How many filmed adaptations of Little Women are there, anyway? At least a dozen, if you count made-for-TV movies and TV series based on the Louisa May Alcott novel. The best known are the 1933 adaptation, directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo; the 1949 Technicolor version with a showy all-star cast, including June Allyson as Jo; and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder as Jo, which I also consider the only version with an attractive Professor Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne). Some of the TV movies and series have such unbelievable casting that I wish I had the chance to see them; I am thinking particularly of the 1978 TV movie starring Susan Dey as Jo, Eve Plumb as Beth, Meredith Baxter Birney as Meg, and -- wait for it -- William Shatner as Prof. Bhaer. I'm sorry, I can't read that last sentence without bursting into giggles, every single time.

My favorite Little Women is the 1933 film (although I like the 1994 one too, and will have to dig up a suitable photo to post so I can tell you why). Hepburn is truly the best Jo of them all, and the most believably tomboyish. True, Laurie (Douglass Montgomery) is a bit too wimpy for my taste, and Paul Lukas isn't the most handsome Prof. Bhaer (but then he's not supposed to be, in the book), but Joan Bennett is an appropriately pert and lively Amy, and Edna May Oliver is a top-notch Aunt March.

I was reminded of the 1933 film because today is actress Frances Dee's birthday; she played the virtuous and sweet oldest sister Meg. Dee took supporting roles in a number of successful 1930s dramas, such as Of Human Bondage and Becky Sharp. She also had the Jane Eyre-ish lead role in the 1943 film I Walked with a Zombie. Dee was married to Joel McCrea and retired from acting in the 1950s to raise their children. She died in 2004. Dee is at the far right in the above photo; the other actresses portraying the March sisters in that photo are Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, and Katharine Hepburn.
categories Features, Cinematical