September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

Alice in Wonderland

Kino Lorber, 76 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $29.99, May 19

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Originally released by Paramount Pictures in 1933, the screenplay Alice in Wonderland by Joseph Mankiewicz combines chapter adaptations from Lewis Carroll’s books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Set in a Victorian house, 12-year-old Alice falls asleep while holding her cat Dina; she dreams she enters a fantasy world where she has numerous escapades. First, Alice enters the looking glass house and goes outside to see the garden; she spots a white rabbit and follows him down his hole and lands in a new world. This production, directed by Norman McLeod, features an all-star cast including Cary Grant (Mock Turtle), Gary Cooper (White Knight), W.C. Fields (Humpty Dumpty), Edward Everett (Mad Hatter), Richard Arlen (Caterpillar), and May Robson (Queen of Hearts). Charlotte Henry plays Alice and portrays her charmingly as a bright imaginative girl full of spirit and a sense of adventure who tries to make sense out of the absurd situations and fantastical characters she meets. The costumes and overall look of the characters and puppets are noticeably patterned after John Tennison’s illustrations from Carroll’s books.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice falls down the rabbit hole and encounters a door too small for her to fit through; Alice swims in a pool of her tears with the mouse; gets advice from the Dodo bird, is told to eat the mushroom by a caterpillar to decide her direction; is given a baby from a duchess which turns into a pig; is followed by a Cheshire cat; attends a tea party with the Mad Hatter; and, plays a dangerous croquet game under the invitation of the Queen of Hearts. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice climbs up and stands on the mantle above the fireplace and faces the mirror. She wants to see the looking glass house and finds herself going through the glass; she is now in a room with a reverse image of the Victorian room she left and meets several come to life Chess pieces. Alice encounters such characters from Through the Looking Glass as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee; the Walrus and the Carpenter; Humpty Dumpty; and the White Knight. W. C. Fields is irrepressible as Humpty Dumpty and Gary Cooper is surprisingly entertaining as the White Knight, especially when he falls off his horse. A cartoon presenting the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter urging the oysters to come for dinner is an interesting example of early animation—occurring even before Disney’s Snow White. Original dialogue from the book is detectible and helps make the story familiar to those who are followers of Lewis Carroll’s work. While this black and white film may not appeal to children accustomed to cutting-edge animation and bright colors, fans of Lewis Carroll and students of film history will find this film enjoyable. Strong optional choice. (T. Root)