Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Alice in Wonderland


A little gem like this film is, to me, worth ten of that overblown, dark, depressing warthog of a film by Tim Burton in 2010. SFX does not have to improve a movie. It’s even better than the Disney version, which I loved. This one, though it had a high budget for its time, is so much simpler and more true. It was a flop, and the consensus opinion is that few of the stars were recognizable in their costumes. It included just about everyone on the Paramount lot at the time, the biggest being Gary Cooper as the White Knight, W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, and Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle. I recognized Horton easily enough, and the voices clued me in to Cooper and Fields behind all that make-up, but Cary wears a cow’s head and a turtle’s body, and not even the voice would have identified him to me if I hadn’t seen him in the credits. He’s pretty funny, weeping all the time and singing a silly little song.

The credits themselves are interesting. They go on for 3 ½ minutes, and show first the character, then the actor. The creative craft departments were kept very busy indeed, and are one of the great delights of the movie. The set design by William Cameron Menzies is great, as are the costumes by Wally Westmore and the make-up. The script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz is more faithful to the books than anything I’ve seen before or since. They are sheer surreal insanity, full of puns, mathematics, riddles, skewed logic, word play. The SFX are good, for their time, including an imaginative way of shrinking and growing Alice. (Charlotte Henry, who won a talent search over 7,000 other women! She was convincing as a twelve-year-old, though she was nineteen.) There is an animated sequence of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” I can’t find out for sure who did it, but I’d bet money on the Fleischer Studio. It is totally unlike Disney, and happens in the topsy-turvy and slightly menacing world of Betty Boop and Koko the Clown.