Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Reviews
Note: I've now seen 5 out of 20 film adaptations of Carroll's stories. See my blog for more information on this project.
This 1972 adaptation is, refreshingly, something of an exception and stands out as the best live-action version of the book. Director William Sterling shrewdly evokes the dark and often frightening vision of Wonderland as dreamed up by Lewis Carroll. Fiona Fullerton heads the cast making a pleasant Alice. What Fullerton succeeds in doing is actually taking you with her on a magical journey, allowing you to view the bizarre adventures through her eyes, conjuring a feeling of being drawn into a child's dream that steadily escalates into a nightmare.
Fiona Fullerton is most certainly given admirable support from a stellar cast, featuring some of the best British thespians of the era. The multi-talented Michael Crawford assumes the role of the jittery White Rabbit. Crawford plays the part with a certain flair, relying mostly (and appropriately) on his inimitable comic skills. Robert Helpmann (who is more well known for his famous role as the evil child catcher in another excellent classic children's movie, Chitty,Chitty, Bang, Bang) shines as the notorious Mad Hatter during the manic Mad Hatter's tea party sequence. Helpmann's comic facial expressions and spirited playing makes the sequence work extremely well. He shares the spotlight in this madcap scene with Peter Sellers whom gives a fine supporting turn as the March Hare, whilst Dudley Moore causes some amusement as the poor, put-upon Dormouse.
Ralph Richardson delivers a fairly fine performance as the Caterpillar in a very vivid scene, whilst Davy Kaye as the Mouse during the dreamy Caucus Race Sequence, plays the role with a degree of subtlelty. Much more effective, though, is Flora Robson, putting in a fantastic interpretation of the ferocious Queen Of Hearts and is both comical and scary in the role. Michael Jayston appears in the opening scene as Dodgson and Duckworth (Hywel Bennett) sit on a river bank one hot summer's afternoon. It is here where Dodgson begins telling Alice the story of Alice's adventures underground.
The nightmarish Duchess and Cook sequence is ignited by a fittingly off-beat performance from Peter Bull as the Duchess, while Patsy Rolands, as the demented, pepper-loving, plate-throwing Cook, takes this role to fabulous new heights! The sullen, ever-crying Gryphon is played marvellously by Spike Milligan, while Michael Hordern is equally excellent as the Mock Turtle. This fun sequence where Alice, the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle are seen running and dancing their way round a deserted beach, is speeded up at points to add to its comical and magical effect. The scene is also accompanied by one of the very few effective songs of the saccharine soundtrack, 'Will You, Won't You Join The Dance?'
Roy Kinnear is the permanently grinning and somewhat snide Cheshire Cat, and other notable players in the more than capable cast include Dennis Price in a small but adequate role as the King Of Hearts, Rodney Bewes as the bumbling Knave Of Hearts, Julian Chagrin as Bill The Lizard (seen during the scene where Alice has grown large and is stuck in the White Rabbit's house; Bill the Lizard attempts to slide down the chimney into the house but Alice then swiftly kicks him back up again), Freddie Earle as Guinea Pig Pat (also seen during the White Rabbit's house scene), Ray Brooks as 1 of Spades, Dennis Waterman as 2 of spades and, of course, not forgetting twin brothers Frank and Freddie Cox who make the definitive Tweedledee and Tweedledum (characters that were taken from a segment in Lewis Carroll's sequel Through The Looking Glass And What Alice Found There; most stage and screen versions often tend to draw large segments from both Alice books).
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972) encapsulates a dreamy, very hazy-like effect that enhances the atmosphere, intentionally giving the film an often dark, creepy edge. It strikes an even balance between moments of fun, magical comedy to more frightening settings.
Most of the film is engaging and totally enchanting.For instance, the surreal sequence at the beginning of the adventure is one of the scenes that really stands out in my mind as it is done to bewitching effect. Alice wakes up in a giant story book
garden and spots the White Rabbit gazing at his waist watch. Alice proceeds to follow the White Rabbit into a long, dark tunnel. Keeping up with the whole familiar ethos of Alice In Wonderland's most famous catchphrase, 'Curiouser And Curiouser', Alice continues following the White Rabbit unaware of the danger lying in front of her and then finds herself tumbling down a large rabbit hole, landing in the whimsical, topsy-turvy world of Wonderland. The score, courtesy of John Barry, is masterful and hauntingly
atmospheric during this sequence.
The Pool Of Tears sequence also works incredibly well, where, after plummeting down the rabbit hole, Alice finds herself in a large hall full of doors. A small door, to her delight, leads into a beautiful garden. It is here where she discovers potions and cakes that alternately make her shrink or grow large. At one point, Alice grows large and begins crying which subsequently leads to her shrinking and swimming in her own pool of tears. Alice is washed ashore from the pool of tears and finds herself indulging in the Caucus Race with a mouse, dodo, owl, magpie, frog, duck and an eagle in a vastly surreal sequence! I've heard (as I'm sure you all have) various myths that Lewis Carroll was high on LSD at the time of writing the book. I have no idea whether this is true or not but you certainly can see peoples perceptions of this when you watch all these odd goings on in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. I put it all down to a bizarre but great imagination on Lewis Carroll's part and this film merely reflects that. Even so there's something that distinctly gives me the creeps when watching scenes such as The Pool Of Tears and the Caucus Race.
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972) is even more disturbingly surreal later on in the film such as the scene in the forest where a torrential storm occurs and a a giant black crow emerges from the gloomy sky ready to attack Alice. The Duchess and Cook sequence also used to really give me the creeps when I first watched this at 4 years old back in 1983. There was just something eerie and nightmarish about the whole scene but again this ties in closely with the book. The Trial of the Knave Of Hearts is where it gets most off-the-wall and at the close of this scene there are lots of swirling, hallucegenic close-ups of the characters. Alice, of course, then wakes up on the riverbank as it was all just a dream.
What compliments the mesmerising, hypnotic vibe of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is a bewitching, hauntingly atmospheric score by BAFTA-winning, John Barry. The film also boasts magnificent cinematography from Geoffrey Unsworth which sticks closely to the original illustrations of the book. Some of the cardboard-like sets look far more suited for a stage production but many are eye catchingly beautiful and sumptuous.
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972) is an extremely faithful and enchanting adaptation that's most noble in its loyalty to the book. In that fact it deserved far greater recognition than it has received. Widely regarded as the best live-action screen version by lovers of the book, it was still unfairly slated by critics of the day where some claimed it was too long, tedious and boring. To a point I can see where they're coming from so you really have to be in the right mood to take this film on. On the right day it proves a thrilling, almost hypnotic viewing experience.
In an attempt to ignite the films fortunes, Fiona Fullerton was being promoted as the new Julie Andrews, but this did little to help the films fate. Making matters worse was Peter Sellers who blatantly criticised the film to the media before it had even opened at cinemas! Sadly, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland did not endure the high Box Office turn over as anticipated.
It's true that Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972) is too slow and bland at points but on casting its shortcomings (which you can over-look) aside, it's most definitely worth a look. Fans of Alice In Wonderland that have not yet had the delight of watching this charming, atmospheric version, will be thoroughly enthralled.
It's curious how awful a film can get!