Little Women (1933 film)

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Little Women
Little Women 1933 poster.jpg
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)
Starring Katharine Hepburn
Joan Bennett
Paul Lukas
Jean Parker
Frances Dee
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Henry W. Gerrard
Edited by Jack Kitchin
Production
company
RKO Radio Pictures
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • November 16, 1933 (1933-11-16) (United States)
Running time 117 mins.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $424,000[1]
Box office $2,000,000[1]

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.[2][3] Subsequent to this version, was a 1949 Technicolor release Little Women with June Allyson and the 1994 film Little Women starring Winona Ryder.

Plot[edit]

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.

Cast[edit]

Uncredited cast members include Bonita Granville, Olin Howland, and Lily Lodge.

Production[edit]

Katharine Hepburn as Jo.
From the trailer for Little Women (1933).

Although David O. Selznick received no screen credit, he returned to RKO from MGM to supervise the production as the last film left in his contract with the studio.[4]

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.[5]

Louise Closser Hale originally was scheduled to portray Aunt March, but after her death on July 26, 1933, Edna May Oliver assumed the role.[6]

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.[6]

Exteriors were filmed at Lancaster's Lake in Sunland, Providencia Ranch in the Hollywood Hills, and the Warner Bros. Ranch in Pasadena.

Release[edit]

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.[6] It was the equal fourth most popular movie at the US box office in 1933[7] and, after cinema circuits deducted their percentage of exhibition boxoffice ticket sales, made an eventual profit of $800,000.[1]

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.[8]

Home media[edit]

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.

Critical reception[edit]

The film was overwhelmingly praised by critics upon its release. Mordaunt 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."[9]

Variety called it "a superbly human document, sombre in tone, stately and slow in movement, but always elonquent in its interpretations."[10]

John Mosher of The New Yorker declared it "an amazing triumph," and "a picture more intense, wrought with more feeling, than any other we are likely to see for a long time to come."[11]

The New York World-Telegram called the film "a stunningly clever job of recapturing on the screen all the simplicity and charm of its author," and wrote that Hepburn gave "an unforgettably brilliant performance and that once and for all she definitely proves how unlimited and effortless an actress she really is."[12]

The New York American wrote, "It is possible that with the passage of months the memory of Katherine Hepburn's portrayal of the sensitive, fiery Jo will be dimmed a bit, or somewhat superseded by later displays of histrionic genius. But at the moment, and for days, weeks, months to come, Miss Hepburn's characterization will stand alone on a pedestal of flaming brilliance."[12]

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." [13]

Accolades[edit]

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.

Other adaptations[edit]

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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
  2. ^ Little Women (1917) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Little Women (1918) at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Edwards, Anne (1985). A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn. New York: William Morrow & Company. p. 110. ISBN 0-688-04528-6. 
  5. ^ Edwards, p. 109
  6. ^ a b c Little Women at Turner Classic Movies
  7. ^ '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.
  8. ^ Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 68. ISBN 0-517-54656-6. 
  9. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (November 17, 1933). "Movie Review - Little Women". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). Retrieved December 9, 2014. 
  10. ^ Greason, Alfred Rushford (November 21, 1933). "Little Women". Variety (New York: Variety, Inc.): p. 14. 
  11. ^ Mosher, John (November 18, 1933). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker (New York: F-R Publishing Corp.): p. 83. 
  12. ^ a b "N.Y. Critics Unanimous in Raves over 'Little Women'". Motion Picture Daily (New York: Motion Picture Daily, Inc.): p. 8. November 20, 1933. >
  13. ^ TV Guide review

External links[edit]