The 1933 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland isn't a great film. But at the same time, it wasn't an awful film either. To be honest, there has never been a perfect interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic stories on film. There have been some very good attempts. Even the 1972 version featuring Peter Sellers as the March Hare, which is probably my favorite version of the story, isn't a perfect adaptation either.
I've come to think that Alice tends to suffer the same thing Sherlock Homes has suffered. No not cocaine. But most producers seem to cast actresses over the age of 20 to play the part of a young girl who is supposed to be not much older than 7. In the case of Sherlock, he was supposed to be in his late 20's. But because he appeared much older looking due to the fact Walter Paget, who his brother Sidney Paget, used as the physical model of Holmes, had a receding hairline. Which is probably the reason many of the actors who have portrayed Holmes (with a few exceptions) have all for the most part been 40 and older.
In the case of Alice, it may come down to the fact that it's much easier to give direction to an older actress pretending to be a 7 year old rather than trying to give direction to a child star.
In the case of Charlotte Henry who is the Alice in this tale, apparently the studio press department made much of her uncanny resemblance to Sir John Tenniel's original artwork.
The film itself chose to adapt both the first Alice story and it's sequel Through the Looking Glass as one adventure. The biggest faults of the film is it tends to be slow in scenes and some of the segues into the next scenes do not flow very well.
But the scenes that did work very well make the film worth watching.
And some of the things the film DID have working for it was really unsettling costumes and a stellar cast. I really like the costumes. The look like they came out of someone's "Panto" from hell. Knowing these costumes would have frightened me as a child is proof that they're perfect. The attempts to make them cute are just nightmarish. So they work for me.
This was the first really big budget live-action movie of a children's classic with an all-star cast including Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle (seen above), W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Gary Cooper as the White Knight, Malden Massachusetts native Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen and Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter.
For those of you unfamiliar with Edward Everett Horton, some of you might remember him as Mr. Witherspoon in Arsenic and Old Lace. And some might remember him as the Narrator for Fractured Fairytales in the Bullwinkle Show.
And, for those history buffs out there, W.C. Fields nemesis Baby Leroy played the Joker in the film. Fields never hid the fact that he hated working with children. But luckily for Fields he didn't appear onscreen with young master Leroy in this particular picture.
There was even an animated presentation of The Walrus and the Carpenter created by Leon Schlesinger Productions who would later rise to fame with the creation of such characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.
Although very highly detailed and cleverly done for the time, one of the factors that made the film a box office disappointment was the fact that despite having this star-studded cast, nobody could recognize them under the mask. The movie cast doubts whether a live-action film featuring characters in strange costumes could be a success until the Wizard of Oz was released in 1939.
This film is worth watching at least once if you happen to catch it one night on Turner Classic Movies or rent it on Netflix. It is not the first adaptation of Alice, nor is it the first talking picture of the story either. However, it's historic because it's the first big budget live-action version of the tale made in the United States. There wouldn't be another big screen version made in the States until Tim Burton's 2010 film which was more of a sequel than a retelling of Alice.
But it's worth checking out nonetheless.
Tomorrow's Alice Spotlight will feature the 1972 adaptation Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Much like the 1933 film live action. But this time produced in England. AND unlike the '33 film you can recognize the actor playing each character.