Alright, y'all, let's talk Little Women adaptations. If you caught last Friday's post, you know that I now own three of them: the 1933 adaptation starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo, the 1949 adaptation starring June Allyson as Jo, and the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder as Jo. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you already know my opinion on a book versus the movie (hint: the book is always better), but I still love watching a good movie and what better kind of movie is there than one that's been inspired by a classic work of literature?
Having said that, none of these adaptations can hold a candle to the novel. Really. I have yet to watch any version of Little Women that accurately captures the essence of Laurie's relationship with Jo and the rest of the March family, which is a crime. It's one of the sweetest aspects of the book, in my opinion, and they just can't get it right on film. *sigh* They also leave so much out of the movies. I know, I know: no film adaptation of a book can ever fit it all in. It can't possibly be as well-developed. And I understand that if they tried to truly turn Little Women into a movie chapter by chapter, it'd probably be 24 hours long. I get it. But it's still a shame.
Enough of this, let's break down each film one by one.
This film is my most recent acquisition, and, you guys, I hate to say it was a waste of six dollars and thirty-six cents, but....it was a waste of six dollars and thirty-six cents. I hadn't seen this version since I was a little girl, and a lot of people actually claim that this is their favorite version, the version that is truest to the novel, blah blah blah.
It's the worst.
It is a complete and total, ridiculously overacted, melodramatic, trainwreck of epic proportions. I wish I was kidding, but seriously? The make-up on the male actors alone is going to give me nightmares for weeks.
On the plus side, they took a lot of small details from the book and included them in this movie which I appreciated. Beth's kittens, Marmee's charity work, Amy's penitence over her selfishness and getting Marmee a larger bottle of perfume for a present, Meg kissing Marmee at her wedding, and Jo's Christmas play among others are all examples of things done in this movie that weren't done in any of the others and showed the great attention to detail given to the novel. This was the first adaptation of Little Women (okay, actually the third following two silent versions...so I mean, they don't really count) made for the big screen, and it won the academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but it will never be a favorite of mine.
My biggest bone with this movie is the horrendous overacting. I couldn't even handle it. It was 1933. They did their best. Whatever. All I could do was cringe. It was so melodramatic it was almost comedic. I don't think I can ever sit through this one again. If this is your favorite movie and you want a free DVD of it, holla at me. I will put it in the mail to you tomorrow. Don't judge me for hating it. The one other thing I couldn't get over was the casting of the March sisters. No way could any of them have passed for adolescent girls. Please.
June Allyson is still my favorite. This movie blows the other two out of the water, for sure.
After watching all three films back to back (don't judge me, it was a stormy day, okay?!), it almost seemed that for this one, they took 1933's screenplay and just did it better. These two films follow each other so closely, it's impossible not to compare them.
In my opinion, the casting for 1949 was far and away the best of all the adaptations. Each actress really became the little women in Alcott's beloved novel. June Allyson is the most convincing Jo I've seen on screen, and Janet Leigh, Margaret O'Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mary Astor did equally as well playing Meg, Beth, Amy, and Marmee. And while I'm touting the phenomenal acting in 1949's Little Women, I may as well tell you that Peter Lawford is for sure my favorite Laurie. I also have to note that the scene in which Beth receives the piano from Mr. Laurence and immediately goes to thank him is definitely done best in this film and is worth mentioning when comparing all three of them like this.
A criticism worth noting with 1949 is that Beth comes off as much younger than Amy. Beth is not the youngest sister and Amy is very much babied in the novel, and that doesn't play at all in this film. It's unfortunate, and if I could change one thing about this movie, that would probably be it. But seriously, if you are going to watch an adaptation of Little Women, pick this one. It is, by far, the best and my favorite, favorite, favorite. I cry from beginning to end, and, if you know me, you know that's a good thing.
Last, we come to the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder as Jo. I grudgingly have to admit that this may actually be the best adaptation as far as staying true to the novel is concerned (taking exception to the scene where Beth receives the piano which does not happen at all like it does in the book and the entire invention of Laurie promising Amy a kiss which doesn't happen in the book at all).
This movie includes scenes from Little Women that the other two films didn't even attempt to address such as Laurie's induction into the girls' gentlemen's club, Meg's trip to the Moffatts', Amy's feud with Jo in which she burns up Jo's beloved manuscript, and the following scene where Jo and Laurie go off ice skating and Amy nearly drowns when she falls through the ice. This film also keeps the integrity of the book in tact in scenes that the other two films get horribly wrong. The most notable being the ball (Beth and Amy stay home), Amy's punishment and subsequent withdrawal from school (it's about bringing limes, not drawing on her slate), Meg's wedding to Mr. Brooke (they're engaged for years before it happens, people), and Laurie's proposal to Jo (it does not happen immediately after Meg's wedding, for crying out loud).
Another thing I appreciated about 1994 was that they cast Kirsten Dunst as a young Amy and Samantha Mathis as the older Amy rather than trying to have the same actress pass for a child and an adult in the same film. This could have worked out beautifully if I didn't hate Samantha Mathis so much as older Amy. Also, it's possible that Claire Danes is my favorite Beth.
However, Winona Ryder is the worst Jo in history, and Susan Sarandon is an awful Marmee. I actually prefer Katharine Hepburn's Jo to Ryder's, and did you read my take on 1933? I didn't like it. So that's huge. And I think just about anyone could have played Marmee better, but, to be fair, I think the biggest problem with Sarandon's Marmee was the writing--not her acting. I also didn't care for the way that Winona Ryder narrated this movie. This was probably the biggest difference between 1994 and the other two. I understand that narration in a movie like this can help the flow and development of the story, but as far as I'm concerned, it didn't work at all, probably due in part to the fact that Ryder was such a terrible Jo. Having said all that, the most significant issues with 1994 are the feminist spin they put on it and all the emphasis on the romances of the sisters. This movie didn't get Meg's, Jo's, or Amy's romances with Mr. Brooke, Professor Bhaer, and Laurie right at all. And, I'm sorry, but there was just way too much kissing going on in this movie. Shoot me. I'm a diehard romantic, but don't put in a bunch of crap that's not supposed to be there, okay?! And as for the feminist spin, I understand that they were trying to draw from Alcott's personal life as the novel was somewhat autobiographical, but they took way too many liberties with their liberal agenda--yeah, I said it.
So there you have it. Some of my comparisons and critiques of the 1933, 1949, and 1994 film adaptations of Little Women. To my chagrin, none of the films get Jo's relationship with Professor Bhaer right. (People, she does not write a novel and send it to him! All three movies did this, and I hate it so much. Where did this come from??) I realize they're trying to make a huge novel into a 2-hour movie, but this is my biggest contention with all of them.
If you are dying to watch Little Women, once again, PLEASE watch 1949. It is the best! (But, for the love of everything pure, READ THE BOOK!)
And I wasn't kidding when I said I'd give you 1933. I was going to try to pass it off like a great giveaway, but seeing as how I told you how awful I think it is, it hardly seems classy to make it seem like it's something worth winning. But if you want it, I will give it to you.
What are your thoughts? Have you seen any version of Little Women? Which is your favorite? Are there any big-time Hepburn fans out there that I've mortally offended? Reagan, how did I do? Could I be a Hollywood film critic?
Have an explosively fun Independence Day weekend, and stay safe out there!