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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Little Women

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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted August 21 2003 - 03:36 PM

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Little Women

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1949
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 122 Mins.
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Standard
Audio: DD Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai & Korean.

The Feature:
OK… I know what you’re thinking. “Not another review of an old classic”…? Yes, I’m afraid so. However, I promise to make it up to you next month with Clint Eastwood -- in spades….. Really, I will.

Similar to my recent review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, this is yet another film where numerous versions have been done over the years. Adapted from the novel written by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women has at least three major releases (1933, this feature version of 1949 and finally one from 1994) plus a myriad of TV specials, movies and a couple of old silents. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the other versions although I have had the 1933 Katharine Hepburn version in my hands and I’ve come close to picking it up…

If I am unfamiliar with a title I am about to review, I like spend a little bit of time researching the film. Surprisingly, it was interesting to learn that many feel this 1949 version of the film is the weakest of the three major releases. I have not seen the others so I cannot obviously comment. But the fact that a version starring the likes of June Allyson, Peter Lawford, Mary Astor and Elizabeth Taylor would be sub par to a version featuring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes and Susan Sarandon is well, frankly, hard to believe. So, I’ll reserve judgment for those who are familiar with the various versions. I’m left with the impression the 1933 version is the definitive version being the truest and most faithful to the spirit of the novel.

Little Women is the story of a somewhat underprivileged family during the Civil War chronicling the story of four sisters all with very different personalities. The “Tom Boyish” Jo (played by June Allyson) is the happy go lucky sibling with a tough exterior façade yet seemingly fragile interior who wants things to remain just as they are. Janet Leigh plays the role of Meg who is the mature stabilizing sibling of the group. Then there is Amy (Elizabeth Taylor) who is rather ostentatious and at times caught up in her own self importance. Finally, there is young Beth (played by Margaret O’Brien) who is shy and introverted, but loves to play the piano.

There are many touching scenes, most notably when wealthy neighbor Mr. Laurence (played by the great – and “scary looking” Sir C. Aubrey Smith) has his piano delivered to young Beth next door as a gift for a pair of slippers she made for him to show her gratitude for the use of the instrument.

It is a very moving and poignant story of four siblings growing up, finding love and their struggle to cope in dealing with what they once had.

This version of Little Women was also shot in Technicolor. Unfortunately, I have several flaws worthy of mentioning. Most notably, were the colors. While they were vibrant and level of saturation was satisfactory, they were very unstable and inconsistent. Many of the facial close-ups looked quite nice and skin tone looked very accurate, however there was a shimmer that at times, I found distracting.

The amount of grain present (or remaining…??) was slightly more than I like to see. The level of detail was for the most part, very clear and satisfying. Black levels were outstanding – very impressive.

There was a very nice sense of dimensionality to the picture certainly giving it a definite film like presentation.

I could detect no problems with any film dirt, scratches etc.

The problems noted above aren’t what I would classify as a poor rendering, in fact for the most part, I was certainly pleased, as I think most others will be as well. I’m simply mentioning that this video presentation is slightly more problematic than many of the others I have recently reviewed.

Audio is a very basic DD Mono. Basically, the entire movie is dialogue driven (with the exception of a short opera clip) which is extremely clear. No hiss or noise whatsoever.

What we would expect.

Special Features:
WB has offered up a decent selection of special features on this disc. To start, we have:

Lux Radio Theater Show: Original Live Broadcast – This is an entire live broadcast which took place on March 13th, 1950. It was presented by the Lever Brothers and the quality of the audio is actually quite good. Surprisingly, they were able to get four of the original stars back to do the radio broadcast (Lawford, Allyson, O’Brien and Leigh).

Successful Women – Successful Films – A four page text listing which chronicles the history of the three major motion pictures of Little Women.

Theatrical Trailer – Trailer for the feature film which is shown in B&W (??). It is also in very good shape.

Awards – A one page text listing showing the recipients of the 1949 Academy Award winners for the film for Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration.

And finally…

Cast & Crew – A one page text listing of all the major characters and their role in the film.

Final Thoughts:
As I delve deeper into these reviews, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the likeability of the reviewed feature is directly proportional to the ease of the review. Such is the case with this movie. It was an enjoyable two hours spent in the home theater. My wife and I found this to be a refreshing and entertaining movie. I can say this; the next time I have the 1933 version in my hands, I won’t be putting it back. I can’t wait to see the older version now.

While the video presentation has minor flaws, the audio is more than satisfactory and there is a decent offering of supplements. I believe fans of the film will be more than satisfied. Recommended.

Release Date: August 26th, 2003
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   John_Berger



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Posted August 21 2003 - 03:54 PM

Actually, this movie was also done recently starring Susan Sarandon, a very young Kirsten Dunst, and Wynona Rider. Although I have not seen any of the movies (I have seen it on stage), I wholeheartedly agree that this is a surprisingly likable play/movie. I can't say that I'd buy it , personally, but it certainly qualifies as a very good "rainy day" movie or a very good "I'm in the mood for some lighter drama" movie.

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   SteveP


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Posted August 21 2003 - 06:46 PM

The 1949 version is by far the least interesting of the three sound versions of LITTLE WOMEN--overwhelmed as it is by the 1940's MGM candy-box production values.

The 1933 Katharine Hepburn-George Cukor version is a classic of its time--beautifully played and designed and straight-forward in its simple sentiment.

The 1994 version is more feminist-modern, but equally well performed.

The musical score of the 1949 version is lifted entirely from the 1933 RKO original.

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Arnie G

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Posted August 22 2003 - 01:34 AM

A lot of us like old classics, plus some would consider Clint Eastwood another old classic too.Posted Image
I've got my own Toto

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Andrew Budgell

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Posted August 22 2003 - 01:50 AM

I will be picking this up the second the stores open! This is a great version of a classic story, made even greater by the presence of Dame Elizabeth. :-) Actually Herb, while you said that many people feel that the 1933 version is closer to the book, they are actually the same screenplay as well! I am glad to hear that this has a nice transfer, and surprisingly a decent selection of bonus material! I can't wait! Thanks Herb!

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