17 September 2012 | SimonJack
All Hepburn in this early rendition
Few would deny the powerful presence of Katherine Hepburn in any movie she ever made. In this first screen adaptation with sound of Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, Hepburn IS the movie. That is to say, her part, her lines, her camera time seem to surpass the combined times of all the rest of the cast. While that may be as one would expect for many stories – a star or hero being the focal point of a whole work, this film, based on this book, was supposed to be about several "little women." So, most of the rest of the characters in the film – save a neighbor male friend, really get short shrift. For that reason, and a few others I'll mention, I think this rendition falls short of the interesting story told in the book.
I would like to have seen more development of the sisters than this film has. The later remake – 1949's MGM production, does flesh out all the characters more. The problem with the overly heavy emphasis on the one character in this first movie is that the audience doesn't get much of a sense of who are the rest of the members of the family. So we can't so readily experience the ups and downs, the emotions, the tragedy and love felt between the sisters and their mother.
Hepburn does a very good Jo, but not great. I think her efforts to be the tomboy were overdone in a few instances, which only drew my attention to this aspect of her role. She didn't seem to come by it naturally. One example was when she spoke a couple of times, acting and deliberately mimicking a deep-throated guttural voice for a man. At other times, she seemed to push it a bit and overact in flamboyance of tom-boyish behavior.
There were no other notable performances by other cast members. Paul Lukas as Professor Bhaer and Douglas Montgomery as Laurie were good. Most of the rest were just OK or non-descript. One member was just not right for the role of Marmee. Spring Byington brought no depth or real feel to the role that the viewer could sense. But, then, the film just seemed to glide over the lesser roles.
"Little Women" is a good story in the American library, and this film is enjoyable to watch. But, for a much more involving and endearing film, be sure to see the 1949 rendition by MGM.