While their father (Samuel S. Hinds) is away at war, an aspiring writer (Katharine Hepburn) and her three sisters — beautiful Meg (Frances Dee), kind-hearted Beth (Jean Parker), and young Amy (Joan Bennett) — are raised by their hard-working mother (Spring Byington) while living next door to a wealthy old man (Henry Stephenson) and his handsome grandson (Douglass Montgomery).
George Cukor’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s enduringly popular Civil War-era novel is often cited as the definitive — and/or the most beloved — of numerous cinematic iterations. Katharine Hepburn is perfectly cast as tomboy-ish Jo, though I’ll admit I find her deep-voiced performance a bit forced during the first half of the film; only once her character matures and moves to New York does Hepburn seem to relax into the role. Other key parts in the ensemble cast are nicely filled as well, with Paul Lukas particularly sympathetic as Jo’s older suitor (it’s easy to see why she would fall for him, despite the age difference), and Douglass Montgomery a charming, easygoing “Laurie”. (It’s a shame Montgomery’s career never really took off.) The deliberately episodic, relatively faithful Oscar-winning screenplay follows the cadences of Alcott’s coming-of-age novel nicely, while historically authentic sets and costumes help bring the story to life; fans of the book likely won’t be disappointed.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Paul Lukas as Professor Bhaer
- Nicely authentic sets and costumes
- A fine, Oscar-winning screenplay (by Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason)
Yes, as an enduring literary adaptation. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.