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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland (1933)

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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted March 21 2010 - 07:36 PM

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Alice in Wonderland
Studio: Universal (Original Theatrical Release by Paramount)
Original Release: 1933
Length: 1 hour 17 mins
Genre: Fantasy
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Color/B&W: Black & White (Packaging incorrectly says Color!)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating:  Not Rated (Appropriate for all ages)
Release Date: March 2, 2010
Rating: 1 ½     
Starring: Charlotte Henry as “Alice”, with Richard Arlen, Rosco Ates, Gary Cooper, Leon Errol, Louise Fazenda, W. C. Fields, Skeets Gallagher, Cary Grant, Raymond Hatton, Edward Everett Horton, Roscoe Karns, Baby Leroy, Mae Marsh, Polly Moran, Jack Dakie, Edna May Oliver, May Robson, Charlie Ruggles, Alison Skipworth, Ned Sparks and Ford Sterling
Directed By: Norman McLeod
In 1933, Paramount Pictures released a film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, roughly a year after the 100th anniversary of his birth. The idea was audacious enough, with Paramount utilizing every major talent under contract to them at the time in character roles as part of Carroll’s menagerie of fantastical creatures. Unfortunately, the film didn’t turn out as well as later works like The Wizard of Oz, which clearly owe a debt to this early rendition of the same idea. (You can track many similarities between this film and The Wizard of Oz, especially the conceit of the main character dreaming the fantasy adventure after encountering many of the key characters in her normal life.) Looking at the film today, the story doesn’t gel, the scenes bog down in many places, and the extreme makeups applied to the many stars that appear here render them unrecognizable. Gary Cooper and Cary Grant are but two of the bigger names who come through without the viewer knowing who has really just been on camera. W.C. Fields probably makes the biggest impression, given that his voice is unmistakable, but even he can’t do much behind the huge makeup head they’ve placed over him. In the end, this edition of Alice in Wonderland is more of a curiosity than a film that can draw much attention on its own merits.
This DVD release, clearly timed to coincide with the new Tim Burton movie showing in theaters as I write these words, features an adequate print of the print that Universal Studios has been using since it acquired the film from Paramount for home video release. I note that this print is apparently an edited copy which removes footage from the original Paramount version.   The picture quality varies – at some points there are large vertical lines running through complete shots. The sound quality is decent but nothing to make the film any more intelligible. (More on this in the sound section) And there are no extras or special features at all. One thing I must clear up, however,is that the packaging could fool some shoppers into thinking that this is a color film.   The packaging even notes that this is a Color print. This is NOT TRUE. The film is presented in black and white, through and through.
Alice in Wonderland is presented with a black and white print in the film’s original 1.33:1 ratio.  The print looks relatively clean, but there are many places in the movie where vertical lines appear through complete shots in the middle of scenes.   It’s hard to really see any complexity to the flesh tones or the picture details, as most of the cast is trapped under heavy makeup that really doesn’t stand the test of time.  
Alice in Wonderland is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix that doesn’t completely compensate for the problems with hearing clear dialogue through the large makeup appliances covering the actors’ heads. In several places in the film, I found myself needing to run the movie back and turn on the subtitles to understand the dialogue.. 
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.   A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.  
Alice in Wonderland is presented on DVD, at the same time that Tim Burton’s new production is filling theaters.  This early version from the 1930s doesn’t present anything more than a historical curiosity.   Film buffs may enjoy trying to find the stars under the heavy makeups used here, but this winds up being of limited entertainment value. If anything, the film here is a useful primer of the lessons used and utilized by later and more effective productions.
Kevin Koster
March 21, 2010

#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 21 2010 - 11:38 PM

I don't know anything about this particular adaptation but I
did find many reviews on Amazon stating that this is an EDITED version of the original 90 minute film.


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#3 of 7 ONLINE   ahollis



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Posted March 22 2010 - 01:50 AM

The story goes that the film was edited by MCA when they purchased the Paramount titles in the early 50's for TV sales.  However, the AFI Film Catalog states the running time between 75 and 76 minutes.  I know that does not end the discussion.  I have been told that there is 90 minute print at UCLA, can anyone verify that?  If so, I wonder why Universal did not make arrangements to use it.  I have this DVD and boy is it a strange journey.  I get the feeling that Tim Burton saw this while doing research for his version. 
"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   chas speed

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Posted March 22 2010 - 04:04 PM

MCA seems to own most early Paramount titles and I've never head of them "editing" any of them.  I don't think much of that rumor.

#5 of 7 ONLINE   ahollis



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Posted March 22 2010 - 04:24 PM

Originally Posted by chas speed 

MCA seems to own most early Paramount titles and I've never head of them "editing" any of them.  I don't think much of that rumor.
I concur with you even though I forwarded the rumor.  I put some trust in the AFI Catalog since they looked at a lot of the reviews from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety on the films.  But I also know mistakes can be made.  If the film was edited for time on television, it would have been done at the local station in those days.

"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman

#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 23 2010 - 10:37 AM

The supposed 90-minute version is looking like an urban legend to me. So far I have been unable to find a single authoritative source to back up the 90-minute story. A poster on another forum claims to have seen the original Variety review in 1933 and says that it lists the running time as 76 minutes. IMDB also has it listed at 76 minutes, while Maltin's "Classic Movie Guide" says 77 minutes.

I found the New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall (12/23/33), but it doesn't list the running time.

Rich Gallagher

#7 of 7 OFFLINE   BrianRi


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Posted March 23 2010 - 06:18 PM

Donald Deschner's THE FILMS OF W.C. FIELDS (1966) lists it as 90 minutes. Deschner only provides a synopsis and vintage reviews, so there are no comments about different running times.