It’s a sign of advancing age when a film remake rolls along and your first reaction is: “Already? Didn’t we just have the last one?” So it was with me when the news landed that Greta Gerwig was making a new version of Little Women – the first major big-screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s pioneering young adult novel in 25 years. Not that long ago to some of us; a literal lifetime to the little women (and men) who are its primary audience. Gerwig’s version, with its structural zigzagging and injection of Generation Z feminism, will be released in UK cinemas on Boxing Day.
While you wait for it, however, revisiting the timeline of past versions is both an interesting chronological exercise and a suitably seasonal comfort-viewing binge. Sadly, any Little Women streaming project begins with a dead end: two silent version were made nearly back-to-back, in 1917 and 1918, and both have been lost. So we start with George Cukor’s rather lovely 1933 version – available most cheaply on Chili. Shot in silvery black and white, it downplays the romanticism of later versions for a more sober, bittersweet study of familial togetherness and resilience amid hardship. The 19th-century setting may remain, but it’s palpably depression-era cinema, with the then 26-year-old Katharine Hepburn as charismatic and aptly tomboyish a Jo March as we’ve ever seen.
Years - MGM - Time - Technicolor - Treatment
Sixteen years later, MGM decided the time was ripe for a full Technicolor treatment: Mervyn LeRoy’s 1949 version (again on Chili) is bathed in a sense of postwar luxury and abundance. Costumed and set-dressed to the hilt in frills, ribbons and colour-saturated velvet – it won an Oscar for its art direction – it looks a chocolate-box treat but is dramatically statelier and less emotionally immediate than its predecessor. Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor makes a vibrant, bright-eyed...
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Drove my Ford to the fjord, but the fjord was dry. . .