Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Alice In Wonderland (1933)

Nothing screams Christmas time better than Alice in Wonderland….

Seriously, when I was watching this film a few weeks ago all I could think was this would be perfect for Christmas. I really don’t know why, but that’s what I thought.

Paramount’s 1933 adaption of the story mashes the two novels (Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) by Lewis Carrol together to form a tale that touches many of the high points. It manages to be a film that in a weird way is very nostalgic while at the same time coming across as a fevered nightmare (a line I stole from the Brooklyn Academy Of Music's description of the film).

The film begins on a snowy day as Alice is home with her Aunt. She is playing with her cat and annoying her Aunt with nonsense. She muses about what the room would be like when seen from the other side of the large mirror over the mantel. When her Aunt leaves the room she climbs up on the mantel and somehow manages to cross over into a room that is the reverse of the one she was in. Fearing that time is short and wanting to see what was through the doors, she hurries out of the room and ends up in the yard where she follows the rabbit down the hole. From there it's a mix of characters and events from the two novels.

The film is oddly one of the better Alice adaptations I’ve seen. Part of the reason for this is Alice is not a twit, which she is in the book, and many film versions. I actually can imagine seeing the film more than once, something that I don’t want to do with most other Alice films.

The selling point of it is the cast of Paramount stars who show up in garish, actually grotesque, make-up. Most of the stars are completely unrecognizable, and if the film didn’t point who was who you probably would never know who they were. Cary Grant is the Mock Turtle, which entails a suit that completely hides him. Gary Cooper is the White Knight, and he too is unrecognizable, except for his voice (Grant is completely submerged in his character). The make-up itself is as I said grotesque, with some of the heavily made-up faces being more monsters than people. The masks and the suits the actors wear are amazing, and of the sort that remind one of the kind of suits one might have had in Victorian England. Think sort of a twisted Currier and Ives.

There is something hypnotic about the film, and I found myself falling into it. I was adrift with Alice on her adventure, and it was surprising me at every turn. I mean I know the stories, but how Paramount put them together makes them something new.

I really liked it, though I can't completely tell you why. It's out on DVD so if you're a fan of Alice, or of strange Hollywood spectacles, or just curious I'd give it a try.

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