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Old 12th Apr 2015, 17:00   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Little Women (1949)

I last saw the 1949 Little Women when I was a very "little woman" myself, possibly as junior as six or seven years old, at my own mother's knee. June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Liz Taylor and Margaret O'Brien.....

Coming to this film post-the-GillianArmstrong/Winona/KirstenDunst/ChristianBale/SusanSarandon film, it makes for a very different kind of experience. The studio sets are very 1940's non-realistic; the tone and temper of the music and mood and acting style is exaggerated and more sentimental than naturalistic. The story is pulled about rather - Amy doesn't get struck for eating limes, Amy doesn't burn Jo's story (surely one of the worst moments in literature) and never falls through the ice, Mr Brooke is a co-soldier from the Civil War as much as a tutor to Laurie, and his proposal to Meg is effected by a Lady Catherine de Bourgh-style reversal of opinion.

In part the cast is a replay of Minelli's Meet Me in St Louis, with the same actors - Leon Ames and Mary Astor - playing the parents in both films; and Margaret O'Brien reprising a familiar role as the youngest child, Tootie in Meet Me.... and Beth here (the films swaps the ages of Beth and Amy). However the actors are mostly 10 years too old for their roles - esp. Mr Brooke and Laurie/Teddie. There is never really a sense of young women growing up from carefree teenage years into the difficulties and responsibilities of young adulthood.

It's lovely that Professor Bhaer actually appears at first covered in a bear-skin rug but his Italian accent is at odds with his supposed Germanic origins. Lost too are all the Transcendentalist overtones of the Concord upbringing of the March girls and how this chimes with Bhaer's Romantic-Germanic philosophies. The principled stand of the March family re slavery and re the consumption of alcohol, plus the emancipation motifs in Jo's journey from small-town tomboy, to independent earner and schoolteacher, are barely mentioned or developed in this film.

But the dialogue is sometimes spot-on and evokes the very best of LM Alcott -

Jo - "I wish I were a horse!"
Schoolmaster to Amy - "Did you do this drawing?" Amy - "I think so...."

Jo - "Marmee, go downstairs quickly - John Brooke is acting dreadfully and Meg likes it!"

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