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on 6 April 2010
I first encountered this version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND back in the early 1960s when I was home from school recovering from a bad cold. In those days your local TV station would show morning movies before the game shows started. I only saw it that one time until many years later but I never forgot some of the imagery. It may not be Lewis Carroll's ALICE (no movie ever is) but it does create a world of its own which is its strongest selling point. It actually plays better today than in 1933 for with few exceptions (W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper), no one remembers the other stars (aside from Charlotte Henry best known as Bo-Peep in Laurel & Hardy's BABES IN TOYLAND) and so they can be viewed as characters not stars under heavy make-up. The adaptation by Joseph L. Mankiewicz retains most of Carroll's original dialogue and is more THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS than ALICE. It flows very nicely between the two books and at 77 minutes seems just right. As has been noted elsewhere the film was originally 90 minutes but the missing footage deals with the real world so it probably isn't missed too badly. The question is why was it cut.

For reasons that have never been fully explained or understood, the film has been out of circulation for years (even from TV showings) and was never officially released until now to cash in on the Tim Burton adaptation (just as Sherlock Holmes movies have reappeared in time for Robert Downey Jr's version). That's how the game is played. The cover has even been colorized to hide the fact from most people that the film is in black & white. The production design by the legendary William Cameron Menzies uses black and white to good advantage as does Bert Glennon's photography so fortunately no attempt was made to colorize the film for this release. In fact Universal, who now owns the rights to the film, has made no attempt to do much of anything with this release which is a real shame. I'm sure there are copyright issues involved but it would have been nice to have the Betty Boop cartoon BETTY IN BLUNDERLAND as an added bonus as well as production stills or commentary from someone who admires the film. Although not a perfect transfer, it is light years away from the bootleg and gray market copies available until now and for that I am thankful. Maybe someday it will get the royal treatment it deserves.
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on 21 March 2010
I love this movie. and yes i've read the books. if you love old black and white 30's movies you'll love this adaptation the best. there's just something about surrealism in B&W that is so haunting and memorable. Charlotte Henry is just wonderful and many of the scenes from the book like the tea party, Humpty Dumpty, and particularly the Tweedles are very faithful. don't hesitate to get a copy of this right away before it becomes hard to get again. a must own for any 'Alice' fan.
James Johnston
the real 'Alice' fan
(Dean just has the account)
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on 10 March 2012
Brilliantly directed by Norman Mc Cleod, shot in monochrome, and released in 1933, Charlotte Henry beautifully portrays Alice's innocence and wonderment as she learns each life's lesson and gains confidence in herself, facing and conquering her inner fears on her journey of gay abandonment through the surreal Radula space that is Wonderland.

The direction is witty and fast-paced and Norman Mc Cleod's direction creates many interesting juxtapositions on the story - beginning with the opening winter scene from 'Through the looking glass' and not the May boat ride and picnic one normally anticipates.

On the journey there are some fabulous cameo performances from such notables as Gary Cooper, WC Fields, and Ford Sterling; and Edna May Oliver as The Red Queen is just the best; but the cameo that shines out for my family was the wonderful pathos infused by Cary Grant as The Mock Turtle.

His unrestrained rendition of `Beautiful Soup' (sung to the tune of `Star of the Evening') is one of the best I have ever seen (well on a par with Gene Wilder's brilliantly sentimental take on the deeply troubled character reminiscing his lost childhood and absent family) and as Alice digests the moral of the importance of respect and family values, she in turn helps the Mock Turtle release his deep sorrow in an explosive and unexpected outburst of grief that had us all in tears (we had to pause the film to recover - that is how wonderful it was).

Another very clever aspect is that the sets and the actions and motions of the characters accurately represent Tenniel's immortal illustrations - utterly brilliant!

For us there is only one tiny down-side, and it is this - although the dialogue is astonishingly accurate and the acting is impeccable, some of the `scene-setting' dialogue is omitted; which means that for a child, not all of the lessons are immediately obvious and require explanation during a re-watch (as the Gryphon reminds us - explanations take such a dreadful time).

To illustrate what I mean; in Carroll's masterwork, just prior to entering the Duchess's house Alice asks the footman HOW to enter the Duchesses house and the footman replies "The question you should be asking is why you should WANT to enter in the first place!" - i.e. `look before you leap' because Alice is about to enter a HOVEL where the people are forever arguing with each other; taking drugs (pepper); burning the horrid food; smashing the very utensils that they need in order to cook or eat; and having lots of children which they ill-treat and so grow up to be pigs (read Chapter six `Pig and Pepper' in AIWL).

Although the `footman' dialogue is not included, the moral to keep well away from slithy toves - i.e. sly delinquent people who live shallow, miserable, pointless lives feeding off the crumbs that fall from or are stolen from the tables of others, and always out to trick you (as the creatures tricked Alice out of her sweets by running a pointless `Caucus Race' - sadly omitted in this version) is not entirely lost, because in the next scene, as in the book, the Cheshire Cat asks the immortal question "By the by - what happened to the baby?" and when Alice replies "It turned into a PIG", the cat retorts "I thought it might!"

Once you watch it you will be hooked. We watched it all again straightaway with the sub-titles on which brought another dimension to the wonderful dialogue. Two to crease you up:

Red Queen (on overcoming shyness): "Make a remark! It's ridiculous to leave all the conversation to the pudding!" (The Red Queen was introducing Alice to the food)

Duchess (On diligently following a path you choose for yourself): "Be whatever you want to be - or put more simply - never imagine yourself to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." Cracking!

A little-known FIVE STAR GEM that you will watch again and again and that will compel you to read both books and re-discover the full meaning of Carroll's amazing masterworks.

Alice in Wonderland [DVD] [2000]

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series)

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: The definite Edition. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland an Through the Looking-Glass

Alice in Wonderland (Collector's library)
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Curiouser and curiouser doesn't even begin to describe Paramount's lavish 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland. Few films of the Golden age can boast quite so impressive a roll-call of talent both in front of and behind the cameras: while stars like Richard Arlen, Leon Errol, Edna May Oliver, Ned Sparks, Charlie Ruggles, Sterling Holloway, Jack Oakie, Baby LeRoy and May Robson may have faded, there's still Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, Gary Cooper as the White Knight and W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty and a screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and legendary production designer William Cameron Menzies, a score by Dimitri Tiomkin and direction by Norman Z. McLeod. How could it miss? Surprisingly easily...

To be fair, the film is nowhere near the disaster of its reputation: intended to save Paramount from toppling into bankruptcy by roping almost all their major contract players into one film regardless of whether they were right for the film or not, the reviews were mixed - with many, like Variety's, incredibly savage - and the box-office poor, with Paramount cutting the film by some 13 minutes shortly after previews (it's the shorter version that's made it to DVD). It didn't endear itself to fans of Lewis Carroll by combining both Wonderland and the Looking Glass and not being especially faithful to either, while star spotters will have their work cut out by the grotesque masks and heavy makeup they wear - so heavy that you wonder why they didn't just have the actors dub the dialogue over standins. Few make much impression, though Cooper shines through his Don Quixote makeup to give a surprisingly good turn as the elderly doddering knight who can't stay on his horse and who sounds oddly like a geriatric Groucho Marx. Charlotte Henry makes a good Alice, the effects are generally pretty impressive, the design sometimes rather good and there are even a couple of surreal background gags to add an extra layer of unsanity, but the tone doesn't seem quite right, with key scenes like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party falling horribly flat. The film manages to feel both drawn out in its opening stages and rushed once it reaches Wonderland even though few scenes show visible signs of being heavily trimmed. Nor does it really know how to end, a fault you could also lay at Carroll's original but which is magnified here with a surreal banquet that becomes increasingly nightmarish. And for all the whimsy, this is a production that at once stresses the grotesque over the absurd while constantly diluting it with reassuring asides.

There's enough that does work to make it worth a viewing, but there's also enough that doesn't to stop it from being the classic its heavyweight credits imply. Indeed, the roster of talent is the film's biggest problem, raising hopes the film cannot possibly satisfy, making it one of those films that seems so much better - though still not hitting the bullseye - on a second viewing. No extras on the DVD, though.
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on 11 June 2014
Having seen a good few Alices including the latest, I was curious to see this one - as has been pointed out, it's black and white rather than the colour of the DVD cover but...
It's closer to "Through the Looking Glass" than Wonderland but Charlotte Henry makes a wonderful Alice. The various prosthetics used by the cast are very convincing.
Being made in 1933 the cast include many up and coming stars such as Sterling Holloway and Cary Grant as well as stalwarts of the silents such as Louise Fazenda and Ford Sterling... and of course W C Fields is a thoroughly bad egg....
Well worth a watch and closer than some of the later versions...
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on 14 December 2010
A real curiosity. 1933, so don't expect much in the way of special effects, (or costume and scenery design for that matter).
This is a conflation of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" by none other than Joseph L Mankiewicz (17 years before "All About Eve") and William Cameron Menzies, so quite literate and in the circumstances moderately faithful.It is however mainly remarkable for the cast Paramount managed to assemble for this jamboree: Gary Cooper as the White Knight, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, W C Fields (best of all) as Humpty Dumpty, Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles as the Mad Hatter and the March Hare,and Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns as Tweedledum and Tweedledee,- add in Ned Sparks (Caterpillar), Alison Skipworth, Richard Arlen and Edna May Oliver, and you can see it is quite a line up. Charlotte Henry makes a passable Alice, but the direction by Norman Z McLeod is unimaginative, not to say pedestrian, and some of the actors look ill at ease in their bizarre get ups.
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on 28 July 2010
this is the stuff of nightmares so i dont recommend it for children.some of the characters are ,quite frankly,verging on the grotesque and are quite disturbing even for us adults and it is very wordy.Also any humour is very dark.I really cant make my mind up about this film.Forget the special effects (to todays jaded palate their risable) but nevertheless this whole film is very well done if disquieting.I suppose its like a bad acid trip in black and white.interesting
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on 11 August 2015
Worth seeing for its historical value, but did not find it particularly intelligent or creative and had no emotional connection to the story.
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on 28 June 2015
My own fault for not checking it out before I purchased. Black and white whereas one sees the cover in glorious colours. I realise now that I was seeking more of a Walt Disney type version.
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on 2 April 2016
Great DVD
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