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A Timeless Piece Of Americana
mpofarrell10 June 2002
From the opening titles displaying a snow covered Curier and Ives - like print underscored by a melody played on a tinkling spinet, this 1933 version of Louisa Alcott's beloved novel holds one in thrall. A Civil War era tale of a New England family's joys and tribulations centers on the March household : mother "Marmee" and her four daughters; Meg, Amy, Beth and Jo. The screenplay centers on each girl's commitment to "showing her father proud", father being a minister gone of f to war to meet the spiritual needs of the Yankee soldiers. Buoyed by their mother [ the ever perfect Spring Byington ] the girls learn the meaning of giving and sacrifice with a jollity that may be off-putting to 21st century viewers; but stick with it, for what this picture offers is nothing less than real life at its most joyful and painful. After a series of seemingly inconsequential events, the girls' placid lives are disrupted when a sibling takes ill. This section of the movie is riveting, due to the superb direction of George Cukor and Katherine Hepburn as the tomboyish Jo. The scene where Jo retreats to the attic, worried sick over the fate of her ill sister, is gut wrenching. Hepburn was just hitting her stride as a movie actress when this film came out. Not the typical glamour girl of the time, her odd beauty and diction translated into a strange alchemy when projected on a movie screen : she is unforgettable. The other actresses acquit themselves beautifully but the picture belongs to Hepburn. Lest you think all is dour and dull, this movie offers so much that is truly entertaining : a heartwarming homecoming scene; the March girls presenting a "play" in their living room to the consternation and delight of invited neighbors and several moments involving a cantankerous but lovable aunt [ the ubiquitous Edna May Oliver ]. The movie is properly accoutered with lovely interiors and authentic production design and costumes [ gabled houses and ivy covered porches; hoop skirts and muffs ]. The entire production is like a gift wrapped edition of the novel turned to celluloid! The icing on the cake, so to speak, is Max Steiner's spare, evocative music score, employing Beth's piano playing for family get togethers, parties etc., and orchestral "commentary" for dramatic, comic and action sequences. Only six years had passed since sound recording had revolutionized the film industry, but this "early talkie" uses the new technology very adeptly; although camera movement is minimal, the editing is very fluid. The sound, courtesy of old Western Electric, is fine, especially on the recent DVD release, where both aural and visual elements have been restored, assuring a great presentation. When a movie has the power to reach out over a span of seven decades and touch jaded hearts in another century, that is a sign of a classic. LITTLE WOMEN is a great American film.
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Wonderful film with a glorious performance from Hepburn
gaityr3 September 2002
LITTLE WOMEN is quite possibly the one book written post-Shakespeare that has the most number of film adaptations to its credit. Louisa May Alcott's novel, after all, offers a fine host of roles, particularly for women--of the March girls alone, there's the eldest sister Meg; the frail but saintly Beth; spoilt baby of the family Amy; and last but most certainly not least, spunky tomboy Jo. (This is not to forget the smaller, but still integral, supporting roles of Laurie, Mr Lawrence, Professor Bhaer, and of course, Marmee March.) The story is an engaging one too, following the lives of the March sisters--in particular Jo--as they grow and deal with change, with love, and even with death. Even though the story itself is tied to a particular setting in the 1860s (and even then the historical setting is almost peripheral), the characters and their relationships with one another--siblings, parent/children, friends and lovers--are simply timeless. That's probably why the novel has seen as many attempts to have it committed to film as it has.

I hate to make a snap judgement, having not seen any more versions of Little Women than the 1994 one, but I believe that this version, made by RKO studios and starring a delightful Katharine Hepburn as Jo March, has every right to be considered the definitive film version of the Alcott novel. The writing, for one thing, is exceptional. Although never quite the novel's substitute, it condenses the book marvellously, sketching the characters and relationships of the girls quickly and efficiently, and never skipping over the best parts of the book (for example, Laurie's profession of love for Jo). Of course the screenplay will never measure up to the book--it is rare that a film could surpass the wealth of detail and beauty of description available from the written word. But nothing's perfect, and this screenplay, by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman, is as close as an adaptation can get while retaining its own distinct flavour as a film.

As for the casting, I have very few complaints about it, since Hepburn--all angles and attitude, all loud-voiced and tomboyish--is perfect as Jo and is ably supported by Frances Dee as Meg, Henry Stephenson as the sweetly paternal Mr. Laurence and Douglass Montgomery as Laurie (though he plays the role a tad too fey for my liking). Special praise must be reserved for both Jean Parker (Beth March) and Paul Lukas (Professor Fritz Bhaer): Parker for bringing an impossibly sweet and lovely character to life, and making the audience genuinely grieve for Beth when she takes her leave of her family; Lukas for managing to avoid making Professor Bhaer a hard, frightening man with whom the audience simply cannot imagine Jo being in love (as is *my* impression from the book). I was rather disappointed with Joan Bennett as Amy, and that is of course partly attributable to the fact that the character isn't particularly sympathetic in the novel either, so it isn't really fair to expect a miracle from Bennett. Still, Bennett seemed to me to be the most lifeless of the sisters--one might think this an unfair judgement, since anyone acting opposite the powder keg that is Katharine Hepburn could easily be deemed lifeless if he or she weren't able to hold his/her own against her. Still, the arguably less well-known Frances Dee and Jean Parker had no problem with it.

In the final analysis though, there is no doubt that this film, however 'ensemble' the cast, belongs only to Hepburn. Her performance, although somewhat mannered and brassy at times (not necessarily simultaneously, thank goodness!), is nothing short of brilliant. She's sad, she's funny, she's touching, and as she does in her best roles, she transcends her own (pretty formidable!) character to breathe life into Jo as only she can. Witness the simple scene in which Jo breaks down, alone, at night, after having sold her hair for her mother's travel expenses... or the scene when Jo truly believes that scarlet fever is going to take Beth from her, and she trudges up into her own attic, the weight of the world on her shoulders, and collapses into tears. There is also nothing more charming than Hepburn as she gallops down the stairs in a frock which she burnt by leaning against the fireplace, or when she runs like a free, untamed spirit through the woods when chased by Laurie. Strange, sweet, funny Jo--this complex combination of jealous child and strong woman, stubbornly refusing to relinquish the familiar while adamantly placing her family above her own interests always... it really is a role that seems to have been written for Hepburn, just as she seems to have been born to play it. It is perhaps for LITTLE WOMEN as much as for MORNING GLORY (released in the same year) that Hepburn won her first Oscar in 1933. Nobody photographs Hepburn as flatteringly as her good friend and director George Cukor either, so some of the close-up shots of her in LITTLE WOMEN are simply breathtaking in having managed to capture her beauty, her youth and her personality all at once.

Nothing about this film is perfect; after all, perfection is too high a standard to be applied to adaptations (and most other films!). But LITTLE WOMEN really does have a little something to offer everybody--a sweet, timeless story about love and growing up and family. It's something that everyone can relate to, and that's probably more than enough.
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Satisfying Adaptation With a Strong Cast
Snow Leopard17 November 2004
This satisfying movie adaptation of "Little Women" features a strong cast and a production that was quite solid for 1933. While a glance at the story outline might give the impression that it is simplistic or childlike, that is far from the case. The novel offers well-defined characters and many situations that bring out worthwhile insights into the characters and into life in general. While neither this nor the other movie versions of the story have the same thematic depth, this version effectively presents enough of the material in a thoughtful and entertaining way.

Katherine Hepburn heads the cast, and gives plenty of life to Jo. Naturally she gets the main focus, but the other sisters and the secondary characters also get some good moments, and most of them get a chance to steal a scene or two. Henry Stephenson and Douglas Montgomery get a number of good scenes as the March family's neighbors. Edna May Oliver is well cast, and it's only too bad that she did not get a couple more scenes. Paul Lukas makes Professor Baer come alive. By no means least are Jean Parker, Frances Dee, and Joan Bennett as Beth, Meg, and Amy.

It is often easy to tell when the movie was made, most especially because of the sound. But actually the production is better technically and artistically than are most movies of the early 1930s. Several of the sets are particularly well done, creating just the right atmosphere for their scenes. Director George Cukor puts it all together nicely.

This is the kind of movie that is generally out of style at present, because it lacks the kind of self-indulgent material and the self-absorbed style that so unduly impress many of today's movie fans. But the only genuine weakness is that it has a few technical limitations, most of which are common to many films of its era.

What this adaptation does offer is a sympathetic and sometimes insightful look at the lives of some ordinary but strong persons, who are brought to life by a good cast and a director who seemed himself to care about the characters.
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Great version for the performances of Hepburn and Lukas
Dr. Cumin17 December 2000
See this version of course, for the definitive Jo March in Kate Hepburn. She is all angles, awkwardness and tom-boyishness, while gradually becoming this graceful young woman. It's my favorite performance of hers, and that's saying something. The screenplay is first-rate, winning the Oscar that year, and most of the actors are just fine, with Spring Byington a notable exception as Marmee. (Director George Cukor did not want her in the film, and he knew what he was talking about.) But the wistful, gentle Beth of Jean Parker and Edna May Oliver's crotchety Aunt March are awfully good . I've always been especially taken by the performance of Professor Bhaer in this version. Portrayed by an utterly charming Paul Lukas, he embodies the professor with a three-dimensionality that Louisa May Alcott didn't seem to want to bother with. His scene where he is criticizing the writings of Hepburn's Jo is extraordinary in how subtly it changes tone--from critic , to would-be suitor. It ends with a look of longing from Lukas, that only a director like Cukor would hold so long. Not like the 1994 version with a far too handsome Gabriel Byrne showing none of the uncertainty that an older poor scholar should show while falling in love with a young woman. Great stuff. Great director. Just a shame that the sound quality isn't up to the rest of the film.
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"What richness!"
marcslope16 July 2003
George Cukor said once that he had always assumed Louisa May Alcott's classic to be "a book that little girls read, like 'Elsie Dinsmore'," and he was pleasantly surprised by how solid and adult its themes are. He was right -- it's about falling in love with the wrong people, summoning the moral strength to overcome great obstacles, and accepting the responsibilities that come with maturity. His discovery and enthusiasm are wonderfully conveyed in this unfussy, honest adaptation. The scale and design are just right -- the March household isn't prettied-up as in later versions, you can see how much the family is struggling. Max Steiner's music is as simple and sweet as a Whitman's Sampler. And the casting, while not ideal, is inspired in the major roles. This was the first instance of Katharine Hepburn embodying all the feisty-New England qualities we associate with her, and it's as though lightning struck or something; she's truly inspired, lit from within. Watch her body language, how she matures from a gawky, hoydenish tomboy into a pensive and irresistible young lady. (Winona Ryder was a diligent and hardworking Jo in 1994, but she doesn't have Hepburn's... inevitability.) She's partnered splendidly by Douglass Montgomery, who's a more ardent and virile Laurie than you'd expect. Paul Lukas loads on the Continental charm as Professor Baer, making him seem an ideal match for Hepburn. And, of course, Edna May Oliver was born to play dour old Aunt March.

Spring Byington is a sugary, unpersuasive Marmee -- how did Jo inherit all that backbone, anyway, with such a wispy parent? -- and Jean Parker is both too old and too passive to convince as Beth. (She was good years later, in "The Gunfighter," in about as different a role as can be imagined.) But it's a measure of this film's overwhelming rightness that, over 70 years later, it can still move grown men to tears. It's dated in some of its particulars -- a stilted line here, a clumsy transition there -- but not in its generosity of spirit or depth of feeling. Few movies from 1933, in fact, still play as well.
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All Hepburn in this early rendition
SimonJack17 September 2012
Few would deny the powerful presence of Katherine Hepburn in any movie she ever made. In this first screen adaptation with sound of Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, Hepburn IS the movie. That is to say, her part, her lines, her camera time seem to surpass the combined times of all the rest of the cast. While that may be as one would expect for many stories – a star or hero being the focal point of a whole work, this film, based on this book, was supposed to be about several "little women." So, most of the rest of the characters in the film – save a neighbor male friend, really get short shrift. For that reason, and a few others I'll mention, I think this rendition falls short of the interesting story told in the book.

I would like to have seen more development of the sisters than this film has. The later remake – 1949's MGM production, does flesh out all the characters more. The problem with the overly heavy emphasis on the one character in this first movie is that the audience doesn't get much of a sense of who are the rest of the members of the family. So we can't so readily experience the ups and downs, the emotions, the tragedy and love felt between the sisters and their mother.

Hepburn does a very good Jo, but not great. I think her efforts to be the tomboy were overdone in a few instances, which only drew my attention to this aspect of her role. She didn't seem to come by it naturally. One example was when she spoke a couple of times, acting and deliberately mimicking a deep-throated guttural voice for a man. At other times, she seemed to push it a bit and overact in flamboyance of tom-boyish behavior.

There were no other notable performances by other cast members. Paul Lukas as Professor Bhaer and Douglas Montgomery as Laurie were good. Most of the rest were just OK or non-descript. One member was just not right for the role of Marmee. Spring Byington brought no depth or real feel to the role that the viewer could sense. But, then, the film just seemed to glide over the lesser roles.

"Little Women" is a good story in the American library, and this film is enjoyable to watch. But, for a much more involving and endearing film, be sure to see the 1949 rendition by MGM.
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great fun with the Marches
didi-514 June 2000
Having grown up with the Technicolor version of the 40s with a young Liz Taylor and a perky June Allyson, I was pleased to find this was just as good a version, better in many ways. Katharine Hepburn, as you might expect, is wonderful as the tomboy Jo March, who finds responsibility after a lifetime of woe for the family. Other cast stand-outs include Edna May Oliver as Aunt March. Laurie is a bit of a wet fish though. Both early versions are much, much better than the Winona Ryder one of the 90s, which was a sentimental Hollywood nostalgia trip which just didn't work. I'm still split between the two early ones but this is a definite favourite and I'd highly recommend it.
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Beautifully adapted version of the Alcott classic!
movieman914 March 1999
It's always a wonderful feeling when a film works its wonders on you. LITTLE WOMEN had that effect on me, and I'm not even a fan of these types of stories. This adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic has real heart, warmth, and the right amount of sentimentality, amounting to a wonderful film. Katharine Hepburn stars as the tomboyish Jo, a free-spirited young lady who is dying for adventure but craves the time she spends with her sisters. The one that stands out among the four is Beth, a caring, sweet girl with a flair for the piano. If you don't get teary-eyed about her cause, you definitely pass for a curmudgeon. The only complaint I have about this gem is that the last quarter of the film doesn't seem to have the matching effervescence that the rest of the film had. It ends abruptly and off-balance. All qualms aside, this is a genuine classic, filled with great performances and characters you can't help but like. A true family entertainment. Rating: Three stars and a half.
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What a truly lovely film!
TheLittleSongbird4 June 2012
I will always have a soft spot for this film, and to me it is the best version of the three versions I've seen so far of Little Women(1994 and 1949 were the others, and I liked both of them very much). The sound here is a little too tinny, and the Laurie of Douglass Montgommery is too fey for my tastes. However, it still looks beautiful, the costumes and hairstyles are well suited to the period, the sets are sumptuous and the film is very handsomely shot. There is also a stirring score from Max Steiner, making it sound appropriately nostalgic, the script is faithful and warm-toned, it is directed with great taste by George Cukor and the story has all the warmth and poignancy of the book, which is one of my favourites of all time. Apart from Montgommery I loved the acting, Edna May Oliver here does what she did best, more than convincingly play sharp-tongued spinsters, and Henry Stephenson is a dear Mr Laurence. Paul Lukas is an unexceptional but romantic Professor Bhaer, an improvement on the wooden and too-Italianate Rosanno Brazzi in the 1949 film, and Spring Byington a Marmee of real sincerity. The four March girls Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy(aka the Little Women of the title) are what drive the story, and all four really shone here. Joan Bennett is appealing as Amy and leaves room for character growth from a vain little girl to an elegant young lady. Jean Parker is a very sweet and moving Beth, and Frances Dee is beautiful as Meg should be. Best of all is the Jo of Katharine Hepburn, who is perfectly cast in a role she was born to play. All in all, truly lovely and the best version to me. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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the first and the worst
crispy_comments13 March 2007
I admit I haven't seen this movie for years, and I suppose I should give it another chance one of these days. But I'm left with a strong impression of revulsion over Katharine Hepburn as Jo. I know that places me in the minority since her performance is apparently so acclaimed. But, speaking as someone who's read "Little Women" countless times and would be very hard to please with any adaptation of a beloved childhood favorite, Hepburn just didn't live up to my idea of Jo at all. The way she delivers the line "Christopher Columbus!" is enough to make me want to smack her.

I don't care if others find the MGM version too "glossy" - THAT film is perfectly cast. June Allyson is a much more lovable Jo (and a more natural actress than Hepburn who can be very over-the-top and grating). Janet Leigh as sweet-but-prim Meg, Elizabeth Taylor as spoiled, vain Amy, and Margaret O'Brien as fragile Beth...why, they BECAME those characters - or perhaps their personalities were already suited to the roles! And who could be a better Marmee than Mary Astor, I ask you? She perfectly embodied maternal warmth and wisdom (Spring Byington isn't exactly known for playing women of intelligence!)

None of the other actresses in this 1933 version made an impression on me. I realize that Jo is the most beloved character, but the other March sisters deserve a little more screen time. I dislike the fact that "Little Women" was turned into a star vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, and unfortunately, she dominates the proceedings. If you want a more balanced telling of the story, where all the characters get a chance to shine, I'd recommend the MGM version. I can't gush enough about how ideal June Allyson was as Jo - there's a reason she got more fan-mail over that performance than any other! I'd even recommend the Winona Ryder version of "Little Women" over Hepburn's (although Ryder is too pretty for the role)
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A Basket of Kittens.
Tony-11410 January 2004
I think it can easily be said that this is one of Katherine Hepburn's finest, richest performances -- it would be cliche to say that she was born to play Jo March, but only if it weren't so true. Yet as a film entire, it's one of the best period pieces I believe I've ever seen. The clothes, sets, cinematography, Max Steiner's charming score and the brilliant script combine to make you feel you are truly there in the Marches' world, civil-war Concord. (Of course, this is not to slight the grand performances of the cast in any way -- how else would it be so alive?) It is truly a fascinating work, firmly in George Cukor's hands (though with Selznick hovering behind). "Little Women" casts a spell over you just like watching a basket of kittens, the illness remedy Jo brings Laurie that is the basis of their 1st meeting: it is not so much cute and cuddly (and sharp!), but seeing them (inter)act as full-blooded, alive, natural creatures. It's precisely this quality that the 3 subsequent remakes ('49, '79 (TV) and '94) simply didn't have. You feel -- and ARE -- a better person after having seen this film than you were when you sat down to watch it.
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Hard to watch....
MartinHafer9 November 2011
Had I not seen the version of "Little Women" (1994) that starred Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder, I think I would have liked this version from RKO. However, in comparison the older version is just pretty dreadful. Much of it is because the story is MUCH more subtle and believable in the newer film--and this is odd coming from me because I adore classic Hollywood films and would have expected to prefer the original (as I hate remakes). But, the newer one is believable and sweet--whereas the 1933 version is, at times, just awful. Now I know this might sound like sacrilege, as it was directed by the great George Cukor and starred Katharine Hepburn. But, neither was on top of their game--especially Hepburn. There's little indication in her overly broad performance here that she'd one day be a multiple Academy award winner. Here, she talks VERY fast and seems rather fake. As for the rest of the cast, they are okay--but the film lacks charm and polish. Watchable but do yourself a favor and watch the more recent one--you won't feel sorry.
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Litttle Big Women
wes-connors21 August 2007
The film might be more accurately titled "Little Woman", with Katherine Hepburn seizing the lead role, and never letting go. Otherwise, it's the story of four "Little Women" growing up, and finding love's direction. Hepburn (she's Jo) is sister to Joan Bennett (she's Amy), Jean Parker (she's Beth), and Frances Dee (she's Meg). Of their suitors, Douglass Montgomery (he's Laurie) gets the most action.

Ms. Bennett steals the actual acting honors with a performance that is natural and consistent; her voice and mannerisms are appropriately girlish, young womanish… and, selfish. Ms. Hepburn plays girlish like she's had too many cups of coffee; additionally, she never looks even remotely "tomboyish"; looking, instead, like a ravishingly made-up MGM movie star. Ms. Parker rises out of her sick bed like a zombie, but is okay in other scenes.

Watching Hepburn being romanced by Mr. Montgomery and Paul Lukas is unnerving. The story does have some reasons to watch, however. The production is obviously top-of-the-line. Hepburn may not be in her best role, but it's not awful; she slows down and gets better after her character grows older. The script has well-written characters - Jo, Amy, and Laurie - who illustrate a sweet story of family, love, and friendship.

******* Little Women (11/16/33) George Cukor ~ Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Douglass Montgomery, Paul Lukas
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Almost perfect
preppy-33 July 2004
Beautiful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel about four sisters coming of age in the Civil War. They're played by Katharine Hepburn (Jo), Francis Dee (Meg), Joan Bennett (Amy) and Jean Parker (Beth). It follows them over the course of about 10 years dealing mostly with the men they fall in love with. It mostly centers on Jo--she's expected to get married to Laurie (Douglass Montgomery) but she wants a career as a writer also.

Faithful to the book, beautifully mounted and directed by George Cukor (who was always good with large female casts) and a mostly great cast. Hepburn is exceptional (no surprise there), Bennett and Dee are good but Parker isn't that good. She's not terrible--it's just she's not as good as the other three. The men are all OK but the movie isn't about them--it's about the women.

I'm giving it a 9. I can't give it a 10 because there are a few scenes that are just horrible (especially one where Parker sees her father returning from the war) and it goes on a bit longer than needed. Also the sound was hard to hear at times (but this WAS done over 70 years ago). Well worth seeing.
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Little Women (1933) - still young and beautiful
Galina_movie_fan12 May 2008
Little Women (1933), directed by George Cukor story of March family, four beautiful loving sisters and their Marmee, is an early adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved 1860s classic and certainly one of the best. This is the movie that I believe should be universally loved and praised because it is a cinematic triumph. Everything is perfect in it. The clothes, the hairdos, the sets, cinematography, the musical score by Max Steiner and the brilliant script that brings to life the timeless story -together they take you effortlessly to the Marches' world where you feel their true love and caring for one another, and follow their dreams, theirs hopes, and their heartbreaks. This is the film that made me jealous of the girls who have sisters by showing what treasure the sisters' love is. This is the movie which I want to watch with my Mom during the Mother's day and to tell her how much she means to me. This is the movie with very young, very talented, strong willed, independent, and excellent Katharine Hepburn, perfect as Jo March, the character that Alcott could've written with her in mind. Yes, the film is sentimental, so what? Made 75 years ago, it is young, beautiful, heartwarming, and radiates love, kindness, and goodness.
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Wonderful! Wonderful!
slytherins_queen215 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film for the first time today after searching forever for it. And I was not disappointed like I was with the 1949 one with Elizabeth Taylor and Margret O'Brien. I am a great fan of the book and as such there were some things that irked me about this film. First off, there was heaps of Amy story lines and dialogue the most apparent being how she burnt Jo's written work and books, and then later nearly drowned (only to live after Laurie and Jo saved her) were left out which made me slightly mad. Also the fact that the actress was too old to play the younger Amy (but nonetheless played her very very well) was also slightly distracting though didn't nearly as bother me as much as the missing 'book burning scene'. Secondly some things were hastily rushed into and/or not really explained or came out of nowhere like how Amy and Laurie were suddenly married, with out much back story to it. Katherine Hepburn one of the most talented actresses of all time, shines as Jo in her tom boyish ways. She literally stole the show with her acting and it was truly a joy to watch, her scenes with Laurie were the most wonderful as you could really sense their 'fun and childlike' plays. She picked up Jo's character in a way no other actress could. It seemed like the character 'Jo' and 'Katherine Hepburn' were made for each other. It's rare to find that.

When I first heard Frances Dee was playing Meg I thought, 'What?? She's more of a Beth!' but nevertheless she surprised me and was absolutely wonderful in her role. The actress who played Beth was astounding, her scenes were so well done, she was such a dear and you really care for her while you're watching. I loved Douglass Montgomery as Laurie he played Laurie very well and very true to the character. Not the most perfect adaption a lot has been changed and left out, but one of the best, most beautiful films you'll ever see in your life time. Heart warming and lovable, a real classic.
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Surprisingly fresh version of Alcott's classic.
Hermit C-230 November 1999
It's over 65 years old, but this adaptation of 'Little Women' is as lively as it is sentimental. The outstanding cast is led by Katharine Hepburn as Jo, who gives a bravura performance that actually threatens to go over the top! "Women's director" George Cukor does his usual fine job. There's a certain amount of condensing done to the story here, but otherwise it's faithful to the book (at least that's what I'm told!) Even children who blanch at the prospect of sitting through a black-and-white movie may be captivated by this one.
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bkoganbing8 October 2008
Katharine Hepburn's fourth film and first after her Oscar winner Morning Glory is an adaption of the Louisa May Alcott classic Little Women. Kate becomes the quintessential Jo March in this film and CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS she does a bang up job.

I can't see George Cukor doing this with anyone else. In a sense Kate isn't acting, she really is a 20th century version of Jo March. Like Louisa May Alcott and her family, Kate comes from that Puritan New England background and in the 19th century she could have been Jo March. It would not surprise me in the slightest if back in the day Kate's grandparents from either or both sides hobnobbed with the Alcott clan.

Little Women is set during the Civil War and it was a time for sacrifice on the battlefield as well as the home front. The March family patriarch Samuel S. Hinds is now engaged in the 'irrepressible conflict' answering to a higher law than the Constitution. That was a day when people put themselves on the line for their country and what they believed in.

Spring Byington made her screen debut as the mother of four girls who in real life were not too much younger than the woman they called Marmee in this film. Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker bring to life the distinct personalities of all the March girls under the careful guidance of George Cukor.

Like Louisa May Alcott in life, Jo March loves her dad, not just as her father, but also for what he stands for. Alcott's father Bronson Alcott was a noted abolitionist and so was Louisa May. She leaves no room for doubt that the Union and the abolition of slavery is a righteous cause in Little Women. Alcott was a feminist and a suffragette as well, she wanted to do more for what she believed than provide warm home and hearth for some man who happened to believe as she did.

Hepburn as Jo is developing as a human being and she realizes she wants the same thing and she also knows there's more out there than New England and its mores. Small wonder that visiting scholar Paul Lukas is who eventually wins her affections.

By the way, one ought to either read the further Alcott novels on these characters and/or see the film Little Men with Kay Francis and Francis Lederer as older versions of these same characters to see how they've developed.

Besides Lukas and Hinds the three other prominent male characters are Douglass Montgomery as the dashing young neighbor next door who first sparks Hepburn's attention and later Bennett's, John Davis Lodge who pairs off with Frances Dee and Henry Stephenson, Montgomery's stern father with a broad eye twinkle.

And of course we can't forget the ever imperious Edna May Oliver as Aunt March who rules the roost whenever she makes one of her visits to the household. Oliver like Hepburn also had a New England background, she's as New England as Paul Revere and the Boston Red Sox.

With an excellent recreation of New England both in look and style George Cukor created an enduring masterpiece in Little Women. And probably even more than Morning Glory, it's the film that young Katharine Hepburn is most identified with.
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A Hepburn tour de force - in hindsight, not one of her best films.
movieman-20015 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Little Women (1933) is the first film to be based on Louisa May Alcott's novel of four young girls and their maturing in an age of affectation and Victorian sensibilities. It stars Katharine Hepburn in one of her early defining roles as Josephine 'Jo' March; the central protagonist. She's very much a defiant tomboy in petticoats, defying her Aunt March (played to perfection by the crotchety Edna May Oliver), cutting off her long tresses to pay for her father's train ticket, and always, 'always' usurping any and all interest to fall into the trap of becoming some man's noble wife…at least for a while. Despite the fact that Alcott's novel is very much an ensemble piece about four girls growing up, this film is very much the story of Jo. Other roles are rounded out by Joan Bennett (as the vane and snooty, Amy), Paul Lukas (Prof. Baer), Jean Parker (in the thankless role of Beth) and Francis Dee (as the impetuous, Meg).

Clearly with the goal of generating star interest in Kate Hepburn, director, George Cukor uses up the bulk of his running time to extol the idiosyncratic quirks that make Jo March tick. He delights, for example, showing us Jo sliding down the banister at her Aunt March's home, or throwing snowballs at the young master of the adjoining maison, Theodore Lawrence (Douglas Montgomery). Cukor, known throughout the industry as a woman's director, side steps Alcott's novel on more than one occasion to satisfy his own artistic vision. That said, overall then, the film is faithful to Alcott and a veritable lush and lovely cinematic experience in the vein of golden Hollywood film making.

The transfer from Warner Bros. has been considerably cleaned up for this DVD presentation. The B&W picture elements from RKO were in very poor shape. While certain scenes continue to attest to this lack of initial preservation, most look quite marvelous and will surely please. There is a bit of digital edge enhancement that crops up now and then and distracts one from the otherwise sterling picture, but these are fleeting moments of distraction at best. Blacks are generally solid. Whites are generally clean. Contrast and fine details are as they should be and film grain, with minor exceptions, is kept in check. Extras include a music only selection of score that has been nicely remastered, as well as extensive notes on both Hepburn and Cukor; good stuff for both the heart and the mind. Bottom line: this is a great golden oldie that will surely warm the heart. But it's not definitive Alcott. For that one has to jump seventy years into the future for Gillian Armstrong's masterful remake, starring Winona Ryder.
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Supremely well made, but very sugary stuff. Watch for K Hepburn's great role.
secondtake10 April 2010
Little Women (1933)

A fairly lavish affair, with one of my favorite directors, George Cukor, making the most of his growing fame as a "woman's director." Of course, the leads here are four girls and their mother, among the children the rising star, Katherine Hepburn, in her second film (after Bill of Divorcement, also by Cukor, and a better film in many ways).

The standards here are high, the acting solid, the sets uncompromised. The plot is very goody-goody, for lack of a better word. There is a lot of family sweetness, growing young love affairs, charity to the poor, and a feeling of life being simply terrific, whatever its worries (worries like the Civil War, raging quietly in the background, never seen and rarely felt).

Cukor makes the most of Alcott's novel, I think, and Hepburn is wonderful, with all the hints of her real greatness on screen to come. The basic structure of the plot (or plots) is how each girl matures, overcoming personality flaws to become truly admirable people. It might be frustrating that human flaws are simply to be overcome, but we shouldn't resent a little optimism, and reaching higher goals, now and then. A heartfelt and really well made American drama. And I admit freely, I cried several times. That's better than any words.
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Sillied Down for Kate
tedg9 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Our Katherine had already been a success in one prior film, and only 5 years into the era of talkies, they retooled Alcott's story to suit her personality. It worked, but was her last success until the intense re-engineering of the Philadelphia story.

That re-engineering was a massive change: Hepburn recast as richly eccentric rather than charmingly brash. For her entire life, she was amazingly incomplete as an actress but knew how to play the personality game she overtly derided. But this was all before that.

Here, she moves with exaggerated movements and a severe phrasing of her lines. That specific style was consciously adopted from Shirley Temple and (long after Hepburn had abandoned it) popularized by Judy Garland. It features short phrases, with a rising lilt but short of the questioning tone that submissive girls use today.

Cukor stages this much like a play, with some extraordinarily long takes. The stagey nature of the production is as far from life and realistic movies as Jo's parlor play was from the world of the story. The sound is murky and the lighting muddy.

The film was popular because it sweetens the book in absurd ways. Louisa May was an important writer, one that really did change the world in a way. Her tone was one of disciplined self-reinvention orthogonal to all the false romanticism of the age. The notable feature of `Little Women' was that Jo unexpectedly escaped the form of the Austen novel, and thereby the strictures of society that Austen emphasized. This was not a matter of brattish tomboy energy as Hepburn would have it, but a matter of a woman transcending the narrow channels available to her sisters.

Just as Hepburn gets this exactly the opposite of what Jo is about, so does the whole film spit in Alcott's eye. The very essence of the book is to escape the formula of syrupy romanticism. The target of this film is to be thoroughly syrupy, all the way to the repellent sweetness of the score.

Winona's `Women' was flawed in different ways, but more true to Bronson Alcott's vision.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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Fine reading of a classic
jjnxn-130 April 2013
Good if dated version of the Alcott perennial. The story is faithful to the book but some of the acting and filming techniques show signs of the film's age. Still if you're a fan of the book there is much to like here. Hepburn of course is ideally cast as Jo, perhaps one of the classic examples of an actress and a part completely suited to each other. Frances Dee and Jean Parker acquit themselves well as Meg and Beth respectively but those two sisters, even with Beth's tragedy, are the two blandest characters in the book. Joan Bennett is sulky and kittenish as the selfish Amy filling the part but she really wasn't to come into her own as a presence that registered on the screen for about five more years when she switched from blonde ingénue to brunette woman of mystery and usually danger. The great Edna May Oliver scores as the salty Aunt March and Spring Byington is strong as Marmee although her role is somewhat diminished from the book. It's interesting still to see her here as a tower of strength and rectitude considering her long career as a chic but usually addle-pated society woman. The men however are a totally different matter. Douglass Montgomery as Laurie is simpering and bland. Also while it isn't his fault his makeup is so heavy that it is completely distracting whenever he is on screen. John Davis Lodge who plays Meg's husband Mr. Brooke suffers the same fate. Cukor as always directs well. He hated the term woman's director but he really was one of the absolute best at bringing out high quality performances from his actresses, not just the stars but the supporting players.
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Louisa May Allcott's "Four Daughters"
lugonian24 December 2007
LITTLE WOMEN (RKO Radio, 1933), directed by George Cukor, from the novel by Louisa May Alcott, ranks one of the very best screen adaptations taken from classic literature. Produced by David O. Selznick, who later brought forth such literary works as David COPPERFIELD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES (MGM, 1935) to the screen, LITTLE WOMEN demonstrates to the highest degree on how carefully constructed these movies were made and the way its leading players have brought these storybook characters to life.

Set during the Civil War years, the story revolves around the March family of Concord, Massachusetts. The plot development starts with the introduction of its individual members: Marmee (Spring Byington), a loving wife and mother who does all she can to keep her family together while her husband (Samuel S. Hinds) is off to war; Josephine, better known as Jo (Katharine Hepburn), a long haired, outspoken tomboy with a catch phrase, "Christopher Columbus!," whose ambition is to become famous novelist; Amy (Joan Bennett), a student in a school for girls, is cute, selfish, and a sketching artist; Margaret, or "Meg" (Frances Dee), a refined but envious girl working as a nursery governess; Beth (Jean Parker), the youngest of the sisters, is sweet, shy and a musically inclined piano player of classical pieces; and Aunt March (Edna May Oliver), an rich old spinster who's just as headstrong as her niece, Jo. The March family live next door to Mr. Laurence (Henry Stephenson), a gruff but kindly old gentleman, whose grandson, Laurie (Douglass Montgomery), becomes Jo's first love. Over the years the girls mature, finding new interests and beaus. Laurie returns home from college finding Jo's feelings towards him have changed; Meg finds love and marries John Brooke (John Lodge), a sophisticated gentleman; Amy matures and falls in love with Laurie; while Beth becomes the center of a crisis when falling ill with scarlet fever. As for Jo, she moves to a boarding house in New York City where she encounters Fritz Bhaer (Paul Lukas), a kindly professor who encourages her writing ability.

While it's impossible to recapture every page of "Little Women" to the screen, screenwriters Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman successfully abridged many of the key elements taken from various chapters, with a few alterations, into playable length of 116 minutes. Previously filmed during the silent era (1918) and remade several times thereafter (1949 for MGM; 1978 television movie; and 1994 Columbia theatrical adaptation), this 1933 carnation remains one of the perennial favorites of all time, and it's easy to see why. Full of nostalgic touches, from its opening credits with a silent movie feel, authentic costumes and hair styles that capture the era, George Cukor's masterful direction with taste and skill brings forth winning performances by entire cast, especially Katharine Hepburn, in a role she was born to play.

Although Hepburn's Jo is tough as well as confident, her biggest fear is letting go of her childhood, wanting things to remain as they are, continuing to have those carefree happy times with her sisters. She realizes how impossible it is after Meg, the eldest, marries to have a family of her own. ("We can't be children forever.") Joan Bennett also does a commendable job transforming from child-like schoolgirl to mature young lady; and Spring Byington, best known for her lovable comedic characters in latter years, in her movie debut and one of her few opportunities on screen as a serious actress. Last but not least is the memorable Max Steiner underscore.

When presented to commercial television during the Christmas season from the 1960s to 70s, all copies in circulation were shorter 107 minute prints. Aside from the Selznick International trademark in place of the original RKO Radio logo, the opening ten minute segment was missing, starting the story with Beth greeting her three sisters at the front door as they come in from the cold. This missing sequence was later restored in the 1980s when distributed to video cassette. The introductory RKO Radio logo was finally restored and presented for the first time in decades on Turner Classic Movies in 2006.

Little known facts: LITTLE WOMEN brought forth a sequel, LITTLE MEN (Mascot, 1935) with Erin O'Brien Moore as Jo. In TCM's December 2006 presentation of LITTLE WOMEN on "The Essentials," in an after film discussion, movie critic Molly Haskell talks with host Bob Osborne making an interesting point about Jo's character from the book marrying and giving up her writing career as compared to Hepburn's more liberated Jo on screen.

While LITTLE WOMEN is categorized a Christmas movie, for which it opens and ends years later during that joyful holiday season, it's one of those heartfelt family films that can be seen and appreciated at any given time of the year. (****)
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A joy to watch
Incalculacable8 February 2006
As a fan of Katharine Hepburn, I was more familiar with her later works: on Golden Pond, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib etc. It was lovely to see a beautiful Katharine Hepburn slightly younger - and really show off her acting talent. I know she is the main character, but she really does stand out. Not only her beauty, but as I said before, her acting ability. Unfortunately, this does not apply for the rest of the cast. I mean, most of the girls are good - in fact, very good - but the same cannot be said for Laurie. In modern terms he would be considered a 'sap'. You really wonder why they like him at all. I was surprised that Little Women was so realistic, but I can't help but be disappointed by the ending. But I must give it credit for that. Full of emotion, it will move you. It is suitable for all ages. It is a true joy to watch - especially Katie Hepburn!
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Too Much Sweetener
alfiefamily17 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Little Women" is a good, early '30's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic tale about the March sisters and their mother as they struggle without their father/husband, who is off fighting in the Civil War.

There is certainly plenty to recommend about this film. The look of the film, costumes, sets and overall "feel" of the film is quite genuine and fine. The acting is terrific from all involved. From Katharine Hepburn to Joan Bennett, Spring Byington and Paul Lukas.

The problem is that, in my humble opinion, it is an incredibly hard film to watch, due to the extreme sweetness and, at times, corny dialog that is spoken. Now I know that being the early '30's, this is what many, during the depression era needed to make them feel warm and secure. But this is laid on way to thick. As I said, it was very hard to get thru this film. I'm glad I've seen it, but I would not watch it again.
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