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Little Women (1933 film)

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Little Women is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film, directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker The screenplay, by Sarah Y Mason and Victor Heerman, is based on the 1868 novel of the same name, by Louisa May Alcott

This is the third screen adaptation of the book, following silent versions, released in 1917, with Minna Grey, and in 1918, with Dorothy Bernard23 After this first sound version came a 1949 remake, with June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawford, and the 1994 release, starring Winona Ryder


  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Cast
  • 3 Production
  • 4 Release
    • 41 Home media
  • 5 Critical reception
    • 51 Accolades
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Set in Concord, Massachusetts, during and after the American Civil War, the film is a series of vignettes focusing on the struggles and adventures of the four March sisters and their mother, affectionately known as Marmee Spring Byington, while they await the return of their father, who serves as a colonel and a chaplain in the Union Army Spirited tomboy Jo Katharine Hepburn, who caters to the whims of their well-to-do Aunt March Edna May Oliver, dreams of becoming a famous author, and she writes plays for her sisters to perform for the local children Amy Joan Bennett is pretty but selfish, Meg Frances Dee works as a seamstress, and sensitive Beth Jean Parker practices on her clavichord, an aging instrument sorely in need of tuning

The girls meet Laurie Douglass Montgomery, who has come to live with his grandfather, Mr Laurence Henry Stephenson, the Marches' wealthy next-door neighbor The Laurences invite them to a lavish party, where Meg meets Laurie's tutor, John Brooke John Lodge During the next several months John courts Meg, Jo's first short story becomes published, and Beth often takes advantage of Mr Laurence's offer for her to practice on his piano

Marmee learns that her husband is recuperating in a hospital in Washington, DC, after an injury, so she goes to Washington to care for him During her absence Beth contracts scarlet fever from a neighbor's baby She recovers, albeit in a weakened condition The March parents return, and Meg marries John Laurie confesses his love to Jo, who rejects him When he snubs her in return, Jo moves to New York City to pursue her writing career, and she lives in a boarding house There she meets Professor Bhaer Paul Lukas, an impoverished German linguist With his help and encouragement Jo improves her writing, and she resolves her confused feelings about Laurie

Beth, debilitated, is near to death, so Jo returns to Concord After Beth dies, Jo learns that Amy, who accompanied Aunt March to Europe, has fallen in love with Laurie and accepted his proposal Professor Bhaer arrives from New York City and proposes to Jo, who accepts, then Amy and Laurie eventually marry


  • Katharine Hepburn as Josephine 'Jo' March
  • Frances Dee as Margaret 'Meg' March
  • Joan Bennett as Amy March
  • Jean Parker as Elizabeth 'Beth' March
  • Spring Byington as Marmee March
  • Douglass Montgomery as Theodore 'Laurie/Teddy' Laurence
  • Paul Lukas as Professor Bhaer
  • Edna May Oliver as Aunt March
  • Henry Stephenson as Mr Laurence
  • John Davis Lodge as Brooke
  • Samuel S Hinds as Mr March
  • Nydia Westman as Mamie
  • Harry Beresford as Doctor Bangs

Uncredited cast members include Bonita Granville, Olin Howland, and Lily Lodge


Katharine Hepburn as Jo
From the trailer for Little Women 1933

Although David O Selznick received no screen credit, he returned to RKO from MGM to supervise the production as the last film left in his contract with the studio4

At the request of Katharine Hepburn, costume designer Walter Plunkett created a dress for her character copied from one worn by her maternal grandmother in a tintype Hepburn had Plunkett also had to redesign several of Joan Bennett's costumes to conceal her advancing pregnancy, a condition Bennett intentionally had not mentioned to George Cukor when he cast her in the film5

Louise Closser Hale originally was scheduled to portray Aunt March, but after her death on July 26, 1933, Edna May Oliver assumed the role6

The film was budgeted at $1 million, and 4,000 people worked on it during the yearlong production schedule 3,000 separate items, including costumes, furnishings, and household appliances, were authenticated by research Hobe Erwin, a former artist and interior decorator, was hired to oversee the set decoration, and he modeled the interior of the March home after Louisa May Alcott's Massachusetts house6

Exteriors were filmed at Lancaster's Lake in Sunland, Providencia Ranch in the Hollywood Hills, and the Warner Bros Ranch in Pasadena


The film opened on November 16, 1933 at Radio City Music Hall, where it broke attendance records and earned over $100,000 during its first week of release6 It was the equal fourth most popular movie at the US box office in 19337 and, after cinema circuits deducted their percentage of exhibition boxoffice ticket sales, made an eventual profit of $800,0001

RKO's timing of release was impeccable, as Depression audiences were ripe for the film's evocation of life in a simpler, more innocent and auspicious world In addition, the film business had come under fire in 1932 and 1933 for presenting an abundance of violent and sexually titillating material This film was just the type that conservative people felt should be produced They championed it, sent their children to see it, and made it part of school curricula8

Home mediaedit

The film was released on DVD for Region 1 markets US, Canada, and US territories on November 6, 2001 by Warner Home Video It is closed captioned and features an English audio track in Dolby Digital 10 and subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Georgian, and Chinese

Critical receptionedit

Lobby card

The film was overwhelmingly praised by critics upon its release Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times observed, "The easy-going fashion in which George Cukor, the director, has set forth the beguiling incidents in pictorial form is so welcome after the stereotyped tales with stuffed shirts It matters not that this chronicle is without a hero, or even a villain, for the absence of such worthies, usually extravagantly drawn, causes one to be quite contented to dwell for the moment with human hearts of the old-fashioned days The film begins in a gentle fashion and slips away smoothly without any forced attempt to help the finish to linger in the minds of the audience"9

Variety called it "a superbly human document, sombre in tone, stately and slow in movement, but always eloquent in its interpretations"10

John Mosher of The New Yorker declared it "an amazing triumph", and "a picture more intense, wrought with more feeling, than any other we are likely to see for a long time to come"11

The New York World-Telegram called the film "a stunningly clever job of recapturing on the screen all the simplicity and charm of its author", and wrote that Hepburn gave "an unforgettably brilliant performance and that once and for all she definitely proves how unlimited and effortless an actress she really is"12

The New York American wrote, "It is possible that with the passage of months the memory of Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of the sensitive, fiery Jo will be dimmed a bit, or somewhat superseded by later displays of histrionic genius But at the moment, and for days, weeks, months to come, Miss Hepburn's characterization will stand alone on a pedestal of flaming brilliance"12

TV Guide rated the film four stars, calling it "unabashedly sentimental" and "an example of Hollywood's best filmmaking" It added, "The sets, costumes, lighting, and direction by George Cukor all contribute greatly to this magnificent film, but the performances, especially Hepburn's, are what make the simple story so moving There are laughs and tears aplenty in this movie, which presents a slice of American history in a way that children will find palatable Released during the depths of the Depression, Little Women buoyed Americans' spirits It still does"13


Husband-and-wife screenwriters Sarah Y Mason and Victor Heerman won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Cavalcade, and George Cukor lost the Academy Award for Best Director to Frank Lloyd for his direction of that film


  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
  2. ^ Little Women 1917 on Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Little Women 1918 on Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Edwards, Anne 1985 A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn New York: William Morrow & Company p 110 ISBN 0-688-04528-6 
  5. ^ Edwards, p 109
  6. ^ a b c Little Women at Turner Classic Movies
  7. ^ 'Actual Receipts at the Wickets Now Decide "Box-Office Champions of 1933": Seven Ratings Entail Listing Thirteen Films Vary From Ten Voted Best; Robson Vice Barrymore; About Showshops' The Washington Post 6 Feb 1934: 14
  8. ^ Jewell, Richard B; Harbin, Vernon 1982 The RKO Story New York: Arlington House p 68 ISBN 0-517-54656-6 
  9. ^ Hall, Mordaunt November 17, 1933 "Movie Review – Little Women" The New York Times Retrieved December 9, 2014 
  10. ^ Greason, Alfred Rushford November 21, 1933 "Little Women" Variety New York p 14 
  11. ^ Mosher, John November 18, 1933 "The Current Cinema" The New Yorker p 83 
  12. ^ a b "NY Critics Unanimous in Raves over 'Little Women'" Motion Picture Daily New York November 20, 1933 p 8 
  13. ^ TV Guide review

External linksedit

  • Little Women on Internet Movie Database
  • Little Women at AllMovie
  • Little Women at the TCM Movie Database
  • Little Women at the American Film Institute Catalog

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