Little Women (1949)

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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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The House I Live In

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The House I Live In (1945)

     I am not sure whether it is really worth giving the 10-minute short The House I Live In a rating as it is not something one can really grade. The only reason I sat down with this quickie is because I’m such a Frank Sinatra fan that, naturally, I need to indulge in any chance I can get to see his work.

     Sinatra plays himself as we open on a scene of him recording a song in a studio before he takes a smoke break and wanders out to an alley. There he finds a group of boys who have chased another kid into a corner and clearly plan to give him a beating. Sinatra intervenes and learns the outcast is disliked purely for his (unnamed) religion. The crooner proceeds to tell the boys they are Nazis because only Nazis care about a person’s religion.

     Sinatra sort of proceeds to call the bullies jerks and other names before heading back to work, which prompts his singing to the boys of “The House I Live In,” a ditty about all the things that make America what it is, most especially the people.

     The short won a Special Oscar for Best Tolerance Short Subject –seriously– and a Golden Globe as Best Film for Promoting International Good Will. It was among the many patriotic films being pumped out by studios during the war to promote America’s allies and the cohesiveness of the country’s people. In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Curiously, The House I Live In writer Albert Maltz would later be blacklisted during the McCarthy era as was Composer Earl Robinson, who wrote the title song.

     Sinatra comes off as harsh when disparaging the boys, which really sends a broader message to the public in general about picking on those who are different. If only celebrities today would make TV spots calling homophobes and those who think all muslims are all terrorists a bunch of assholes. I am being a bit facetious, but perhaps we can learn by Sinatra’s message and song of tolerance as the world never seems to be without its prejudices.

Source: TCM.com

Fools for Scandal

Fools for Scandal (1938)

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I have to wonder what attracts actors to playing the role of a fictional movie star. Do they say, “Hey, that will be easy. I’m fully qualified for that part.” Whatever the case may be, you can nearly forget that Carole Lombard‘s character in Fools for Scandal is an actress because besides the attention the press gives her, she has no other characteristics of a screen star, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Movie star Kay Winters is visiting France while on break from shooting her latest picture in London. When she pauses to watch the joyous outflow of people from a wedding reception, she is kissed by a member of the crowd whom she thinks mistook her for a member of the wedding party. That man, however, also had just sauntered up to the crowd and spying Kay, thought he could make a seemingly innocent move on her. Rene (Fernand Gravet) is an out-of-work cook who hasn’t a dime to his name and has only just exchanged his day suit for his tuxedo at a pawn shop. He finagles his way into sharing a cab ride with Kay and shows her his native city, slowly winning the brunette over.

The two take dinner together and plan a next-day rendezvous, but when Rene over-sleeps, he is stuck with only a tuxedo for clothing. After sending his friend out to retrieve his regular suit proves too time-consuming, he dons a couple oriental rugs and rushes down to Kay, whom he informs he will be with shortly. In his haste to leave, now in his underwear, Rene grabs Kay’s jacket and with it two diamond clips. Kay bails on their date but Rene goes after her all the way to London on the pretense of returning the clips, which his pal has incidentally pawned to bankroll their travel. Once there, he shows off his culinary bravado while at a party and decides to take over as chef once the cook quits.

Kay is unaware this man she sort of loves is hiding out in her house the night following the party and will serve her breakfast in the morning. The party-goers are far more savvy, however, and have noticed Rene did not leave the party. The next morning as the gossip mill has churned, hordes of female friends come pouring into Kay’s bedroom wanting to know about the new cook. Kay is continually furious with Rene, but a horde of reporters on her porch blocks his exit. Complicating matters is Kay’s real boyfriend Phillip (Ralph Bellamy), who is hanging on hoping for an engagement agreement from the star.

When I first saw Lombard on the screen in Fools for Scandal, I gasped at her brown hair. I couldn’t believe such a sight, but as it turned out, the hairdo was a wig meant to disguise her identity as a famous actress. Lombard is beautiful in her expensive gowns and lavish lifestyle and lends the film plenty of humor. The story does contain an arbitrary song, “Fools for Scandal” written by Rogers and Hart. The sing-talk performance mostly by Gravet is uncomfortable in the story to say the least.

Poor Ralph Bellamy once again plays the second-fiddle boyfriend as the leading man swoops in for the kill. He is particularly pathetic in Fools for Scandal, however, as every demand he makes is conceded. He tells Kay she must make up her mind on whether to marry him tonight “or else!” What’s the “or else”, she asks. “Or else tomorrow.” When Philip declares Kay’s behavior is the last straw, he mumbles a “probably” as he storms out the door. This is not a unique role for Bellamy as he often played the less desirable lover, but he was armed with plenty of humorous dialogue that made him fun to watch, if not a bit likeable.

Finally, Gravet is entertaining as our French love interest. He is plenty amiable and can drive a laugh with the help of the ever-comedic Allen Jenkins as his roommate. In one scene he dons an antique uniform and white wig to serve a special dinner for Kay and Phillip. His obnoxious behavior makes the scene wonderfully funny while also frustrating as we empathize with Phillip.

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