Alice in Wonderland (1915) and Alice in Wonderland (1933)
Film: Alice in Wonderland Alice in Wonderland
Year: January 19, 1915 December 22, 1933 Director: W.W. Young Norman Z. McLeod Writing Credits:
Novel: Lewis Carroll Lewis Carroll Adaptation: W.W. Young Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz/ William Cameron Menzies Producer: Louise D. Lighton Distributed by: American Film Paramount Pictures Manufacturing Company
Nonpareil Feature Film Corp Cinematography: Bert Glennon/ Henry Sharp Art Direction: William Cameron Menzies Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Alice: Viola Savoy Charlotte Henry Cheshire Cat: Richard Arlen Fish: Roscoe Ates Gryphon: William Austin White Knight: Gary Cooper Uncle Gilbert: Leon Errol
White Queen: Louise Fazenda Humpty Dumpty: W.C. Fields
King of Hearts: Alec B. Francis Rabbit: Herbert Rice Skeets Gallagher Mock Turtle: Cary Grant Cook: Lillian Harmer Mouse: Raymond Hatton Frog: Sterling Holloway Mad Hatter: Edward Everett Horton Tweedledee: Roscoe Karns Sheep: Mae Marsh
Dodo Bird: Polly Moran Tweedledum: Jack Oakie
Red Queen: Edna May Oliver Queen of Hearts: May Robson March Hare: Charles Ruggles Dormouse: Jackie Searl Duchess: Alison Skipworth Caterpillar: Ned Sparks
White King: Ford Sterling
January 22, 2011
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1915)
Alice in Wonderland illustrates why the silent genre remains both elusive and very effective. Without having to worry about what these characters sound like (or providing realistic mouth movements), director W. W. Young and his F/X team mimic the Victorian vitriol of John Tenniel (the artist who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) and come up with a weird, winning combination. The movie magic employed here is just amazing, and though definitely ancient in technique and modern equivalent, it really works here. This is especially true when Alice first falls down the rabbit hole as well as when she comes across the Dodo, the Walrus, and the rest of the animal convention.
The rest of the 1.33:1 full screen transfer is actually pretty good. The silent version suffers from several different title card designs (some look very old, some look like they were photo shopped last week) as well as a watermark at the corner of the frame.
The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix is tinny and thin, and that’s to be expected. The scores for both the silent and Disney Alices sound rinky-dink and unsophisticated.
Alice in Wonderland(1915) The first version near to the novel, this silent movie stars Viola Savoy. Though many believe the complete film is lost, this take runs 52 minutes. Produced long before CGI, the creatures are played by costumed actors, and the absence of dialogue creates a surreal, dreamlike quality. Look for co-star Elmo Lincoln, who went on to later fame as the first Tarzan!
Produced by Nonpareil Feature Film Company, directed by W.W. Young, “picturized” by Dewitt C. Wheeler. Alice is played by Viola Savoy. Most of the scenes were filmed on an estate on Long Island. The film as originally made contained scenes from Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking-Glass. Running time: fifty minutes (five reels).
Before members of the press and invited guests, and to the accompaniment of the thirty-piece orchestra, a delightful Alice had its “initial showing” at the Strand Theatre in January 19, 1915. This film, unlike its ten-minute predecessors, ran a complete hour. Various version of this film are commercially available today. The print in my collection commences with Alice and her sister meandering through pastoral farm scenes, filmed on an estate outside New York City. After falling asleep on her sister’s lap, a shadowy Alice leaves the body of the sleeping Alice and follows the rabbit. Most of the sequences and characters of Alice’s Adventures are incorporated, including a Father William who actually performs a back somersault and balances an eel on the end of his nose. The lobster quadrille scene was filmed on a rocky beach at Cape Ann on the Massachusetts coast. In this scene two tremendous lobsters (with striped pants) come out of the pounding surf. On shore they meet a very sad Mock Turtle.
This film is charming from beginning to end, with elaborate, as well as delightful, costuming. Actors who were midgets portrayed the animals so that Alice would always be taller than her friends. The use of natural surroundings throughout the film sets a tone totally missing in later productions. There is no attempt to have Alice change size, which is somewhat surprising considering the earlier films did include such changes. Interestingly, this highly successful film was directed by a newspaper editor whose only motion picture experience outside of Alice appears to have been as editor of British Government official war films. Alice was apparently exhibited in many different versions. The original contains both Wonderland and Looking-Glass sequences. Reviews at the time were most favourable, and as late as 1921 the film had a New York screening at Town Hall.
Alice in Wonderland. Produced by Nonpareil Feature Film Company, directed by W.W. Young, “picturized” by Dewitt C. Wheeler. Alice is played by Viola Savoy. The film as originally made contained scenes from Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking-Glass. Running time: approximately fifty minutes (five reels). Reviewed: The Moving Picture World, 6 February 1915, p. 841; Motography, 20 February 1915, p. 307; New York Times, 22 March 1921, p. 15. Book illustrations from film: Alice in Wonderland (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1918).
Lewis Carroll Observed edited by Edward Guiliano
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)
This filmed version was based primarily on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the fantasy Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) wrote in 1865, but borrowed slightly from his 1871 sequel Alice Through the Looking-Glass.
In Alice’s wonderful dream, she comes into a marvellous land of adventure. After drinking a magic potion and eating a magic cake, she grows alternately tall and short and runs into a generous assortment of odd characters. She philosophizes with the Caterpillar; takes advise from a vanishing Cheshire Cat; has a wild tea-party with the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse; plays croquet with the King and Queen of Hearts; watches the Mock Turtle dance; and, eventually, meets the handsome White Knight (huh?-maybe if the young Gary Cooper wasn’t in costume!!!), Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and many others.
This imaginative production, while closely following the text and spirit of Carroll’s original stories, and characters, was ahead of its time, but did not do well at the box office. Audiences were not amused to find their screen favourites submerged in strange costumes and ill-fitting makeup—although that was the charm of the overall concept. Some of the most creative talent ever assembled on the Paramount lot slaved to bring this fantasy a freshness and uniqueness. Perhaps they all worked a little too hard.
Cooper was one of the few of the top stars who was fairly recognizable—as the White Knight (perhaps by his voice only). Originally, Paramount imported young Ida Lupino from England for the role of Alice but, after testing her, they changed to Brooklyn-born Charlotte Henry, who gave a delightful characterization in the difficult role of Alice. She was to make more film appearances including Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers, but later faded away, while Lupino went on to a progressive acting and directing career in movies and, later, television.
Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune stated, “The most unfortunate aspect of the screen version is in its generous but ill-advised assembling of film notables. You may be amused at Gary Cooper’s make-up as the White Knight…For Miss Henry in the role of Alice, there can be nothing but praise.” Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times’ critic, felt “It is a marvel of camera magic and staging, but there are times when several of the players appear to be giving more thought to their grotesque appearances than to the reflection of their lines. Gary Cooper makes a very poor White Knight.”
The Films of Gary Cooper by Homer Dickens (1970)
With a fancy new salary, Frank James Cooper was assured of his worth in Hollywood. Taking time in August of 1933 to legally change his name to Gary Cooper, he also confirmed his identity. His next assignment as the White Knight in Alice in Wonderland should have underscored it.
Paramount was prompted to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll with the first feature-length film version. Episodes were borrowed from the Alice Through the Looking-Glass. The picture was assigned to director Norman McLeod, whom the publicity department described as “a veritable son of Barrie with a love of the whimsical.” He directed the Marx Brothers’ first two Hollywood movies, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. The great designer and director William Cameron Menzies shared screenplay credit with Joseph Mankiewicz (who also went on to produce and direct), but the Menzies style is principally evident in the bold and elaborate visual effects. It’s unlikely he did any writing.
The production schedule suggests anything but meticulousness. Girls were being tested for the part of Alice in August; the script was completed in September; the picture was a Christmas release.
Although the book reads like a great movie, logical illogic defied screen adaptation. Many of the star actors simply appear uncomfortable under their cumbersome Halloween costumery. The startling compositions are arresting on first appearance, but are held on screen too long, becoming blatantly artificial. The picture is stiff and stuffy.
Everyone in the cast, Cooper included, walks through his part with a curiously spiritless delivery (I thought he may have either felt awkward or enjoyed being goofy) inappropriate to Carroll’s adventuresome mood. Cooper as the White Knight is given some of the best dialogue and some of the worst direction of his career.
The conception is marvellous; the playing, apologetic. His shenanigans on and off his horse grow more wearisome with each repetition. Cooper has his funniest moments simply tilting back and forth in the saddle, threatening to topple off with every roll.
In a perceptive review, Variety pointed out that Alice in Wonderland managed to make its origin from a classic a hindrance. “Use of heavy names for most of the parts represents a dead loss other than for billing…Each identity is concealed behind an elaborate mask…any one of Joe Cook’s stooges (an American actor, comedian and entertainer who played in vaudeville and on Broadway) would have served as well for the White Knight as played by Gary Cooper. (I believe that having Gary Cooper in the cast rather than Joe Cook acting the stooge, is much more valuable to most film buffs.)
Arce`s prologue ends with this quote: The choices Gary Cooper made in his personal life hadn`t always been the happiest ones, but they were, in retrospect, the right ones. Throughout his career of nearly one hundred motion pictures, he’d invariably done the right thing. He was, after all, the White Knight.
Gary Cooper, An Intimate Biography by Hector Arce(1979)
Norman McLeod directed his stint and then guided Cooper in the later released Alice in Wonderland (1933), a delightful and unjustly neglected fantasy in which Cooper masquerades as the White Knight, equipped with bulbous nose, scraggly white mane, bald pate, and clanking armor.
Gary Cooper by Rene Jordan (1974)
Before the close of 1933, Cary Grant appeared as himself, along with countless other film celebrities, in ten-minute Paramount shorts entitled Hollywood on Parade, followed by a star-studded version of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland, released for Christmas. As the mournful Mock Turtle, who sang tearfully about “beautiful, beautiful soup,” Grant was heavily disguised. In the capable hands of art director William Cameron Menzies, the storybook fantasy came enchantingly to life, aided by the inventive direction of Norman Z. McLeod, then a recent veteran of Marx Brothers madness and the omnibus comedy-drama If I Had a Million (coincidentally Cooper’s film just prior to Alice in Wonderland.) To play Alice, Paramount had imported young Ida Lupino from England, but found her much too sophisticated for the role. Instead, they gave the part to Charlotte Henry, a diminutive teenager who had played in several Fox and Tiffany features. (She was to fade away several years later via Monogram and Republic.) The critics generally liked Miss Henry, and they particularly singled out Grant’s Mock Turtle, W.C. Fields’ Humpty Dumpty, Alison Skipworth’s Duchess, and Charles Ruggles’ March Hare. Working mainly from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with borrowed helpings from its sequel Alice Through the Looking-Glass, screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz (thirteen years before his directorial debut with Drangonwyck) prepared a unique cut-by-cut script, which Menzies had illustrated profusely. Many considered this the best version of Alice in Wonderland yet filmed.
Cary Grant by Jerry Vermilye (1973)
In September 1933, Cary made an appearance as the Mock Turtle in a grotesque version of Alice in Wonderland. Encased in a suffocatingly hot costume, with a papier-mâché shell and a large head with false eyes, through which his own could only dimly peer, he could not have been more uncomfortable. The weird parody of an English classic he had liked as a child can scarcely have improved his spirits.
Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley (1989)
The screen version of Alice in Wonderland is not likely to please either lovers of Lewis Carroll’s famous book or those who like their cinema straight.
The story of the candid little girl who goes through a looking glass and meets a very odd collection of beings is closely adhered to. Scenarists have used incidents from both Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. But they have been faithful to the author’s spirit in somewhat lumbering fashion.
Included in the cast are…to name only a few highly publicized stars. With the exception of Miss Oliver and Baby LeRoy, their make-ups as the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum, the White Knight, Humpty Dumpty, and so on are so complete as to make them virtually unrecognizable.
Alice is played by Charlotte Henry of Brooklyn, New York, who heretofore has filled only small parts on the stage and screen. At 18 she seems still unsophisticated and quite in the spirit of the literary Alice. The only flaw in her portrayal is that the supposedly 12-year-old Alice has carefully plucked eyebrows. (I didn’t notice, but we’ll have to look!)
The basic fault in the whole affair is that the constant repetition of cinematic miracles becomes monotonous. In the book one of the chief charms was the stimulation given to the imagination. In the film, they are only trick photography.
Newsweek: (contemporary review)
At first glance Alice in Wonderland and Going Hollywood would appear to have nothing in common, but both of these new products of the West Coast studios suffer from the same complaint. Superficially handsome, staged with lavish care and fairly bristling with celebrated performers, they represent an obsession with physical production which quite overshadows the material inherent in them. As a series of animated illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s book in the Tenniel manner, Alice in Wonderland is a splendid success, but it achieves little more than this. Settings, costume, make-up and the distortion of backgrounds are perfectly executed. The characters, however, instead of being delightfully mad creatures engaged in one of the greatest fantasies ever conceived, move woodenly from one pose to another. Technically, the films is excellent, translating all of the Carroll concepts to the screen in literal terms, the walrus and the carpenter episode being done as an animated cartoon. But although such notables as Cooper, Oliver, Fields, Arlen, Moran and Skipworth don strange disguises in the principal roles, they do not succeed in capturing the elusive and splendid quality of the book. A virtual newcomer, Charlotte Henry, gives the best performance.
Argus in The Literary Digest