S'more Entertainment // 1985 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // December 12th, 2011
The only thing that could lift that face is an elevator.
The names of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper may not resonate with people these days, but back in the 1940s, they were two of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Through their ubiquitous gossip columns, they reached tens of millions of people and dictated and defined the morality of the film elite. They had the clout to make or break producers, directors, and stars with a few strokes of their pens. Together, they controlled Hollywood news and they absolutely hated each other. They were as antagonistic toward each other as they were with the subjects of their articles and, four decades later, CBS treated audiences to a primetime television production of their relationship.
For years, Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Taylor, Giant) terrorized movie stars with her moralism and shoddy writing. She made herself rich off of it and, with the help of syndication from the Hearst newspaper syndicate, was the biggest woman in town. The studios felt like she was getting a little too big for her bloomers, though, so they hired some competition in former silent movie minor star Hedda Hopper (Jane Alexander, The Ring), who was sort of an old friend to Parsons and who had scoops that Parsons couldn't get. So the claws come out and, as a feuding twosome, they became the arbiters of morality for Tinsel Town and combining to make the lives of the producers even worse.
Like many poorly drawn movies, Malice in Wonderland begins at the big dramatic conclusion, then flashes back to see how the characters got to that point. Most of the time, the device ruins the mood, and this one isn't any different. It's one of a number of problems with the television production, but there are some worthwhile things here, as well. Liz Taylor is in typically grand form. She looks great, much better than the notoriously dowdy woman she plays, and chews the scenery like crazy, but Jane Alexander holds her own pretty well next to the mega-star. Together, they're pretty fun and make the most of their hate, but overall, the film just isn't all that interesting. It's a little better than the average TV movie, but it's a far cry from a real movie.
The big points of interest in the film are watching people play old stars and identifying the scandalous old Hollywood stories that have been dramatized. While Taylor and Alexander take up nearly all the screen time, there are a few fun cameos, including Richard Dysart (The Day of the Locust) as Louis B. Mayer, Denise Crosby (Pet Sematary) as Carole Lombard, and a young Tim Robbins (The Hudsucker Proxy) as Joseph Cotton. None of the roles is very substantial, but there are a ton of them scattered about, which are a treat for fans of old Hollywood. That's all there really is, though, because the direction by Gus Trikonis (Take This Job and Shove It) is terribly pedestrian. He goes through the motions and, at times, the performances outshine the work the director is doing, but his work really slows down the film. It has its moments, but they're too few and far between to really recommend.
The DVD of Malice in Wonderland comes from S'More Entertainment and is a fully bare bones affair. The full frame transfer shows some damage from its quarter century in the vault, but looks fairly typical for a television production of its time. The sound is slightly better, but nothing special. There are no extras on the disc.
This isn't the worst television movie I've ever seen or even reviewed, but Malice in Wonderland is nothing to write home about, either. Its big draws are Liz Taylor and the allure of old Hollywood stories though, by now, most of the people who remember those stories have trouble remembering their children's names, so the film's appeal seems limited.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: S'more Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated