Little Women, much like Anne of Green Gables, is a rite of passage for many a young girl who loves to delve into literary worlds or dreams of creating her own someday. I did not escape the love of the tales of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
June Allyson becomes Jo March. She’s perfect in the role with her deep, laryngitis-ridden voice and boyish gestures, her cheekiness and enthusiasm. Allyson is never over-dramatic or understated in the role. She keeps the character balanced and real, hardly contrived and superficial as Professor Bhaer says of Jo’s fictional characters.
Margaret O’Brien steals scenes as Beth. A lot of the dialogue rings true to the bit part O’Brien had in Babes on Broadway–the sincerity in which she delivers lines should seem over the top, but almost always rings true. The relationship between Beth and Jo is underscored by the respect and admiration that June Allyson and Margaret O’Brien had for each other. They played sisters 5 years before in Music for Millions and according to both had competitions to see who could cry on cue faster as both were known for their crying scenes.
Peter Lawford could probably be interchanged with several of his contemporaries and it wouldn’t matter, but he’s Peter Lawford and it makes for much happiness. The role of Laurie isn’t fleshed out a whole lot. Nor are the feminist issues that the novel goes into, however, the film is still strong and is really focused family and change with light romance thrown in.
Elizabeth Taylor is suited to the role of Amy, although it always bothers me to see Taylor with blonde hair. Mary Astor makes a wonderful, strong Mrs. March. And Janet Leigh is fine as Meg, though her part isn’t very fleshed out either and really could have been played by anyone.
The sets are lavish and so detailed. It feels so iconic that it the film seems like a Vincent Minnelli film at times, many of the transitions are held in frame and faded out as if stepping in and out of vignettes.
Though it may not be the best version of Little Women to come out of Hollywood, it’s charming all the same. To quote Professor Baehr once again, “It has such truth, such simple beauty–I cannot tell you what it gives me, my heart.”