Last week I reviewed the 1933 version of _Little Women_, directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn. I refer you to that review for more details. This review will be a brief (for my standards, at least) comment on the 1949 adaptation, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring June Allyson, Rossano Brazzi, Elizabeth Taylor, and Janet Leigh.
Let me begin by saying that LeRoy’s film is, primarily, a Technicolor version of the 1933 film. The actors are, of course, different, but the script is the same. There is only one “original” scene in the 1949 version: we see the March sisters going to a store to buy presents after Aunt March gives them money. As one critic rightly observed, the scene is meant to exalt consumerism during the prosperous post-WWII years. By making money circulate, one helps the economy. The money, supposedly, comes back to you eventually… This scene is not in the novel, and it would have been anachronistic in Cukor’s film, which was released during the Great Depression and emphasized the need for families to stick together during hard times. _Little Women_, incidentally, rings truer during troubled times, as the novel is set in the time of the Civil War. In our relatively (or apparently, however you want to look at it) peaceful time, the latest adaptations have chosen to highlight social issues such as women’s rights and societal privilege.
One of the main criticisms leveled at the 1933 version is concerned with Katharine Hepburn’s performance, which many viewers consider to be over the top. I must say I agree, though as I pointed out in my previous review, this does not diminish Katharine Hepburn’s worth as an actress. Those who have reservations about Hepburn’s Jo may approve of June Allyson’s magnificent performance in the 1949 version. Hepburn’s influence on it is noticeable, but Allyson delivers a more balanced performance.
Another issue with the 1933 version had to do with its pace, which to me seemed a bit rushed towards the end. This remains the same in the 1949 version. Professor Bhaer makes his first appearance roughly at the 1:30 mark, that is, three quarters into the film, and many important developments occur within the last ten minutes of the movie. This version, incidentally, exhibits the smallest age different between the actress playing Jo and the actor playing Bhaer. Allyson and Brazzi were born only one year apart.
Cukor’s version omits the manuscript and the skating incidents. (As in my previous review, I am being purposely obscure to avoid giving away important plot points, though I don’t prioritize plot when I watch movies.) LeRoy’s version follows this convention, and there is also no mention of the Pickwick Club here. We do hear, however, the reason why Mr. March lost money, something that is omitted in the 1933 adaptation, and the 1949 version also adds a minor anecdote about Laurie running away from school to join the army under a different name.
My assessment: the LeRoy version is an improvement over the previous one when it comes to the acting, but it seems that the producers’ main goal was to colorize Cukor’s film. We are even shown a rainbow, to drive the point home. Some scenes are reproduced almost shot-by-shot, most notably the school scene: the teacher is even played by the same actor, who according to imdb.com wears the same outfit and holds the same board with the same writing on it. It would be 45 years before the next adaptation of Alcott’s classic was released. This version, directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Winona Ryder, is my personal favorite. It is faithful to the text and adds to it without falling into facile opportunism the way the latest adaptation does. LeRoy’s version, then, is my second favorite.
Next on my list, something completely different: _In Cold Blood_ (Richard Brooks, 1967).
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the film!