Johnny who? Mad Hatter Men
There’s a big movie opening today, reuniting a star and director, and featuring a supporting cast of well-known actors. Yes, I’m talking about Brooklyn’s Finest, reuniting Ethan Hawke and director Antoine Fuqua, and featuring Richard Gere, Vincent D’Onofrio, Wesley Snipes, Don Cheadle, and Ellen Barkin. What, you haven’t seen the Brooklyn’s Finest Happy Meals? 😉
But, you know, it’s not the umpteenth version of a literary classic, so let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland. 😉
Clearly, one of the main draws to this version is Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. That was the cover for Entertainment Weekly (along with some amazing inside pictures of Depp in his startlingly different roles in other movies, from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood).
Depp certainly isn’t the first to play the Hatter, though.
Note: the character is never called the Mad Hatter in the original book. He is called “mad” and he is a hatter, but Lewis Carroll doesn’t put the two words together.
Since the first movie version in 1903, there have been many screen interpretations of the role. If you could bring all of those actors together in one room, that would be a party well-worth attending!
Let’s eavesdrop on this imaginary soiree, shall we? And then we’ll have some more tea. You say you can’t have more, because you haven’t had any yet? You mean you can’t have less… 😉
In the 1933 all-star version, which also included W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty and Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, the Hatter was played by Edward Everett Horton. This Hollywood veteran had a distinctive slow, sort of sad delivery. Many of you might recognize his voice as the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales on Rocky and Bullwinkle. He was one of those character actors who was in (literally) more than a hundred movies. Baby boomers may also know him from his regular role on F Troop. He might seem an odd choice for the Hatter. Certainly, in our hypothetical get together, he wouldn’t be the life of the party.
Ed Wynn, on the other hand, would always be loudly cracking a joke and laughing. He was the voice of the Hatter in the very popular Disney cartoon version in 1951. You know the one with that oh-so-exciting ride at Disneyland. 🙂 He has probably most established the character in popular imagination, outside of the book, of course. He had been known as “the Perfect Fool”. A lot of the “Greatest Generation” will also know him as the Fire Chief on the radio. You can hear a broadcast (with a long introduction about Wynn) here. I also can’t leave out his performances on The Twilight Zone.
Holding back for that one perfect comment after Wynn has completed his long “doncha know” story and huge laugh is Art Carney, who played the Hatter for a Kraft Television Theatre episode on TV in 1954. Carney will always be Ed Norton (not the current actor, silly goose) on The Honeymooners. He won an Oscar for lead actor in Harry and Tonto, but he may have been best as a reactor. The dry delivery of his later career would allow a simple line like, “I’ll bet you did” give Wynn’s anecdote another fresh meaning.
Peter Cook, on the other hand, the great British Beyond the Fringe star (and comic partner to Dudley Moore), could simply sneer at the joke, and pull people up short. His Mad Hatter might genuinely be mad…I think he could be the most threatening of the bunch. Not because he would actually threaten you, necessarily, but there is a…detachment and disdain of common society in some of his performances (see him in the original Bedazzled) that makes you never quite sure what he might do.
Harvey Korman and Martin Short are having their own conversation in the corner, although each is fully aware of everyone else in the room. Quietly (but attentively) listening to the two having their highly animated talk is Andrew Lee Potts (the BBC’s Primeval series), who recently played the Hatter in Syfy’s reimagining of the tale.
Meanwhile, providing an undertone to the conversation, Anthony Newley is singing. It’s a sad, rumbling story of a song, full of regrets and unrequited love.
Suddenly, the doorbell rings. It’s Johnny Depp. Everyone pauses for a moment to check out the new arrival…
If you want to see what Depp brings, you can get tickets for the movie at Fandango, by going here.
If you want to know what the critics think, you can check out reviews at MRQE here.