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George Cukor
Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas
Writing Credits:
Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman

The story of the Marsh women and their lives around the Civil War.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 8/29/2023

• 4 Shorts
• Scoring Stage Suite of Recordings
• Trailer


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Little Women [Blu-Ray] (1933)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 12, 2023)

More than 150 years after its initial publication, Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women remains an enduring classic. The saga first leapt to movie screens in 1917, but 1933 brought the tale’s first sound iteration.

Set in New England during the Civil War, we meet the women of the Marsh family. While they wait for Mr. Marsh (Samuel S. Hinds) to return from battle, Mother Marsh (Spring Byington) – known as “Marmee” – holds down the fort.

Marmee lives with her four daughters: 16-year-old Meg (Frances Dee), 15-year-old Jo (Katharine Hepburn), 13-year-old Beth (Jean Parker), and 12-year-old Amy (Joan Bennett). Spirited Jo aspires to become a published writer but spends much of her time subservient to wealthy Aunt March (Edna May Oliver) to earn money for the family.

Meg also works as a tutor for local kids, whereas Amy attends school. Too shy for classes, Beth helps around the house.

As time progresses, the girls mature and take different paths. In particular, Jo becomes romantically interested in handsome neighbor boy Laurie Laurence (Douglass Montgomery) but finds her interest in a career as a writer takes precedence.

When I watched the 1994 Little Women, I deemed it “a tremendously sappy and irritating piece of work”.

When I watched the 2019 Little Women, I deemed it “slow, disjointed and dull”.

At some point, I needed to wonder if I simply didn’t like the Alcott source. However, I felt that perhaps I found more issue with those adaptations than the core material, so I gave this 1933 take a look.

Did the 1933 Little Women finally prompt me to love the story and characters? No, but I do feel this version works much better than its more recent iterations.

Though all three come with the same elephant in the room: actors much older than their characters. This impacted all three of the versions that I viewed, though at least the 1994 production cast two different actors as Amy, so Kirsten Dunst’s “Younger Amy” actually offered a performer the right age for the role.

That doesn’t prove true for the 1933 flick – at least in the early scenes. Of course, the characters grow older as the movie progresses, but it still seems silly to see 23-year-old Bennett as a 12-year-old.

Hepburn was also 11 years too old for “younger Jo”, but she manages to pull off the part well. No, we don’t buy her as 15, but Hepburn’s spark adds enough charm to allow me to largely ignore this issue.

Really, Hepburn becomes arguably the most significant reason the 1933 Women tops the 1994 and 2019 editions. While talented, both 1994’s Wynona Ryder and 2019’s Saoirse Ronan tended to make Jo seem obnoxious and insufferable.

Which feels like a potential trap for the character, but Hepburn walks the right side of that line. She displays Jo’s independent and hard-headed streak but manages to ensure that we like her and don’t find her to become grating and smug.

I will credit the 2019 Women as the most even-handed of the three. It actually gives all four young March ladies reasonable screen time, whereas 1933 and 1994 focus mainly on Jo.

This seems understandable, as Jo provides easily the most compelling character. Still, I’d like more balance, and the 1933 and 1994 versions tend to forget Jo’s sisters exist.

Indeed, once Jo heads away from home to pursue her vocation, we literally lose track of her sisters. Huge chunks of the story pass that should just be titled Little Woman.

If we ignore the source, this becomes less of a problem – again, substantially because Hepburn carries the tale. She manages the role’s different emotions and ages in a subtle manner that gives the film heart.

The 1933 version doesn’t make me love the story, but it becomes a substantially more engaging rendition than I’d seen with the 1994 and 2019 iterations. Carried by Katharine Hepburn, this becomes a fairly engaging melodrama.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Little Women appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film showed its age, but it nonetheless provided satisfactory visuals.

For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Some wider shots and interiors tended to be a little soft but those never created substantial concerns and I felt the film usually exhibited good delineation.

A few segments held up less well than others, and the reel featured in chapter 14 looked awfully fuzzy. Still, while I wouldn’t call it razor-sharp, the definition worked fine overall.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge haloes. Grain felt reasonably natural, and the movie lacked print flaws.

Blacks appeared quite nice. Those tones showed solid depth, and shadows also exhibited positive clarity.

Contrast gave the movie a nice silver sheen. Overall, this was a pretty positive image.

I felt the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Little Women largely matched age-related expectations. Speech tended to sound somewhat metallic, but only occasional edginess appeared, and the lines remained perfectly intelligible. <> The dialogue wasn’t natural, but it showed acceptable clarity. Music felt tinny but decent.

Like the dialogue, effects veered toward the bright, slightly shrill side of the street, but they also remained fine given their age. To be sure, this wasn’t an impressive track, but it seemed fine for its era.

Four feature shorts from 1933 accompany the film. We get the live-action efforts Salt Water Daffy (21:14) and In the Dough (21:47) as well as animated flicks I Like Mountain Music (6:57) and The Organ Grinder (7:16).

Daffy stars Jack Haley and Shemp Howard as two ne’er-do-wells who inadvertently enlist in the Navy. It doesn’t pack a ton of laughs, but it comes with some amusement value.

With Dough, we find one of Fatty Arbuckle’s attempts at a career revival, as he plays a bakery employee who deals with pushy gangsters. It comes with some fairly stale slapstick and not much else.

Note a connection between the two live-action films. Both Shemp Howard and Lionel Stander act in both, though they play different parts.

Mountain features magazine subjects who come to life. It’s cute and interesting for archival reasons but not actually very entertaining.

Finally, Grinder features a street musician and his monkey partner entertain the locals. It feels even less inspired than Mountain and becomes a dud.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with an audio-only Scoring Stage Suite of Recordings. This compilation lasts 25 minutes and presents parts of the film’s score without dialogue or effects. Fans of movie music will like it, especially because quality seems surprisingly good.

While the 1933 Little Women forgets three of those ladies too much of the time, it nonetheless turns into a pretty enjoyable drama. Helped by a strong lead turn from Katharine Hepburn, this version avoids the pitfalls that damaged later adaptations and largely works. The Blu-ray comes with generally positive picture and audio as well as a mix of bonus materials. Expect a quality production and an appealing disc.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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