“THE WORLD’S GREATEST STORY WITH THE WORLD’S GREATEST CAST”
I never used to care one whit for Lewis Carroll’s classic story Alice in Wonderland. My father bought us a nice hardback copy of it through the mail when I was 8 or 9 years old–I think it even had a slipcase–and placed it cheerfully on the bookshelf in the living room, where it sat woeful and forlorn, pleading with me to pick it up every time I walked by. Feeling an obligation to my dad to pay attention to poor Alice, I did try to get into her story several times, but found it was just not my cup of tea…The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party notwithstanding, ha-ha! (sorry :P)
Well, a few weeks ago, while going through DVD’s and hoping to find something I could live without, so as to donate it to a good cause and make room for something new, I stumbled upon the little gem above, which I couldn’t even recall bringing into the house, let alone watching. I hate to admit now that after reading the case, I almost didn’t bother with it at all.
For one thing, the colored cover is deceiving, as it gives the impression that it’s an animated movie in color–it is neither. This is a version of Alice I had never heard of, filmed in black and white and released in 1933. Also, I was put off by the boastful quotation in my title above, which I’m not sure is true. You can judge for yourself.
That said, I could hardly believe the list of cast members. The early 30’s news that Alice in Wonderland was to be made into a film must have been the equivalent of the modern optioning of the Harry Potter series–from the most famous screen names down to the least known actor with walk-on experience, literally everybody in Hollywood back in the day must have wanted to be in this movie.
Here are some of the classic actors whose names I recognized–they are pretty much unrecognizable in the film, but all are sensationally funny: Richard Arlen is the Cheshire Cat; Gary Cooper is the White Knight; W.C. Fields is Humpty Dumpty; Cary Grant is the Mock Turtle; Edward Everett Horton is The Mad Hatter, and Sterling Holloway is the Frog. Edna May Oliver is easy to spot, as is Baby Leroy. Alice herself is played by Charlotte Henry, and she gives a flawless performance, perhaps because she was not a young girl, but in her late teens when the movie was made.
After a short time, I found myself surrendering to the film’s enchanted spell. At last I was able to leave my negative Alice opinions and childish fears of separation behind and just enjoy the story’s many fantastical, often sophisticated charms. The wordplay between the characters and Alice is a hoot, and throughout all the unexpected turns of event, Alice manages to revel in her adventures without veering far from the demands of her conscience and mannerly upbringing.
This is one endlessly patient girl, kind and polite to every human and animal she meets–which is no mean trick, since a ruder, more boorish parade of hapless, skittish creatures Alice has never met–nor have I. Without fail, though, she shows herself to be an open-hearted girl with a lively and intelligent mind. She’s a role model for how to deal with strangers in distress and continually responds to their bullying without once losing her cool. You may just find her methods helpful in coping with cranky phone salespeople; cashiers on their last nerve; mall meanies; and the occasional human wheelbarrow–one brick short–that you may find blocking your path in the parking lot of life. However, don’t follow Alice’s lead in drinking whatever liquid a stranger suggests–bad idea.
I know little about movie making, but I found the old special effects fun and the costumes and makeup weirdly creepy. Lewis Carroll–a bit of a creepy weirdo himself–would have approved of them, I’m sure, as well as the fabulously twisted linguistic banter. So if you happen to find this movie somewhere on DVD, Netflix, streaming or wherever, I say give it a shot. It’s just an hour and 17 minutes in length and trips right along as if everybody’s been hatchet-warned by the Queen of Hearts not to be boring. Also, though she doesn’t go into Wonderland, there is a real Cheshire-looking cat living in Alice’s house.