New on DVD This Week: Alices Aplenty, Richard Boone and More
by Jim Ridley
on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 2:23 PM
After the jump: Ron Wynn rounds up some of the week's notable releases on DVD.
With Tim Burton's edgy 3-D version of Alice in Wonderland coming out this weekend, several studios are releasing DVD editions of past Alice films Tuesday. They include a version from the '30s, '60s and '90s, each a different variation on Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll's brilliant 1865 combination nonsense fantasy and skewering of 19th century English pretension, class politics and bizarre rules and behavior.
Jonathan Miller's 1966 treatment of Alice in Wonderland (BBC Warner) has a wonderful cast, but proves a stern and less fanciful presentation despite such brilliant performers as Sir John Gielgud, Peter Cook, Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern and particularly Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts.
But perhaps the best thing about this version comes via its DVD extras. These include the complete 1903 silent film, plus a biopic about Alice Liddell, the young girl who was Carroll's inspiration for both Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through The Looking Glass. An additional treat comes from the music, which was supplied by sitar master Ravi Shankar. The soundtrack adds a prominent Eastern/mysterious element to an otherwise workmanlike effort, despite the distinguished actors.
A mild online controversy has been brewing over the release of Norman Z. McLeod's 1933 Alice in Wonderland (Universal), a film that's seldom seen anywhere, not even on cable or satellite classic movie channels. Its release is important because of its all-star cast -- Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Gary Cooper as the White Knight, W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty -- and a lavish production with a script credited to Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and legendary production designer William Cameron Menzies.
But the DVD is listed as being only 76 minutes -- the original was 90 -- and no one knows what's happened to the missing footage. It's hard to justify purchasing a classic DVD that's incomplete, so this may fall into completists-only territory. Still, if the afore-mentioned stars plus Edward Everett Horton and a 9-year-old Billy Barty sound like your cup of tea, by all means have a sip.
Nick Willing's 1999 Alice in Wonderland (Rhi) holds up better than either of the other two releases. A lot of that's due to the brilliance of then child star Tina Majorino, by far the best of the three actresses given the title role, who gets fine support from Robbie Coltrane, Whoopi Goldberg, Sir Ben Kingsley and Martin Short. The visuals and cinematography are considerably improved, as would be expected; there's a better blend of satire, farce and pathos than in the '30s presentation, and sharper pacing than in the '60s edition.
The Burton production will certainly be heavily discussed and debated, especially if the entire work packs equal thematic punch and visual splendor. Meanwhile, those curious about how other directors have approached the Carroll concept can get any or all of these films to compare their cinematic take on a literary classic.
TV on DVD
By its fourth season, Have Gun Will Travel had become a television institution. The Western hadn't yet exhausted its popularity. Richard Boone's enigmatic crusader Paladin had been the subject of a hit song, and the show reigned as the best of the half-hour cowboy sagas. This week the three-disc set Have Gun Will Travel -- The Complete Fourth Season, Vol 1. (Paramount) debuts, and it features some classic programs in the show's lengthy run.
These include the two-part episode "A Quiet Night In Town," the only time the series didn't conclude a show in one segment. It starred a youthful Sydney Pollack in an acting role many years before he achieved fame as a director. Another famous show was titled "The Shooting of Jessie May." It featured William Talman, who at the time had been booted from his featured role on Perry Mason due to legal troubles. Despite the pleas of Raymond Burr and other cast members, CBS had essentially blacklisted Talman, but allowed him to co-star in this episode. Viewer reaction was so favorable CBS soon relented, and Talman returned for the final seasons of Perry Mason, once more portraying D.A. Hamilton Burger.
Richard Boone also directed a handful of episodes that season and got along well with management, something that wasn't always the case during the show's history (1957-1963). Though Have Gun Will Travel now airs daily on Encore's Westerns Channel, those who don't spend all their money on cable or satellite TV can enjoy seeing these classic programs again.
There are also online sources such as TVaddicts.tv available for anyone who objects to the partial releases of vintage TV shows on DVD. The complete runs of these shows can be expensive, especially for any program running longer than five years, but they exist for people who can afford them.
Also in stores this week
Roland Emmerich's mega-grossing disaster bash 2012, with John Cusack attempting to outrun Armageddon; Spike Jonze's take on Where the Wild Things Are; Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess' barely released follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, which we don't believe ever played Nashville theaters; the Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! homage Bitch Slap; and one of last year's best animated features, Hayao Miyazaki's lovely Ponyo.