George Cukor directs Katharine Hepburn as Jo March in one of the earliest screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a chronicle of the lives and loves of four sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War. There’s intrinsic nostalgia and sentimentality to the storytelling, but Cukor never lets the film become maudlin. That’s largely owed to Hepburn’s contribution. The then-controversial actor is well-suited for her tom-boy role, casting aspersions on tradition and pushing the ideals of women’s liberation at a time when expectations for young women were as confining as their corsets.
Some of the players, including Jean Parker as the sickly Beth and Edna May Oliver as abrasive Aunt March, give in to caricatured performance. Spring Byington and Douglass Montgomery are plenty likable as matriarch Marmee and love interest Laurie, but their roles lack the depth present in other productions, most notably Greta Gerwig’s 2019 telling. The most compelling thing about this 1933 version is indeed the source material — a tale about young women on quests of self-fulfillment, the comforts of tradition, and respect for the trailblazing spirit. With Paul Lukas, Joan Bennett, and Frances Dee.
Academy Award: Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director