Little Women (1933 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Cukor|
|Produced by||Merian C. Cooper|
|Written by||Louisa May Alcott (novel)|
|Screenplay by||Victor Heerman
Sarah Y. Mason
|Based on||Little Women (1868 novel)|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Cinematography||Henry W. Gerrard|
|Edited by||Jack Kitchin|
RKO Radio Pictures
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Running time||117 mins.|
Little Women is a 1933 American drama film directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn and Joan Bennett. The screenplay by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman is based on the classic novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott.
This is the third screen adaptation of the book, following silent versions released in 1917 with Minna Grey and 1918 with Dorothy Bernard. Subsequent to this version, was a 1949 Technicolor release Little Women with June Allyson and the 1994 film Little Women starring Winona Ryder.
Set in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War, the film is a series of vignettes focusing on the struggles and adventures of the four March sisters and their mother, affectionately known as Marmee (Spring Byington), as they await the return of their father, who is fighting with the Union Army. Spirited tomboy Jo (Katharine Hepburn), who caters to the whims of their well-to-do Aunt March (Edna May Oliver), dreams of becoming a famous author and writes plays for her sisters to perform for the local children. Amy (Joan Bennett) is pretty but selfish, Meg (Frances Dee) works as a seamstress, and sensitive Beth (Jean Parker) practices on her clavichord, an aging instrument sorely in need of tuning.
The girls meet Laurie (Douglass Montgomery), who has come to live with his grandfather Mr. Laurence (Henry Stephenson), the Marches' wealthy next-door neighbor. The Laurences invite them to a lavish party, where Meg meets Laurie's tutor, John Brooke (John Lodge). During the course of the next several months, Meg is courted by John, Jo has her first short story published, and Beth frequently takes advantage of Mr. Laurence's offer and practices on his piano.
Marmee learns her husband has been wounded and is recuperating in a Washington, DC hospital, so she leaves home to care for him. During her absence, Beth contracts scarlet fever from a neighbor's baby. She recovers but is left in a weakened state. Her parents return, and Meg marries John. Laurie confesses his love to Jo, who rejects him. When he snubs her in return, Jo moves to a New York City boarding house to pursue her writing career. There she meets Professor Bhaer (Paul Lukas), an impoverished German linguist. With his help and encouragement, Jo improves her writing and resolves her confused feelings about Laurie.
A debilitated Beth nears death, and Jo returns to Concord. After her sister dies, Jo learns that Amy, who accompanied Aunt March to Europe, has fallen in love with Laurie. Jo then accepts the proposal of marriage offered by the professor, and Amy and Laurie eventually wed as well.
- Katharine Hepburn (26) as Josephine 'Jo' March (15 - )
- Joan Bennett (23) as Amy March (12 - )
- Paul Lukas as Professor Bhaer
- Edna May Oliver as Aunt March
- Jean Parker (18) as Elizabeth 'Beth' March (14 - )
- Frances Dee (23) as Margaret 'Meg' March (16 - )
- Henry Stephenson as Mr. Laurence
- Douglass Montgomery as Theodore 'Laurie/Teddy' Laurence
- John Davis Lodge as Brooke
- Spring Byington as Marmee March
- Samuel S. Hinds as Mr. March
- Nydia Westman as Mamie
- Harry Beresford as Doctor Bangs
At the request of Katharine Hepburn, costume designer Walter Plunkett created a dress for her character copied from one worn by her maternal grandmother in a tintype Hepburn had. Plunkett also had to redesign several of Joan Bennett's costumes to conceal her advancing pregnancy, a condition Bennett intentionally had not mentioned to George Cukor when he cast her in the film.
The film was budgeted at $1 million, and 4,000 people worked on it during the yearlong production schedule. 3,000 separate items, including costumes, furnishings, and household appliances, were authenticated by research. Hobe Erwin, a former artist and interior decorator, was hired to oversee the set decoration, and he modeled the interior of the March home after Louisa May Alcott's Massachusetts house.
The film opened on November 16, 1933 at Radio City Music Hall, where it broke attendance records and earned over $100,000 during its first week of release. It was the equal fourth most popular movie at the US box office in 1933 and, after cinema circuits deducted their percentage of exhibition boxoffice ticket sales, made an eventual profit of $800,000.
RKO's timing of release was impeccable, as Depression audiences were ripe for the film's evocation of life in a simpler, more innocent and auspicious world. In addition, the film business had come under fire in 1932 and 1933 for presenting an abundance of violent and sexually titillating material. This film was just the type that conservative people felt should be produced. They championed it, sent their children to see it, and made it part of school curricula.
The film was released on DVD for Region 1 markets (US, Canada, and US territories) on November 6, 2001 by Warner Home Video. It is closed captioned and features an English audio track in Dolby Digital 1.0 and subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Georgian, and Chinese.
Mourdant Hall of the New York Times observed, "The easy-going fashion in which George Cukor, the director, has set forth the beguiling incidents in pictorial form is so welcome after the stereotyped tales with stuffed shirts. It matters not that this chronicle is without a hero, or even a villain, for the absence of such worthies, usually extravagantly drawn, causes one to be quite contented to dwell for the moment with human hearts of the old-fashioned days. The film begins in a gentle fashion and slips away smoothly without any forced attempt to help the finish to linger in the minds of the audience."
TV Guide rated the film four stars, calling it "unabashedly sentimental" and "an example of Hollywood's best filmmaking." It added, "The sets, costumes, lighting, and direction by George Cukor all contribute greatly to this magnificent film, but the performances, especially Hepburn's, are what make the simple story so moving. There are laughs and tears aplenty in this movie, which presents a slice of American history in a way that children will find palatable. Released during the depths of the Depression, Little Women buoyed Americans' spirits. It still does." 
Husband-and-wife screenwriters Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Cavalcade, and George Cukor lost the Academy Award for Best Director to Frank Lloyd for his direction of that film.
Little Women was adapted twice more for the screen. MGM released the fourth adaptation in 1949, starring June Allyson. Columbia Pictures released the fifth adaptation 1994, starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon.
- Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
- Little Women (1917) at the Internet Movie Database
- Little Women (1918) at the Internet Movie Database
- Edwards, Anne (1985). A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn. New York: William Morrow & Company. p. 110. ISBN 0-688-04528-6.
- Edwards, p. 109
- Little Women at Turner Classic Movies
- 'Actual Receipts at the Wickets Now Decide "Box-Office Champions of 1933": Seven Ratings Entail Listing Thirteen Films Vary From Ten Voted Best; Robson Vice Barrymore; About Showshops.' The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 06 Feb 1934: 14.
- Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 68. ISBN 0-517-54656-6.
- New York Times review
- TV Guide review
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Little Women (1933 film).|
- Little Women at the Internet Movie Database
- Little Women at AllMovie
- Little Women at the TCM Movie Database
- Little Women at the American Film Institute Catalog