Alex in Wonderland (1970): Mazursky’s Tribute to Fellini, Starring Donald Sutherland and Ellen Burstyn

alex_in_wonderland_posterAfter making a splashy debut with the 1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which he wrote (with partner Larry Tucker), Paul Mazursky experienced sort of a sophomore jinx with the comedy-drama Alex in Wonderland, starring Donald Sutherland and Ellen Burstyn.

Inspired by the work of Fellini (specifically 81/2), who appears as himself in the movie, Alex in Wonderland was a more personal work for Mazursky but not nearly as sharp and poignant as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  The film is both shallow and derivative.

Sutherland, in excellent shape, appearing the same year in Altman’s M.A.S.H., plays Alex Morrison, a director agonizing over the choice of follow-up project after the success of his first movie. The situation is similar to the one Mazursky experienced after the success of his aforementioned debut.

The young and ambitious director Alex Morrison feels pressures (external and internal) to follow his recent box-office hit with another blockbuster. While contemplating his dilemma, the director’s mind wanders to his past, his present, and future.

alex_in_wonderland_1_mazursky_sutherlandThe movie is a family affair: Mazursky cast himself as a new-style Hollywood producer, and his daughter, Meg Mazursky, as Amy, one of Morrison’s daughters. The noted teacher of improvisational theater, Viola Spolin, plays Morrison’s mother.

In posing the dilemma of genuine art versus escapist entertainment, “Alex in Wonderland” is arty and pretentious, lacking real wit, despite efforts at being a black comedy.
alex_in_wonderland_3_mazursky_sutherlandWhile the narrative is rambling and weak, the performances are good, particularly by Sutherland and Ellen Burnstyn.   Ace lenser Laszlo Kovac gives the film a sharp cinematography, with occasionally surreal, dreamlike imagery.

As noted, the film features cameo appearances by Fellini and French star Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim), who sings two songs on the soundtrack, “Le Vrai Scandale” and “Le Reve Est La.”



Donald Sutherland as Alex Morrison

Ellen Burstyn as Beth Morrison

Paul Mazursky as Hal Stern

Meg Mazursky as Amy Morrison

Glenna Sargent as Nancy

Viola Spolin as Mrs. Morrison

Andre Philippe as Andre

Michael Lerner as Leo

Joan Delaney as Jane

Neil Burstyn as Norman

Leon Frederick as Lewis

Federico Fellini as himself

Jeanne Moreau as herself