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The first "talking" movie version of "Alice in Wonderland," produced in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1931, two years before Paramount's all-star production. Ruth Gilbert stars as Lewis Carroll's heroine in this black and white featurette (running under an hour) directed by Bud Pollard.
I'd been casually searching for a copy for years, and finally managed to get ahold of a DVD copy of a pretty battered 16mm print.
Well. It's about what you'd expect for a 1931 talkie -- a creaky curiosity of a film with overly broad acting, awkward pauses, rudimentary costumes and sets and a primitive-sounding soundtrack.
I have a hard time imagining that anyone enjoyed watching this, even in 1931; it comes across as little more than a filmed community theater production of "Alice" without any real sense of Carroll's wit or whimsy. (Then again, that's how I also feel about the 1933 movie starring Charlotte Henry, despite its higher production values.) The climactic trial of the Knave of Hearts does boast a decidedly shocking twist not found in the book that probably had Lewis Carroll turning in his grave.
A heavily made-up Ruth Gilbert was about 18 when she played Alice; a little of her "little girl" routine goes a long way. Now and then she tries to affect what may have been a trans-Atlantic accent, but most of the time she carries on like a Broadway chorine. (When confronted by the other characters toward the end, this all-too-American Alice yells at them, "Come on, all of you! Who's afraid of a paltry pack of cards!")
Still, despite its shortcomings, this film remains interesting from a historical perspective, not only as the first sound "Alice," but also as a reminder of Fort Lee's prominent place in early film history.
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