Josephine (Jo) March
Professor Fritz Bhaer
Elizabeth (Beth) March
Margaret (Meg) March
Theodore (Laurie) Laurence
Girls at Boarding House
Based on the novel by
Director of Photography
Film Editing by
Original Music by
Costume Design by
Edna May Oliver
Samuel S. Hinds
Dorothy Gray, June Filmer
Merian C. Cooper
Sarah Y. Mason and
Louisa May Alcott
Van Nest Polglase
Frank H. Harris
VHS / DVD
RKO Radio Pictures
115 minutes on DVD – original release 117 minutes
Filmed in Concord - New Hampshire - USA
Premiere: November 16, 1933
The four March sisters grow up in Concord, Massachusetts, during the difficult days of the Civil War. Their Father is away fighting and their beloved mother Marmee, holds the family together as best she can. Jo, the impulsive and headstrong The four March sisters grow up in Concord, Massachusetts, during the difficult days of the Civil War. Their Father is away fighting and their beloved mother Marmee, holds the family together as best she can. Jo, the impulsive and headstrong daughter, wants desperately to write, but cannot break away from her sister. When her sister Meg marries Mr. Brooke, despite her pleading, Jo bitterly refuses a marriage proposal from her sweetheart, Laurie, and leaves for New York City, where she later meets Fritz Bhaer, a scholarly professor.
Time – 1933
"That Little Women attains so perfectly, without seeming either affected or superior, the courtesy and rueful wisdom of its original is due to expert adaptation by Sarah Y Mason and Victor Heerman, to Cukor's direction and to superb acting by Katharine Hepburn. An actress of so much vitality that she can wear balloon skirts and address her mother as ‘Marmee’ without suggesting quaintness, she makes Jo March one of the most memorable heroines of the year, a girl at once eager and puzzled, troubled, changing and secure."
David Kehr – Chicago Reader
"An open, fresh, surprisingly spontaneous version of the Alcott story, directed by George Cukor for David O. Selznick (1933). Katharine Hepburn’s Jo is the best of her early performances, a lovely dance of dreaminess and flintiness. Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker are the other sisters, and the supporting cast has Cukor’s usual depth."
Tom Milne - Time Out
"Surely the definitive version of Louisa May Alcott's novel, sweet, funny, perfectly cast, and exquisitely evocative in its New England period reconstruction. Cukor rightly emphasizes the season, staring with a growing up in reduced circumstances. But as the seasons change, so do joy return, and the film offers an endlessly pleasurable series of vignettes: the breaching of the ogre's castle next door (to find it inhabited by a very kind old man and a very personable young one); the disastrous performance of Jo's play; the business of Beth's piano, and the fluttering alarms of her bout with scarlet fever; the first stirrings of romantic interests. The cement that holds all this together is Hepburn’s miraculous performance as the tomboy Jo, angrily resisting the approach of womanhood ('Why can't we stay as we are?'). Cukor mines a rich vein of sentiment, never over-stepping the mark into slush, but it is Hepburn's Jo, making a subversive choice of what she wants her life to be, who ensures that the cosiness isn't everything."
What Kate had to say
Katharine Hepburn - Interview with John Kobal - 1979
"Little Women had that extraordinary quality of lost innocence and also of character. It was a child's book, it was always considered a child's book, but it was like my childhood, you see. We were in New England, we had a big family, and everything was always rather exaggerated and I was a very dramatic sort, you know 'Christopher Columbus! What richness' type. And all that sort. It rather suited my exaggerated sense of things. And they [the Little Women family] were a good sort. All of them. They had character and they were funny."
"Oh, I remember there was a sound strike in the studios at the time we were shooting, it was during the scene where Beth was dying for the nth time, and although I admired the book enormously, I was getting a little bit unable to play it because I had wept day after day after day, and I had sixteen and twenty takes on these weeping scenes, and they wouldn't get them correctly. We had all of these amateur sound men. Finally, she did die, and I threw up. I cried so many times, I just threw up."
"Then we switched and did the scene where I went to New York to seek my fortune and I went to the opera with Professor Bhaer. And I came back home, you know, in the movie, and I said, 'Ohhhhhhh, I donh't whahnt to be ah hwritah. ih whahnt to be ahn ohperah sighah.' [Hepburn does an astoundingly good takeoff of Hepburn.] And I came into this room, in this exquisite dress, and I rather fancied myself, full of too much energy, terribly young, all of ten, and I twirled around in htis beautiful dress which had been copied from one of my grandmother's dresses and sank to the ground in a cursty and said, 'I want to be an opera singer,' and down from the seiling on a rope, came a large ham. That was George's idea of a joke. It was terribly funny. And nothing like that ever happend to me, until one day when I got stuck on the Milford Turnpike, and a cop came up to me and said. 'Well, if it isn't the little girl who sold us those sandwiches all there years.' And I asked, 'What kind of sandwiches?' and he said, 'Ham.' Isn't that divine? [She burst into laughter.]
What fellow actors, the director and friends had to say
George Cukor – Interview with John Kobal - 1979
"I remembered Little Women as being rather better than it was. But I think that we did capture just what has made that book live - the real vigour of it, and that love of family. And of course Katharine Hepburn cast something over the film: a sort of innocence and strength that was quite remarkable and very touching. They did the book again years later and it came out as just a sentimental shambles."
George Cukor – Interview with John Gillett and David Robinson – 1964
"When Selznick wanted me to do Little Women I hadn't read the book. (Kate Hepburn once accused me of never having finished it, which is a lie.) Of course I'd heard of it all my life, but it was a story that little girls read, like Elsie Dinsmore. When I came to read it, I was startled. It's not sentimental or saccharine, but very strong-minded, full of character, and a wonderful picture of New England family life. It's full of that admirable New England sternness, about sacrifice and austerity. And then Kate Hepburn cast something over it. Like Garbo in Camille, she was born to play this part. She's tender and funny, fiercely loyal, and plays the fool when she feels like it. There's a purity about her....You could go with whatever she did. She really felt it all very deeply. She's a New England girl who understands all that and has her own family feeling."
"I'll never forget Katharine. She used to sit between scenes in a window seat in her severe, austere dresses with a straight back, reading a slim volume. She could have been Jo herself. She had such a grave, sweet expression on her face, with her hands folded in her lap, and looking so austere and yet so beautiful. She was always the first on the set every day, lines perfect, glowing with health, and never the slightest sign of temperament. Sometimes while she was reading or just contemplating alone, we girls, Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, and myself, would creep up and peek at her, absolutely awestruck by her concentration. I'm sure she knew we were watching, but she never looked up or around."
Jean Parker – 1933
"Jean's role as the Ill-fated Beth was a breakthrough, her first really challenging part. "Playing Beth was the hardest thing I ever did," she declared shortly after the film's completion. "To begin with I was scared stiff for I had no real training in acting. To make it harder still, I was only 16 while the others were all over 24. I was terribly shy then and so tired from worrying. I was numb. But all the girls did everything they could to help me, particularly Miss Hepburn. She was lovely to me."
Jean Parker - Interview with Dan Van Neste – 1997
Van Neste: "Then came perhaps your most famous film, Little Women. How was Miss Hepburn?"
Parker: "Just gorgeous. When I told her I lacked her intensity, she told me what she needed was my relaxation. That struck me as funny because she didn’t know I was half dead for not sleeping—worrying."