Little Women (George Cukor / U.S., 1933):

The George Cukor period piece, a plush mansion with a banister for sliding. A brief view of soldiers marching through snow sets the stage (and perhaps makes one imagine his Gone With the Wind), then swift introductions of the March lasses. Katharine Hepburn’s Jo is a glorious dervish barely caged inside Victorian crinolines, the camera pans from a tuneless schoolgirl chorus to find Joan Bennett with blonde ringlets and a dainty deadpan, a very droll Amy. Beth (Jean Parker) cultivates both the clavichord’s broken keys and the "infirmity of shyness," while Meg (Frances Dee) masters the blush of the budding homebody. "Funny angels, in hoods and mittens..." In this translucent portrait of the artist as tomboy, the curly-haired male ingénue (Douglass Montgomery) has to compete with the arts for the heroine’s affections. Voraciously creative, Jo stages a play in the living room, dons the hero’s lute and the villain’s whiskers with gusto, and climbs the cardboard castle even as it crumbles around her sisters, a pivotal Cukorian scene (Sylvia Scarlett, The Actress, Travels with My Aunt). "I’d like to hop a little way and try my wings," writing is the new métier, Prof. Bhaer (Paul Lukas) is the tough critic and sensitive beau introduced on all fours under a bearskin. (His ursine benignity contrasts comically with the splenetic pecking of Edna May Oliver’s Aunt March, quite the drop of vinegar.) The search for identity is the true combat in Louisa May Alcott’s wartime New England, and Cukor honors her stout feminism by filling the storybook compositions with whirls of feminine vitality. The society ball is glimpsed through a trio of doors as Hepburn spins in the sidelines to her own beat, Bennett and Parker in doll-like dresses perched on the staircase make for an early sketch of Meet Me in St. Louis. Ribbons and bonnets, kittens and spitfires, "I’ll give you America." Armstrong transposes it to My Brilliant Career, then officially remakes it as a point of clarification. With Spring Byington, Henry Stephenson, John Lodge, and Samuel S. Hinds. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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