TV on DVD: Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)

Now Available to Own

As Academy Award ceremony buffs already knew-- even in his AARP days-- Jack Palance just wasn't a guy whom you'd ever want to cross as he proved his City Slickers might to Billy Crystal through push-ups and his trademark look of intimidation.

Therefore, all decked out in one of Bob Mackie's most flamboyant dark costume designs, he made the ultimate villainous Jabberwock in NBC's critically lauded, lavishly produced televised 1966 adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

As producer Bob Wynn shares in a “trip down memory lane” one-way discussion extra feature, given Palance's reputation for clocking directors, Palance agreed to meet man-to-man with Wynn to share his side of the punch-outs and true to his natural charisma and passion for the craft, when he was finished, Wynn agreed that he would've knocked out the same directors himself.

And if it seems a bit too on-the-nose casting-wise for Palance to play the heavy, this all-star extravaganza that perhaps feels more '60s variety show or Broadway revue than a true take on the classic work, then the intriguing decision to cast a girl nearly a decade older than her character in the form of Judi Rolin's Alice was anything but expected.

Looking a bit like the early sequences of Belle in Walt Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, Rolin's angelic voice and abundant enthusiasm help quell our initial surprise to catch a woman playing the easily bored but inquisitive girl who travels-- not through the C.S. Lewis like cupboard of the Narnia books-- but through the mirror above her fireplace to Looking Glass Land.

Meeting Bewitched actress Agnes Moorehead as the Red Queen and the White King and Queen (Ricardo Montalban and Annette Fabray) along with Tommy and Dick Smothers' Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Jimmy Durante's Humpty Dumpty, on her way Alice also encounters the ever-so-charming Lester the Jester played by Ray Castle, with whom Rolin's has slightly more womanly than girlish chemistry.

And throughout the journey fans of
Wonderland will begin realizing how much Carroll's love of chess and his emphasis on the second book's “second looks” at ideas from the first present an opposite or double image throughout.

The work involves themes concerning the importance of considering both sides of the story, this time memorably sung and danced throughout its roughly ninety minute running time via Tony Charmoli's choreography and Moose Charlap and Elsie Simmons' catchy songs.

Yet although Looking Glass isn't entirely faithful to the far more challenging text, it's still a classic charmer that took the very long way around Looking Glass Land for its DVD debut 44 years after it initially aired as one of television's most ambitious and expensive undertakings for that particular time period.

Shot on video and amazingly edited together in over one thousand hand razor-bladed cuts, Wynn who shares set details in the bonus feature that acts as a companion to his published memoirs I Used to Be Somebody discusses the challenges and joys of working with the large cast of renowned professionals with some renowned industry egos to deliver beloved TV magic.

While it's kitschy, nostalgic fun for adults-- especially those who originally saw the work back in 1966-- the broad style of pageantry verses cinematic subtlety makes this one play better to younger audiences through tweens, who will no doubt find themselves enchanted by the costume fantasy and laughing along with the Smothers Brothers whom I first discovered in old Johnny Carson highlight videotapes as a tween myself.

Presented in its original visual 4:3 aspect ratio and transferred to DVD in 2.0 sound, the Glass may not be quite as crystal clear as it would've appeared to viewers decades ago but given the way it was captured and protected, it's impressive that we're able to witness it in any format, let alone digitally which should ensure that another generation will uncover the era of song and dance verses modern-day tacky reality show NBC.

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Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.