It's quite hard to understand today, but back in the day ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy were immensely popular, mostly from their radio show (the point of doing a ventriloquist act on the radio, where you can just make voices without having to pretend your mouth is shut and it's the dummy who does the talking, kind of defies me), even becoming, unknowingly, part of the cause of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds scare, since most of the audience missed the beginning of Welles' broadcast in which it was properly introduced as a fictional radio play, due to the masses being listening to Bergen's show on a rival station and only switching the dial when it ended. That's how big it was.
So, considering this, I guess getting Bergen and McCarthy, as themselves, into a production of Alice in Wonderland must have been one of the strongest selling points of it, but to modern audiences they pretty much spoil the show by participating. It's Lewis Carroll what I want to watch, not a ventriloquist and his dummy cracking quite lame jokes all the time as they appear as a sort of Greek chorus all through the show and eating up a lot of screen time that could have been used to get more parts of the book into this abridged production.
Their prominence is a pity, since the rest of this version is a fairly good adaptation that, as expected, doesn't capture the multiple layers of the book but is pretty true in a simplified way and well-acted overall. The Caterpillar, for instance, played by an actor named Chandler Cowles, is the meanest version of the character I've seen on screen, speaking to Alice in a quite angry condescending way, and this is true to the book, in which he was meant to represent a kind of strict professor, not the laid back portrayal it tends to have in other versions (no doubt due to the water pipe interpreted as a "stoner" factor). The highlight of this production for me was the Duchess scene, with a great portrayal by Cliff Hall plus a perfectly cast Una O'Connor, complete with a prosthetic nose, as the cook (fear not, she doesn't do any of her trademark Invisible Man shrieking here), though this segment is ruined at its ending by changing the baby into something very different from the book, something to be blamed also to the Bergen factor (sigh). I got excited upon learning that the Queen of Hearts was played here by the sadly non-prolific Blanche Yurka, who greatly impressed me in A Tale of Two Cities, but alas, while she's good here, her part is greatly reduced in comparison to the book, the only one of her appearances that makes it into the show is the trial, and even there it reverses Carroll by having the King of Hearts be the strongest half of the couple. As such, Yurka is little more than a glorified extra. I would have loved to see her perform all of the Queen of Hearts material in the book, but I guess it was more important to make room for Bergen.
Still it remains a decent version, and remarkably while most of the cast were well-known performers (including TV star Art Carney in a fun performance as the Hatter) they DO play the characters instead of adapting them to their usual persona's like some better known adaptations do. Yes, 1985 disaster with Natalie Gregory, I'm looking at you. The actress playing Alice here, Robin Morgan, while understandably an adult since it would be hard to find a child suitable enough to do live theater on TV, is pretty good.
This forgotten adaptation can be watched on YouTube at the time of this writing, but keep in mind this was broadcast live so expect to see crew members walking in front of the camera, set borders in plain sight due to incorrect framing, and actors flubbing their entrances or briefly forgetting their cues, all of which happens in this. Yet it is a nice curio for Alice fans, as long as Bergen and McCarthy don't put you too off. 6/10.
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