Director: George Cukor
Writer: David Hempstead; based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Producer: Merian C. Cooper
Cinematographer: Henry W. Gerrard
by Jon Cvack
I’ve never seen the 1994 version of the film, which given the decade I’m dying to get to. While Little Women was remade again in 1949, it was George Cukor’s 1933 version which first captured Louisa May Alcott’s novel (which I’ve yet to read), following the four March sisters Jo (Katharine Hepburn), Meg (Frances Dee), Amy (Joan Bennett), and Beth (Jean Parker) from their teenage years all the way up through their 40s (I thought 30s was pushing it a stretch, but this timeline says otherwise). It was incredible to watch Hepburn make the transformation, as even during the early years and having become spoiled with Boyhood (2014), Cukor does an incredible job of showing the age progression, focusing on everything from the costumes to the thinning hair. I found Katharine Hepburn annoying as ever in this film, with her accent and pretension grating my patience. Jo is clearly Louisa Alcott in the story and I was left wondering whether Hepburn was trying to best capture the author’s spirit, or that she just thought it was a better direction.
Unfortunately, the film took on a feel that I’m starting to notice more when watching some classic films; that some are just boring, plain and simple, and the ambiguity of taste, only developed by watching enough films from the period, has learned that it’s okay to not enjoy some well regarded movies. The film left me wanting to read the book, feeling as though it was capturing the most superficial aspects of the story, when you know that the book does a far more thorough job.* Often films that attempt to cram mountains of material in an hour and forty five minutes feel rushed and superficial, as though it was made not to honor the story so much as to make money.
Still, the good adaptations at least come close to capturing the spirit. There were a few memorable moments - the play, Jo rejecting the boy who loves her - but beyond that, and especially compared to other Cukor films, it felt empty. A Star is Born (1958), My Fair Lady (1964), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Born Yesterday (1950) - all these film are all so strong when I think back. Little Women isn’t bad, and I imagine anyone that watched it growing up might have grown attached, but then I think they were probably watching the 1994 version, which given the decade, I’m confident is much better.
*This was confirmed when I looked up the page count at 816.
BELOW: Hepburn's particularly grating in this film
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