"ALICE IN WONDERLAND."
Children will be delighted by the screen version of "Alice in Wonderland," which is now on view at the Plaza Theatre. The queer creatures of Lewis Carroll's two books, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking- glass," have been brought to life in the most lavish way by the Paramount studios. There are certain drawbacks in the production. In the first place, it is doubtful whether every Australian child will be able to understand the ultra-American speech of Paramount's Alice. Charlotte Henry, the actress who plays the role, was chosen for it after an extensive search all over America. Just as Sir James Barrie decided, after sifting out hundreds of possibilities, that Betty Bronson was the ideal Peter Pan for the screen, so the Para- mount directors have picked out Miss Henry as the ideal Alice. It is difficult to see why. Her manners are monotonous, and her face, though appropriately simple and youthful, is not particularly expressive. But, most of all, she has a tendency to mumble and mutter in her sharp-edged American voice, so that whole phrases become lost to the ear.
Apart from Alice, the film is well produced, with a stimulating sense of fantasy and the grotesque. A magnificent cast has been assembled for it. In fact, practically every Paramount actor of note has taken some sort of a part. But, as most are completely dis- guised from the eye of the spectator in the habiliments of frogs or caterpillars or what not, the roles might have been played by almost anybody with equal effect. It becomes a matter of picking out the actor by the voice alone, and people who go to the film with no previous knowledge of the casting will find it interesting to try and identify the players they have seen so often. Among the actors who are less completely trans- mogrified, some are amusing and some fail in a marked manner to be at all entertaining or significant. Though children will inevit- ably follow the film with glee, the principal thought the production will inspire in many adult minds is the query whether it is possible, even under the most alert, the most sensitive, the most poetical direction, to bring Wonderland to life in a really satisfactory way. In the film at the Plaza, the camera has excelled itself. It shows Alice growing, for instance, and shrinking, in the most ingenious fashion. But, long before the end arrives, the magic of Lewis Carroll's original text seems to have evaporated completely.
"Only Yesterday," which is being presented at the new Liberty Theatre, is, up to a point, a film of exceptional force and sincerity. Mar- garet Sullavan, an actress whom this picture brings for the first time before the cinema public, is a player who takes her place im- mediately among the genuinely distinguished stars of the screen. In discussing her work, there is no need for the reservations that must be made when the film itself is under review. Since Katharine Hepburn made her first appearance not long ago, no actress has come forward in American films to make so definite a claim to the attention of picture-goers.
In its early scenes, "Only Yesterday" is a worthy medium through which to present this new player. The opening scene, which offers a description of a hectic, chattering cocktail party in an expensive New York apartment, is a brilliant piece of film-making, all the more commendable because the theme has been treated, in a commonplace style, a hundred times before. In the scenes which immediately follow, Margaret Sullavan's portrait of a young girl in love is com- pletely enchanting. Her acting gives this passage a rare quality of poignancy. She has little of the artificial radiance of the average Hollywood beauty. Her voice is appealing with a deep, husky tone; but it is not that alone which compels the spectator. Chiefly, it is a profound talent for the re- presentation of mood and character. It is a pity that, after a time, the film is allowed to disperse its energies in another of those im- possibly difficult death bed scenes, with which film producers insist on weighing down other- wise excellent dramas.
Billie Burke is a delightful aunt of the unhappy heroine, and John Boles, Reginald Denny, and Benita Hume fit neatly into other leading parts. "Only Yesterday" is a Uni- versal production.
"SECRET OF THE SKIES."
Mr. Dick Harwood, who has produced "Secret of the Skies," a new Australian film, has had the advantage of a most promising theme. The tale is based on the disappearance of the air-liner, Southern Cloud, which was completely lost on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne a few years ago. The aeroplane in Mr. Harwood's picture bears another name; but many of the circumstances are the same, and he sets out to describe what might have been the fate of the passengers and crew of such a machine on such a flight.
As a result of a scrimmage on board the air liner Golden Eagle, the pilot makes a forced landing in the Victorian ranges, 100 miles from anywhere. One of the passengers is a bank clerk, who is absconding with £10,000 of the bank's money, but the other occupants are not very interesting people, and that is one of the film's chief defects. If one is to spend an hour on a mountain top with seven, stranded travellers it is desirable that they should be amusing or interesting in some way or other. Except for the pilot (played extremely well by John Darcy) they are ill at ease, and their conversation is starchy. This conversational stiffness is em- phasised by the lack of action, particularly on the part of the camera, which is set down in front of the unhappy party, and stays there without a movement for minutes on end. But the film has its moments of vitality. The actual crash is first-rate; and quite equal to similar instances in American pictures. The preceding scene, in the cockpit of the 'plane, is forcefully handled. In some of the scenes in the bush one is made to feel the remoteness of the travellers and the hopelessness of their position; but elsewhere stagey treatment and acting often rob the film of the spontaneity and the dramatic intensity it should have possessed. "Secret of the Skies," a Centenary film production, is being shown simultaneously at the Arcadia Theatre, the Broadway Theatre, and the Australian Theatre (Liverpool-street).
"THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX
"The Mystery of the Wax Museum" is one of those films in which the action moves with such rapidity that even the characters feel constrained to talk at high pressure. A sculptor who turned his genius to the making of wax figures creates lifelike statues of great historical personalities, which he exhibits in a museum in London. But the venture is a com- mercial failure, and his partner sets fire to the place in order to collect the insurance. The last seen of the London museum is the beautiful wax figures melting; becoming gro- tesque caricatures; tumbling in flames. The sculptor (played by Lionel Atwill) is impris- oned in the burning building. The scene shifts to New York, 12 years later. Again there is a wax museum, with the sculptor, unexpectedly alive, but apparently crippled, in charge of it. But in a manner which is not explained till the end, and then not alto- gether satisfactorily, the museum, the sculp- tor, his former partner, and various other characters are linked with a series of murders and the disappearance of corpses from be- neath the eyes of morgue attendants. There are also some scenes in an American news- paper office in which the staff behaves as one is led to believe newspaper staffs behave in New York. That is to say, editors work with their hats on and interview people with their feet on the table, and reporters address them with the familiarity of college pals. The pic- ture contains no great scope for exceptional acting, which seems hardly necessary in such
a collection of tense incidents, underground thrills of the conventional cellar type, and swift transitions. Mr. Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, and Frank McHugh, however, do all that is to be expected of them, though the swiftness of Miss Farrell's speech at times
makes it difficult to follow.
The film is in technicolour throughout. The photography generally is outstanding. Re- leased by Warner First National Pictures, the film is being shown at the Regent Theatre.
"WHAT PRICE INNOCENCE?"
Willard Mack, the American playwright, is probably right in the view he puts forward in "What Price Innocence?" that the mod- ern girl is less sophisticated than she is gen- erally reputed to be. It is a matter of common experience that she is susceptible to the same pitfalls which misled her sisters a generation ago. The play raises the old question of whether parents should acquaint their chil- dren with the facts of life. When Ruth Har- pur, a delicately nurtured girl of 17, falls in love with a boy whose amorous pleadings stop short at such expressions as "I'm nuts on you," "I'm just crazy about you," she longs to talk to her mother about things, but her mother's false modesty bars the way. More- over, the mother cherishes a steadfast faith in the moral inflexibility of her daughter. When an old doctor friend of the family counsels her to listen to the questionings of Ruth, she indignantly replies, "Why nothing like that could ever happen to my daughter." That she was wrong the event proved. The story of Ruth's downfall is handled with de- licacy and tact. Jean Parker admirably sus- tains the role of the unhappy girl. Minna Gombell is the self-deceiving mother, and Bryant Washburn, the father who "always leaves such things to the wife." Ben Alex- ander, once famed as the portrayer of little boy parts, plays the young rotter who turns Ruth's innocence to his own advantage. Wil- lard Mack's impersonation of Dr. Dan Davidge is the best thing in the play. "What Price Innocence?" is a Columbia picture, and Is now on view at the Capitol Theatre.
"I BELIEVED IN YOU."
The opening scenes of "I Believed in You" are full of swirling movement. The camera follows a procession of miners on their way to work in the misty dawn. It shows a riot, in which an agitator is manhandled; the agita- tor's escape through the fog; and his rescue by a girl in a lonely house. So far and a little farther, the film moves with a fine feeling of urgency, and almost in silence. What is said is said with vivid pictorial images reinforced with an irresistible musical accompaniment. But, as so often happens, the film soon degen- erates into sentimental clap-trap. The agitator and the girl migrate to Greenwich Village, which is New York's Bohemia, and there the girl is introduced to a group of affected poets and painters. She learns that those people are mere poseurs; whereas a circle of opulent poets and painters who take tea In a million- aire's drawing-room are the genuine and im- portant artists of New York. This latter half of the film is based on several false assump- tions. First, it is assumed that all poor and unsuccessful artists are shams. Secondly, it is assumed that an artist's value can be mea- sured by the extent of his social graces; whereas many great artists have been notably lacking in the ability to charm. But some interest is given, even to this section of the film, by the acting of Rosemary Ames in the part of the sincere, idealistic girl who is so distressed to discover that the artists in whom she believed are false. Miss Ames has intelli- gence and an attractive voice, as well as the more superficial qualities demanded in a young screen actress; and in this picture she gives promise of good things to come. "I Believed in You," a Fox film, is being shown at the Regent Theatre.
The play is definitely not the thing where the four Marx Brothers are concerned. Whe- ther the scene be Spain, a boys' school, a summer resort, or the court of a mythical kingdom, they are always their irrepressible selves. The latest opus, entitled "Duck Soup," which has just arrived at the Plaza Theatre, shows the Marx of the little black moustache as Prime Minister of a tiny principality called Freedonia. In the most absurd way, a band and full chorus strikes up lustily in the Free- donian National Anthem—the last half of a musical comedy refrain—whenever he is sighted. But the Prime Ministership of Free- donia is quite incidental. It is just an airy pretext for all the Marxes to indulge in their vaudevillian antics. They are more enter- taining in pantomime than in the spoken word —and this means that the ever-silent Harpo runs away with most of the humour. The dialogue is just as silly as the action, but its nonsensical aspects are often painfully la- boured; whereas, when doing and not talking is the order of the day, the utter frivolity and impertinence of the whole thing carries all before it. "Duck Soup" is a Paramount film.
"Sitting Pretty" furnishes an example of "crooning," which is by no means to be des- pised. It abounds in ditties calculated to catch the popular ear, though the words to which they are sung are mostly sheer non- sense. "I want to Meander with Miranda," "Good Morning, Glory," "Did you ever see a Dream Walking?" "Many Moons Ago," are some of the titles. There is no denying their entertainment value. Jack Oakie and Jack Haley, the artists who sing them, have made names for themselves on the vaudeville stage. In the play they sing their way into Holly- wood, as apparently they have done in real life. They "hike" from New York and, in their anxiety to get a hearing, crash into studios and managers' offices, creating a wel- ter of hilarious comedy, the very absurdity of which lends an air of freshness to a fami- liar subject. Ginger Rogers and Thelma Todd, who fall under the spell of the song- sters, admirably sustain the feminine interest. The musical extravaganza concludes with a ballet whose evolutions and play of fans of ostrich feathers make a notable spectacle. "Sitting Pretty" Is the new supporting feature at the Prince Edward Theatre.
There is no lack of fun in this "take-off" of the film colony at Hollywood. "Lady Killer," a Warner Bros.' picture, based on a story by Rosalind Keating Shaffer, presents James Cagney as an ex-crook and gangster who rises to screen fame by writing thousands of appreciative letters to himself. His amaz- ing progress to stardom is a hilarious experi- ence, and when his former comrades attempt to blackmail him, matters take a dramatic turn. He is taken for "a ride." There is thrilling car race, a smash, and some deadly gun play, in which the police take a part. A highly diverting episode is the release of a cageful of monkeys at a screen star's party. Cagney has the support of a competent cast, which Includes Mae Clarke, Margaret Lind- say, Henry O'Neill, and Leslie Fenton. "Lady Killer" is now showing at the Capitol Theatre.
The aim of "Damaged Lives" is to Issue a frank warning against the dangers of venereal disease. The picture was made under the auspices of the Canadian Social Hygiene coun- cil, and it can be assumed therefore that the intention is to instruct, and not merely to pander to unhealthy curiosity. As propa- ganda the film does its work thoroughly. As a drama, it is a slow-moving and, sometimes, unconvincing piece of work. It Is doubtful, too, whether the producers, in their capacity as propagandists, have taken the best course in making the film so completely pessimistic, and in offering such terrifying glimpses of hospital cases in a lecture film which follows the drama Itself. "Damaged Lives" is being shown at the Lyric Theatre under the aus- pices of the Racial Hygiene Association of
New South Wales.