Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie is a story you’ve no doubt seen on film before, but not this version. We present W.W. Young’s 1915 silent adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved fantasy, the third Alice to reach movie screens, combining scenes from both Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Considering this was decades before CGI and the film industry was then in its infancy, the movie remains quite enchanting, and moves at a brisk pace, encapsulizing the story in five reels, or 42 minutes. The Mad Hatter, Rabbit, Queen of Hearts, Smoking Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat are all portrayed by actors wearing costumes. Yes, it’s primitive in that sense, but nevertheless evokes Carroll’s surreal Dreamland just as surely as latter adaptations harnessing modern technologies. It goes to show: You don’t need elaborate special effects to conjure up magic, you just need an active imagination.
Viola Savoy, the 15-year-old actress playing Alice, certainly embodies the role: She’s gangly and giggly, and completely believable as a Victorian era ingenue. Much of it’s shot outdoors, showcasing the beaches and forests of California before everything under the sun got paved over. If it seems a bit rushed, plotwise, part of the reason lies in the fact that another 10-12 minutes of footage have been lost. Grosset & Dunlap published a companion book in 1916, and we know from the illustrated book that entire scenes are missing, including Alice’s initial meeting with the Mad Hatter and the definitive scene where she first grows big and then small. Too bad that’s gone. It would have been interesting to see how that got handled before special effects grew more sophisticated.
Fortunately, there’s still more than enough here to savor. Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.