DVD Pick of the week: Alice in Wonderland (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Universal Studios Home Entertainment):
Unlike the current Tim Burton film, this 1933 adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic — the first live-action sound version of the oft-told tale — was not a box-office hit. At the time, it left kids puzzled and parents perplexed, but in retrospect it’s a fascinating bit of (admittedly oddball) nostalgia.
Charlotte Henry plays the eponymous heroine Alice, who embarks on a strange and wonderful journey through the looking glass, where in a series of vignettes she encounters a bevy of memorable characters, played by some of the biggest stars of the era: Edward Everett Horton (inspired casting) as the Mad Hatter, Richard Arlen as the Cheshire Cat, WC Fields as Humpty-Dumpty, Roscoe Karns and Jack
Oakie as Tweedlee and Tweedledum, Cary Grant (who sings!) as the Mock Turtle, and even Gary Cooper as the White Knight. For the cast alone, many in roles you’d never expect to see them play, this version offers its share of memorable moments — helped along by a Dimitri Tiomkin score.
Adapted from Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies (who supervised the art direction, sans credit), the film was originally released at 90 minutes and later edited down to 77. As a result, the pacing is slightly erratic, but there’s no denying that this is truly a one of a kind. It’s not perfect, but it is something else.
ALSO ON DVD’
“30 ROCK”: SEASON 3 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($49.98 retail) containing 22 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the critically-acclaimed, prime-time NBCTV series about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding a popular sketch-comedy series, which set a record for a comedy series by earning 22 Emmy nominations. It won five, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (for the episode “Reunion”) and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Alec Baldwin). Additional nominations included Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Tina Fey), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Jane Krakowski), Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Alan Alda, Steve Martin and Jon Hamm) and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Jennifer Aniston and Elaine Stritch). ABBY IN WONDERLAND (Sesame Workshop/ Warner Home Video): A gaggle of beloved “Sesame Street” characters populate this awardwinning, “Muppet-ized” version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, as they embark on their own adventure. This DVD, which includes a bonus music CD, retails for $14.98. “ALICE” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Caterina Scorsone plays the title role in this updated version of Alice in Wonderland, originally broadcast as a miniseries on the Syfy Channel. Andrew-Lee Potts plays the Mad Hatter, and the cast also includes Kathy Bates (as the Queen of Hearts), Colm Meaney (as the King of Hearts), Harry Dean Stanton (as Caterpillar) and Tim Curry (as Dodo). The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. CURIOUS GEORGE 2: FOLLOW THAT MONKEY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Tim Curry, Jamie Kennedy, Matt Lauer and Jerry Lewis are among the notable names who lend their voices to this animated follow-up to the 2006 film. This special-edition DVD ($19.95 retail) also includes two bonus episodes from the PBS children’s series. Rated G. FORGOTTEN NOIR: VOLUME 13 (VCI Entertainment): A twin-bill ($14.99 retail) of thrillers from the golden age of film noir: Robert Montgomery directs and stars in the 1950 courtroom drama Eye Witness (AKA Your Witness), which marked his final screen performance (although he lived until 1981), as well as that of co-star Leslie Banks (who didn’t); and 1952’s Breakdown, starring Ann Richards, William Bishop, Anne Gwynne and Sheldon Leonard. “HAVE GUN — WILL TRAVEL”: THE FOURTH SEASON, VOLUME ONE (CBS DVD/ Paramount Home Entertainment): Richard Boone (Emmy nominee as Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series) returns as Paladin, the erudite gunfighter for hire who rights wrongs as only he can, in the first 19 episodes from the 1960-’61 season of the fondlyremembered, prime-time CBS-TV Western series. This three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98. “HOT WHEELS BATTLE FORCE 5”: SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 (Warner Home Video): A boxed set ($14.97 retail) of the first six episodes from the 2009 season of the Cartoon Network series based on the popular (and durable) line of toy cars, in which a team of young drivers embark on a series of free-wheeling sci-fi adventures. ISLAND OF DESIRE (VCI Entertainment): Also known as Saturday Island, this 1951 melodrama stars Linda Darnell as a nurse and Tab Hunter (in his first starring role) as a young Marine who eventually find romance when stranded on an island in the South Seas during World War II — at least until a British flier (Donald Gray) crashlands upon their idyll. The acting’s good but the momentum flags in the latter stages.JESUS, MARY AND JOEY (Monarch Home Video): Originally titled Welcome Back, Miss Mary, this faith-based romantic comedy depicts the relationship between a young woman (Melissa George) born again after surviving cancer, and a childhood friend (writer/producer Vincent Pagano) whose family is Catholic. Complications ensue. This gets a nice push from its cast (which includes Stacy Keach, Tess Harper, Olympia Dukakis, Jennifer Esposito, Charles Durning, Lin Shaye, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Ken Lerner, Leo Rossi, Peter Onorati, Robert Costanzo, Dan Lauria, Jason Gedrick and Melissa Joan Hart) and works fairly well in its lighter moments, but the sappy second half strays too far into tearjerker territory. Rated PG-13. LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Image Entertainment): A superb ensemble cast (Jack Lemmon, Bethel Leslie, Peter Gallagher, Jodie Lynne McClintock and Kevin Spacey) reprise their roles from director Jonathan Miller’s 1986 Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Tony Award- and Pultizer Prize-winning drama about a dysfunctional, hard-drinking family trading recriminations during a summer day in 1912. Originally broadcast on cable-TV in 1987. Basically, they filmed the play, but when it’s a play this good with a cast this good … “MATLOCK”: THE FOURTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Mount Airy’s own Andy Griffith returns as the folksy but crafty Atlanta attorney Ben Matlock, on the case in all 23 episodes from the 1989-’90 season of the popular, award-winning prime-time NBC-TV series, which earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series (for the episode “The Chef”) and actually ran more years than “The Andy Griffith Show.” This six-DVD boxed set retails for $49.99. MONSTER BASH ORIGINS (Alpha New Cinema): Brian Keegan’s pleasant, affectionate (“fawning” might be a better word) documentary traces the origins of the annual “Monster Bash” convention, which celebrates the movie monsters of yesteryear. MUSIC MAKERS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The first wave in a series of music-themed movies: Ray Charles plays himself in 1964’s Ballad in Blue, directed by Paul Henreid (who also co-wrote the story); Sammy Davis Jr. headlines 1966’s A Man Called Adam, co-starring Louis Armstrong, Ossie Davis, Cicely Tyson, Frank Sinatra Jr., Mel Torme (as himself), Lola Falana (in her film debut) and Peter Lawford; Wim Wenders’ 1999 feature documentary Buena Vista Social Club earned an Oscar nomination in that category; and Kevin Spacey portrays the legendary crooner Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea (2004), which he also directed, produced and co-wrote. Each DVD retails for $14.98 and includes a bonus CD containing the following tunes: Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” Davis’ “I Want to Be Wanted,” Omara Portuondo’s “Veinte Anos,” and Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife.” “NURSE JACKIE”: SEASON ONE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Edie Falco returns to series television in this critically-acclaimed Showtime series about a hard-working, hard-headed emergency-room nurse trying to juggle personal and professional crises. All 12 episodes from the 2009 season are included in this boxed set, which retails for $39.98 on DVD, $39.99 on Blu-ray. SON OF THE DRAGON (Genius Products): A light-hearted but overlong martial-arts romp with John Reardon as an dauntless young thief and the late David Carradine (clearly having a good time) as his mentor, enmeshed in political and romantic intrigue in feudal China. Rupert Graves, as the villain, is miscast but a lot of fun. Filmed in location, and originally broadcast as a mini-series. Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. ‘ 2010, Mark Burger !