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Little Women (1949)

Gasser

Little Women (1949)

      Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” has found its way onto the big screen at least five times since the creation of motion pictures and we have probably not seen the last of it. Although I have seen three of these, I cannot quite decide which is the best of them. The 1949 version starring June Allyson differentiates itself in some ways from the other versions and in particular expands the part belonging to Elizabeth Taylor.

     In this Little Women Taylor plays Amy, who at 12 is the youngest of the March sisters in the book and in other incarnations of the movie. But at 17, Taylor’s already voluptuous body belies the youngest character’s age and visually appears to be the second-youngest sister. Beth, who is meant to be the second youngest sister, is played by Margaret O’Brien who was five years younger than Taylor. The choice of Taylor as Amy is logical in that she is meant to be the daintiest and grow to be the prettiest of the March girls, but the dying of her hair blonde does not favor the actress whose dark eyebrows defy her hairstyle.

     We all know that the story creates a deep friendship between main character Jo (Allyson) and neighbor Laurie (Peter Lawford) that essentially ends with Jo’s rejection of his marriage proposal. Amy then is meant to grow into a lovely young woman who captures Laurie’s fancy and becomes his wife. The downside to Taylor’s presence here is that Laurie could just have easily fallen for her at the film’s start as later on as her appearance changes only in the slightly finer clothing she dons.

     But moving away from the, perhaps, annoyance that is Taylor in Little Women, Allyson must be applauded for her fantastic portrayal of tomboy Jo, who is ever after equality for women. Her boldness ignites the friendship with Laurie who has moved in with his wealthy grandfather in the home next door. We see a lot of Laurie, more than in other movie versions, as he lets no class boundaries block his relationship with the girls and Jo in particular. His grandfather, Laurence Sr. (C. Aubrey Smith), is also quickly repainted from a grumpy old man to a generous friend who gives Beth his piano and supports the family through the girl’s illnesses.

     I perhaps never found it more heart wrenching than when Winona Ryder‘s Jo rejects the proposal from Christian Bale‘s Laurie in the 1994 Little Women. I did not experience the same emotion in the 1949 version. I would not say that Allyson nor Lawford poorly acted their parts but perhaps Jo is so masculine here that it is hard to imagine her as a marriage candidate. I typically also find myself heartbroken in watching other versions when Jo goes on to fall in love with the German she meets in New York, but I did not feel that way in this instance. This Professor Bhaer, although played by the Italian Rossano Brazzi, is handsome enough and affectionate enough to warm us to him as Jo’s suitor.

     Also joining the cast is Mary Astor as mother Marmee who is thankfully in few scenes as she brings little to the part and at times delivers the dialogue poorly. Janet Leigh plays oldest sister Meg and is appropriately polite and beautiful in her role. Despite the great cast, Allyson really stands as the best part, as well she should. This might not be the best filmed version of Little Women but it is nevertheless entertaining.

  • Little Women is set for 3:45 a.m. ET Sept. 8 on TCM.
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Feature: Newsiesversary

Newsies (1992)

I am afraid I might alienate a good number, if not all, readers by mentioning the “controversial” favorite movie of mine: Newsies. I say “controversial” because for those who are aware of the 1992 Disney live-action musical (the only one Disney made for theaters until High School Musical 3), they are surely shaking their heads in disappointment with my clearly lacking taste in movies (a very small sect might be cheering for the film’s mention, but I’m not holding my breath).

I feel the need to write — as briefly as I can manage — about Newsies because today happens to be my 10-year Newsiesversary, marking a decade since I became obsessed with the film. Dec. 15, 2000, was not my first viewing of the flick. I had watched it extensively as a kid after its TV premiere and subsequent recording by my parents. When re-watching it as a high schooler, I re-fell in love with it and thus began an extensive Internet-fueled hunt for all info Newsies. Although the obsession has certainly dwindled in recent years to the point of this once-a-year viewing, I still consider myself a fanatic, having relinquished my “NEWSIES” license plate only last August after a two-year stint (“I’m a reporter,” I would explain to unknowing pedestrians. Nice excuse, right?).

I was never one to deny that Newsies might be a terrible movie. It is loaded with continuity and historical errors that are fun to spot and sports a story line too complex for the child audience it targeted. When watching the movie with director’s commentary a year ago, however, I concluded that, no, in fact, Newsies is a bit of a masterpiece. When one considers how difficult it would have been to orchestrate a two-hour feature film using 20 primary teenage boy actors and hundreds of adolescent extras, it is a wonder Director Kenny Ortega accomplished anything, let alone getting them to sing and dance in sync. And one also cannot say the film is devoid of talent. Besides Ann-Margaret, Bill Pullman and Robert Duvall (who took the role because he was fascinated by the opportunity to play Pulitzer), the world has only recently come to appreciate the talent of Christian Bale. He might not have been able to sing well, but the newest face of Batman and his method-acting ways have made nothing but a splash in every picture he has done as an adult (The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, American Psycho).

The overwhelming cult fascination, albeit ignored by many digests of “cult classics”, also should give the movie some credence. Hundreds of teenage-made fan sites (including an extremely large one of my own that saw its demise with the death of Geocities) offer photos, bloopers, and trivia. At the time of my obsession’s start in 2000, the Yahoo! Newsies mailinglist had something like a thousand members who posted 300 emails per day. The appeal of the film lied almost exclusively in teenage girls and gay teenage boys because it was basically a bunch of cute boys singing and dancing on screen. The songs and the dances gave fans something to learn, and various inside jokes laid the way for a plethora of drinking games.

So in my attempts to keep this brief, I will conclude here, and look forward to my annual night with the movie. And for those who made it this far, I appreciate your attention.

Seize the Day

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