‘49’s ‘Little Women’ a Little Weepy


The pert heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” have proved pretty sturdy over the years, at least when it comes to film. They’ve inspired a couple of theatrical pictures and at least one TV movie. Now Hollywood has another remake.

This latest “Little Women,” starring Winona Ryder, is set for release around Christmas. It will undoubtedly be compared to the first, made in 1933 and featuring a young Katharine Hepburn, and the second, released in 1949 with Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson.

The stiffest test will be Hepburn’s picture, directed by George Cukor and also starring Joan Bennett. It’s gone down as the favorite, most tear-ready adaptation of the book.


The 1949 version (screening Friday afternoon in a free presentation at the Cypress Senior Citizen Center) isn’t quite as popular, but it, too, will provide competition. This one, directed by Mervyn LeRoy for MGM, can get more than a little sappy as we watch this house of pretty adolescents take pretty steps toward their destinies, but it’s also affectionately rendered.

It’s a real weepie--even more than the 1933 movie--the kind of flick that always seems to make more sense during the gushing emotions of the holiday season.

Once again we have the four March sisters, sometimes happy, sometimes woeful, as they grow from gay innocence to an almost chastened adulthood in New England around the time of the Civil War. Jo (Allyson) is the leader, brazen and active; Amy (Elizabeth Taylor) is the vixen; Meg (Janet Leigh) is ambitious and strong, and Beth (Margaret O’Brien) is the youngest, a soulful lass facing her doom.

The movie skips along well enough when the girls are enjoying themselves, which they do a lot, just like any pleasure-seeking adolescents. LeRoy believes in the directness of simple moods and keeps the good feelings sunny--the rainbow hues of Technicolor (a favorite technology of MGM at the time) help energize everything.

But when Beth starts creeping toward her end, with O’Brien playing her frailty as loudly as a big drum, the picture gets awfully emotional. Jo takes all this very hard; too bad Allyson isn’t Hepburn, who brought more level-headed perspective and resonance to Jo in the original.

On the other hand, Taylor is fresh and lovely, and Leigh is rightly vivid. Peter Lawford brings a smidgen of humor to Laurie, the neighbor cute enough to inspire crushes in these little women faced with large hormones getting larger all the time.


The movie also provided an important role for Leon Ames, the veteran character actor who lived in Laguna Beach for several years and died there in late 1993.

Ames--as he often did in pictures (including “Meet Me in St. Louis” with Judy Garland) and television (the ‘50s series “Life With Father”)--plays the kindly, patient dad in the 1949 film.

* What: Mervyn LeRoy’s “Little Women.”

* When: Friday, Dec. 16, at 12:45 p.m.

* Where: Cypress Senior Citizen Center, 9031 Grindlay St., Cypress.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway to Lincoln Avenue and head east to Grindlay Street, then go right.

* Wherewithal: FREE.

* Where to call: (714) 229-6776.