision to make just about everyone in the All Star cast wear big fake masks to make them look just like the John Tenniel illustrations. Not only did this undermine its box office appeal (which one is Gary Cooper again?), but they look scary as hell, especially Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee:

One of these guys is Jack Oakie, by the way. Your guess is as good as mine.

Still, it's lavishly produced (to the extent of almost bankrupting the studio), and so off kilter that I just have to see it as an adult. I caught bits and pieces of it as a kid, but was turned off when I saw W.C. Fields was unrecognizable as Humpty Dumpty. (Incidentally, there's a terrific Disney cartoon, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, which did a much better job casting Field as ol' Humpty. Check it out.)

Universal released a DVD of the movie last year to cash in on the Alice hoopla (I wonder how many parents didn't realize it was in black & white until they popped it in the DVD player), but this is a movie I know I'm going to watch just once, so I'm waiting for a rental.

Th opening credits:


At 12/13/10, 9:21 AM, Anonymous RPM said...

Duuno sir, this may be a KEEPER. One to own and to put on when folks are basking in front of the TV. It just might clear the room! I used singing cowboy movies for that chore back at my store.

Anyway, this looks like a great early talkie pastiche of everything and the kitchen sink. Viva Fleischer!
Never seen it, really need to now. Thanks!
Now where is my Burger King mask.........

At 12/13/10, 3:33 PM, Blogger Monster, Indeed! said...

LOL, I saw the classic Phantom Empire hosted by a guy at AMC before they turned away from old movies.

He was the target age when that serial came out, and remembered how he and all the other boys would cheer Gen Autry on...until he sang. The they'd put heir hands over their ears and beg for him to stop.

There was something wild and woolly about the early talkies. It's kind of like the music industry in the '60s. Things were changing so fast they were willing to try anything.


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