Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Little Women (1933) – Traditional Take on a Classic Novel

Written by Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Y. Mason, and Victor Heerman
Directed by George Cukor

After having watched a more recent screen adaptation of the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I sat back to watch a much earlier version and compare the two.  This version, released in 1933, features an impressive cast and was Directed by George Cukor. It won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The cast features:

Katharine Hepburn as Jo
Joan Bennett as Amy
Frances Dee as Meg
Jean Parker as Beth
Spring Byington as Marmee

The story follows the March family for a period during the Civil War while their father is away serving with the Union Army.  Marmee and her four “little women” must make do in life as best they can. Though not well off, the family does have some advantages others in the town do not have.  It’s also a coming-of-age story of sorts as the four girls are at a point in their lives where they are trying to figure out what the future holds for each of them.

I would have to say that this version follows Alcott’s book a bit closer than the more recent version. Although the same feminist undertones were present in both, this one captures more the feeling that Jo’s options in life are limited.  She’s the independent spirit among the four girls and it always seems as if she is somehow the focal point of the story.

I was struck by the moment when the March family is getting ready to celebrate Christmas with a special breakfast – one of the few joys they find when their father is off serving in the war – and Marmee comes home from helping out a poor family.  There’s no finger-pointing about why did they have that many kids if they couldn’t afford them or that they were lazy and that’s why they had no food or heat.  They simply packed up what they had and brought it over to share.  There’s a lot we could all learn from their grace and generosity.

Hepburn is excellent at portraying Jo as the tomboy.  She’s got the mannerisms down pat for her, despite her being in a dress with her hair pinned up fancy.  She swears “Christopher Columbus!” with such force, it’s as intimidating as any man.  She’s also very forward with approaching next-door neighbor “Laurie” Laurence (portrayed by Douglass Montgomery) and cultivating a friendship with him.

Although Hepburn’s performance is the most dominant in the film, the other actors are equally good.  Joan Bennett was quite young here when she portrayed Amy but does so very well.  Spring Byington is excellent as Marmee and doesn’t appear preachy in her role.  The only thing that was a bit disconcerting was that the actor who portrays Laurie is supposed to be quite good-looking, but he seems to be quite effeminate.

With the exception of Hepburn and Bennett, these might not be names you’ll recognize but it’s well worth seeing this cast in an adaptation of the story that’s closer to Louisa May Alcott’s time than our own is.

1 reply »

  1. I saw the modern version a couple of years ago – I didn’t think it gave the flavour of the book at all. I expect I saw this one when I was younger – but I don’t really remember it. I must ry and get to see it sometime. thank you.