Little Women (1949) – full review!
I’d heard this was the weakest screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. However after 90 minutes of wonderfully sentimental tear-jerking moments to say nothing of the Academy Award winning Art Direction-Set Decoration and Oscar nominated Color Cinematography I thought those assessments must be wrong. Unfortunately the last fourth of the film which focuses primarily on the Jo March character proved that those critics were right. I think the reason for this is that June Allyson just couldn’t carry it as well as (e.g.) Katharine Hepburn did in the original; of course few could. It’s still a very good family drama. This version was produced & directed by eventual Irving G. Thalberg winner Mervyn LeRoy with a screenplay by Victor Heerman & Sarah Y. Mason (Little Women (1933)) and Andrew Solt. In addition to Ms. Allyson the cast includes Peter Lawford Margaret O’Brien Elizabeth Taylor Janet Leigh Rossano Brazzi Mary Astor Lucile Watson C. Aubrey Smith Leon Ames and Harry Davenport (among others). Harlan Briggs and Will Wright who plays a kindly storekeeper appear uncredited.
The March family consists of four daughters Jo (Allyson) Beth (O’Brien) Amy (Taylor) & Meg (Leigh) their mother they call Marmee (Astor) their crotchety & rich Aunt (Watson) and absent (at the beginning & for most of the film) Reverend father (Ames) who’s gone off to war. They live next door to the Laurences Laurie (Lawford) lives with his grandfather James (Smith) because his parents are no longer living. In this version: Jo is the outgoing tomboy who’s an artistically creative writer the second oldest daughter to socially proper Meg who unlike Jo is interested in the opposite sex; Amy is a self centered braggart and the youngest Beth is a talented piano player who is shy. Because Laurie is lonely he watches the March family activities through his window. Soon however Jo and Laurie are fast friends running chasing and playing with one another as two boys would earning Jo some rebuffs from Meg & Aunt March and growing affections from Laurie.
Mr. Laurence is thought to be as stern and crotchety as Aunt March but Jo and later Beth learn that their assessment is all wrong. He becomes a good neighbor to them allowing shy Beth to utilize his piano without an audience that would frighten her. Even though the Marchs themselves are struggling without father’s income Marmee helps those even less fortunate setting a good example for her daughters who follow her lead. Unfortunately this leads to Beth contracting Scarlet Fever shortly after Mr. Laurence had gifted his piano to her in return for her gift of slippers to him. Dr. Barnes (Davenport) is able to help her pull through while the family which now includes the Laurences gathers. Much to Jo’s dismay Meg dates Lieutenant Brooks (Richard Stapley aka Wyler) whom she eventually marries; father who returned shortly after Beth’s recovery performed the service. The event leads Jo to despair (e.g. the family is breaking up) which causes Laurie to confess his love for her. When Jo says that she doesn’t couldn’t love Laurie in that way he is heartbroken and storms off.
Jo decides to go away to pursue her writing. She’s to live in Mrs. Kirke’s (Connie Gilchrist) boarding house where she meets Professor Bhaer (Brazzi almost unrecognizably young in one of his first English speaking roles). Ellen Corby plays the maid Sophie. He expands her world considerably by taking her to the theater the opera the ballet etc.. He also tells her that the fantasy writing she’s done for various murder magazines and the like is not very good that she’s got talent but she’s wasting it. This brings her to tears in part because she’d just learned (from a visit) that Aunt March was taking Amy to Europe instead of her. Jo returns home because Beth is again ill. However she takes the professor’s advice and writes a book about her youngest sister. At the film’s end Bhaer brings Jo a copy of her published novel during a rain storm of course which leads to the predictable romantic ending.