Although not quite so wonderful as the Disney-produced 1951 animated version directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske, Norman Z. McLeod’s Alice in Wonderland, which is populated by heavily made-up actors, is a gem. It is quaint, richly Victorian although much simpler than the two books upon which it is based, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pen-name Lewis Carroll. The screenplay is by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies. Charlotte Henry, who was roundly disparaged by reviewers, is charming as Alice, and also in the cast are Gary Cooper as the White Knight, W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty, May Robson as the Queen of Hearts, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, Jack Oakie as Tweedledum, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen, Charles Ruggles as the March Hare, and Richard Arlen as the Cheshire Cat. Alas, its 90 minutes were cut to 76 minutes to accommodate commercials in its 90-minute television slot. “Off with her something!” the original broadcasters demanded during a high-level game of croquet. The excised footage was apparently destroyed.
The opening enchants. It is snowing outside, and adolescent Alice—she is 7 in the original books—is the perfect picture of bored idleness. (In a postmodern gesture, she may be thumbing through a copy of one of Carroll’s Alice books. It’s hard to say unless you turn around what you must see upside down.) Seized by a spirit of adventure (and perhaps an invisible Coc-a-teau), she presses her way through the mirror in the room and off she goes, meeting one unrecognizable Paramount player after another amidst imaginative sets and lovely, modest special effects. There are talking animals and nonsense songs, and here and there, scattered throughout, delight and enchantment. There are dry spots, too, and never any real sense of danger that Alice might lose her head.
But she did lose 14 minutes.
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