ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #20: Little Women (1933)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-first review was for the 1933s classic Little Women directed by George Cukor. Enjoy!

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Christmas is waiting impatiently at the door, which means hot chocolate, cookies and, of course, Christmas movies made to be watched with friends and family. The movies of this holiday season make us smile and put us in the holiday spirit. Many excellent Christmas films have been made through the ages, but my choice is George Cukor’s Little Women. It might not be the most “Chrismasy” of them all, but it represents the holiday perfectly by warming our hearts.

Little Women takes place in New England during the Civil War. It tells the times, the joys, the happiness, the friendship and the loves of the March sisters: Meg (Frances Dee): the eldest sibling and the refined one; Josephine or “Jo” (Katharine Hepburn): the tomboy whose dream is to be a celebrated writer; the timid Beth (Jean Parker): a sensible piano player; and the coquettish Amy (Joan Bennett): the youngest of them all and an artist. They live with their kind mother “Marmee” (Spring Byington) and manage to defy their solitude by being with each other. The film is mostly focused on Jo, who becomes good friends with their neighbor Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Douglass Montgomery).

This version of Little Women, released in 1933, was the third adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name after the silent versions of 1917 and 1918. Little Women was well received upon release, both financially and critically and was nominated at the 1934 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, winning the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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This film was released at the perfect moment in 1933 since the United States was suffering from the Great Depression and movies like Gold Diggers of 1933 or Baby Face depicted this hard period of history in different ways. Little Women is also about a major event in the history of the USA, the American Civil War, but the film comforts its viewers. The story is full of life and makes us cry, yes, but, it also makes us smile. Little Women was made to lighten people’s hearts and gives them hope that life can be good though it’s simple. The four sisters are a delight to watch; they’re not just sisters, but also best friends. Just like people during the Great Depression the Marches aren’t rich, but they don’t need a big fortune to have a good time: friendship and family are enough for them.

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Little Women is a story about the power of generosity, first proved to us in the Christmas scene when the four girls decide to use the money Aunt March gives them as a gift to buy a present for their mother. When Christmas Day comes they decide to give their delicious breakfast as a present to a poor family who live in miserable conditions. Even though this is difficult, especially for poor Beth who salivates at the view of the popovers, they only feel better after their good actions. It’s a real life lesson for all of us.

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George Cukor does an amazing job transposing Louisa May Alcott’s characters to the screen, and their respective actors give them justice. There couldn’t be a better choice than Cukor to direct this cast. He was excellent at directing “ladies pictures” and gives them a vivid aura and strong personalities.

All the stars are excellent and deserve accolades. Katharine Hepburn stars her second film here and what a performance! Dynamic, touching, funny, the role is perfect for her. Blonde Joan Bennett proves her versatility as Amy March, a role different from the ones she later played in Fritz Lang’s films noir. Frances Dee is elegance itself as Meg March. Jean Parker is the most touching one of the lot as Beth. Spring Bryington, who plays Marmee, gives a wise performance, full of warmth. Douglass Montgomery as Laurie makes a perfect duo with Hepburn and his sense of humor is contagious. Paul Lukas makes an appearance late in the film, but his presence is much appreciated. Edna May Oliver, John Davis Lodge and Henry Stephenson have smaller roles, but they’re well chosen and remain as unforgettable as the rest.

Little Women is also much visually stunning due to the snowy landscapes and 19th-century New England architecture. Walter Plunkett’s costumes are also important to the film. (He did the costumes for Singin’ in the Rain and Gone With the Wind, another film set during the American Civil War.) For one of her dresses, Katharine Hepburn asked Plunkett to copy a dress her maternal grandmother was wearing in an old picture. Walter Plunkett also had to rapidly create a series of costumes that would hide Joan Bennett’s pregnancy at the time she was shooting.

The devotion and passion of the characters, especially Jo’s, makes you want to get up and accomplish something with your life. George Cukor’s classic is the perfect feel-good movie to watch during Christmas. It makes you realize that the most important thing during this holiday aren’t gifts, but your friends and your family. Masterpieces like Little Women are here to remind us of that.

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #10: The African Queen (1951)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My tenth review was for the 1951’s classic The African Queen directed by John Huston. Enjoy!

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For the Teen Scene column this month we’ll visit a new genre I haven’t written about yet: the adventure film. To represent the genre, I chose The African Queen. Based on the novel by C.S Forester, The African Queen was directed by John Huston in 1951 and is cited as one of the most thrilling and entertaining movies ever made. It has always been a favorite of mine and I’m sure it will become a favorite of yours, as well.

The African Queen takes place during the beginning of World War I. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sawyer, an English missionary living in Africa with her pastor brother, Samuel (Robert Morley), for the last ten years. One day, they receive Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) for tea, a Canadian boat captain and owner of The African Queen. Charlie also delivers the mail and packages in the village.

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Just before he goes back to his boat, Charlie informs Rose and Samuel that a war between England, Germany and some other countries is starting in Europe. Not a long time after he’s gone, German troops arrive in the village, burning houses and the church. After this sad episode, Samuel, who has been clearly traumatized, becomes strange, lesser and lesser himself. He ultimately dies from a fever one afternoon, leaving his poor sister alone.

The same day, Mr. Allnut is back to the village with The African Queen. When he learns what happened, he tells Rose to come with him: they have to abandon the village before the Germans decide to come back. So, they go away on The African Queen. Mr. Allnut informs Rose that The Louisa – a big German boat containing the biggest gun in central Africa – is patrolling the river to prevent the British counter attack.

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Rose has a big project: she wants to go make this boat explodes. Mr. Allnut tries to convince her it would be too dangerous, but her idea is already made. She has the final word and the adventure begins. However, that’s not without problems. They’ll have to face many physical obstacles and some quarrels due to their clashing personalities. Rose and Charlie don’t like really like each other first, but they’ll learn to.

The African Queen had a good reception upon release and won the Oscar for Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart). It was also nominated for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Director (John Huston) and Best Screenplay (James Agee and John Huston).

Filmed in beautiful Technicolor, The African Queen grabs attention by being an American film that does take place in the USA, nor in an occidental city, but in the deep African jungle. And yes, a majority of this film was shot in Africa. (Actually, half was shot in Africa, and the other half in England.) For the African shoot, that wasn’t easy, considering the cast and crew were sick all the time except for John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, who didn’t catch malaria, apparently due to their consummation of Scotch.

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Shooting it on real location certainly makes it more authentic, similar to the film Mogambo (John Ford, 1953), also shot in Africa. Grace Kelly said she wouldn’t have been part of that film if it had shot in Arizona. When watching the film, it’s amusing to imagine how certain scenes might have been shot, how they manage to come to this excellent result despite the difficulties, etc.

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Another aspect that makes The African Queen worth watching is it becomes sort of a Guided tour between the characters and the audience, allowing us to see the nature of Africa: the flowers, trees, and numerous animals like crocodiles, antelopes, monkey, elephant, giraffes, hippopotamus, etc. All of this intrigue makes us curious to visit this hot continent.

I said The African Queen was an adventure movie, but another aspect enhances appreciation is its grouping of many other genres: romance, comedy, drama, etc., all expressed in small, but unforgettable moments. I’m thinking of Charlie Allnut’s character himself for the comedy. One particular moment that inspires laugher involves him imitating a hippopotamus. For the drama, when they are stuck in the mud and think this is the end and for the romance, well, you can imagine what can happen between a man and a woman sailing alone in an uncivilized place. It takes place in Africa, but it’s a Hollywood film after all! And it’s with pleasure that we assist in this romance, because it certainly is one of the most beautiful on-screen love stories.

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Humphrey Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut and I always thought this was one of his best performances and a very well deserved award. What makes Humphrey Bogart so brilliant here is he illustrates his versatility. Seeing him in this film is indeed different from all his previous detective or gangster roles. In The African Queen, we see a comic and more “relaxed” Bogie. Katharine Hepburn’s performance is great too, but maybe less surprising, since we already know she can play every type of role.

 

Speaking of Katharine Hepburn, let’s look at her character, Rose Sawyer. The film’s concept of adventure is obviously embodied by her. Her evolution from serious English lady with good manners to adventurous woman is fascinating to see. Rose has passion for adventure, courage, and is never ready to give up. Katharine Hepburn, a strong actress with an anti-damsel spirit, is the perfect actress for this role and her performance is unforgettable.

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The African Queen contains many messages, but the main one is: never give up. The film indeed proves to us that miracles happen even in the most difficult of moments. The African Queen is a film that makes you feel strong and gives you the taste for adventure. (I mean, who wouldn’t like to feel as proud as Rose and Charlie?) The African Queen is a movie everybody can appreciate in need for a cinematographic boost.

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Remembering the Great Kate

“I’m a personality as well as an actress. Show me an actress who isn’t a personality, and you’ll show me a woman who isn’t a star.”
– Katharine Hepburn-
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Katharine Hepburn. The only thing that is not unique about her is this last name “Hepburn”. As for the rest, the lady was, and will always be one of a kind. Today, the one who was also called “The Great Kate” would have been 109. Unfortunately, Katharine left us in 2003 at the fair age of 96.
Even if she’s not with us anymore, that’s not a reason for us, her fans, not to honour her on this marvellous day. For the occasion, Margaret Perry is once again hosting The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. Of course, it’s with joy that I’m participating to it again, as I had so much fun last year. You see, Katharine Hepburn is one of the most interesting subjects to talk about. For my contribution, I won’t write about a particular film of hers, but will simply honour her with a text explaining why she’s a favourite of mine.
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At first, Katharine Hepburn is generally known for having won no less than four Oscars (Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond), for her love affair with Howard Hughes (we are now all thinking about Scorsese’ The Aviator), for creating Hollywood’s most famous love story with Spencer Tracy (as well as starring in some movies with him), for her partnership with Cary Grant in four films and for often been under the direction of George Cuckor. But Katharine Hepburn, it’s much more than that. I can’t say I know a lot about her personal life, but what the lady simply transmits to us by her presence on screen is enough for us to have our attention kept and, if this one is (which will obviously be the case), to be more and more curious about her.
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Kate and Spencer. Love is beautiful.
I perfectly remember when I first saw a photo of Katharine Hepburn. Like most of my favourite movie stars, it was in this book called “Les stars de cinéma”. I was looking at the pictures of all those marvellous stars that I was about to discover with my mother. I remember, when we arrived at Kate’s pages, my mother said “Oh yes, Katharine Hepburn is a great actress”. It’s funny, because my mother hadn’t really seen any of her movies except On Golden Pond, but this only proves us that Katharine Hepburn has a great reputation, even among those who don’t know her very well. Of course, my mother has seen more Katharine Hepburn’s films now, thanks to me, and I think she’s a favourite of hers too now! I was very happy when, after watching Women of the Year for the second time together, she told me: “Yes, I pretty like Katharine Hepburn! She’s a great actress” 🙂 Or well, something like that.
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One of the pictures in the book. I have this one as a poster too!
Before I saw any of her films, Katharine Hepburn was always presented to me as “The greatest actress ever”. So, of course, I had to discover her. If my memory is good, the first Katharine Hepburn’s film I ever saw was Holiday (George Cukor, 1938). Of course, it has the right ingredients to be a very representative Katharine Hepburn’s film: It was directed by George Cukor and her male co-star was Cary Grant. I’ve only seen this film twice. First time I watched it, I liked it, but I liked it better the second time (which was very recently). There is some stuff that I could understand better after a few years. However, the thing magical with Katharine is that, even if the film isn’t really good, she’s always there to save it. I recently watched Pat and Mike and honestly didn’t really like it. I don’t say that it’s not a good film, but I found it somehow boring. It just didn’t grab my attention. Luckily, the best thing about this film was her beloved Kate. I wonder what it would have been without her. She has such a presence!
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With Cary Grant in Holiday.

This song is forever stuck in my head:

That “presence” stuff makes me think about why Katharine Hepburn is so admired. Everything she does on screen is so perfectly well-calculated, depending on her character, the story, the situation, etc. The way she talks, moves, look at the other character (I love the way she looks at Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby), etc. is always neat. That voice! That unique voice! Some people could find it annoying, but it’s part of her personality, we can’t take it away from her. I must admit I’ve tried to imitate it, but no one can do it better than Kate herself. It’s a voice we’ll recognize everywhere. I can perfectly hear her saying “Oh but I can’t, I have a lease.” while I’m writing those words.
Yes, Katharine Hepburn certainly put all the energy she had in her on-screen performances. Thanks to her, her characters are so vivid, so present. She’s like a filter for the whole movie. She never hesitates. She’s such a great actress that it makes us wonder how she was in real life. Certainly a great lady! But what I mean here, is, how can you stop acting when you’re so talented? It simply seems addictive. Ok, I guess that’s why certain actors are called talented. It’s because they themselves can make the difference between a film and reality. I’m not an actress!
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However, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t only amaze us by her acting. To satisfy us, the lady simply needs to “be”. Cary Grant once said “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant, even I want to be Cary Grant”. Well, Kate should have said that about herself too. Do I want to be Katharine Hepburn? DAMN YES! Even if Katharine Hepburn is my fifth favourite actress (but I consider her to be among the three most talented), she’s certainly one of those who inspire me the most. There’s so many things that Kate says in her films that I would like to say in everyday life. I must be frank with you, I’m impatiently waiting the occasion to say “Go on Baby, down the stairs!” Ok, I wonder when this will happen… I must admit that I often said to myself that I should try the “Susan Vance method” to grad a guy. 😉 Kate also makes me do weird things, but that’s part of the amusement: I’ve tried TWICE to do the egg trick from Woman of the Year (separate the white and the yellow with a strainer). I’ll tell you, IT DOESN’T WORK, but it’s really nice to do because you have the feeling you’re Kate (I’m so thankful that eggs exist). ❤ For a 15 second of glory, why not being Kate? 🙂
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But, overall, Kate is the perfect strong woman model . She can be admired alright, not only for her acting abilities, but also for what she transmits to us. From what I know of Kate’s life, I think she was a very independent woman and somehow a feminist model. Some marvellous things she said certainly prove my point:
” I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done; As long as I enjoyed it at the time.”
“[on marriage] It’s bloody impractical. “To love, honor, and obey”. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have to sign a contract.”
“I find a woman’s point of view much grander and finer than a man’s.”
“Only when a woman decides not to have children, can a woman live like a man. That’s what I’ve done.”
She certainly knew how to talk and how to be clear!
It was known that the lady was mostly wearing trousers, making her a revolutionary fashion icon. But, even in her movies she was one. How can we forget all those hats she wears in her films. Kate certainly was a hat’s head! As for the clothes, everything always seems to suit her perfectly, even rags. I think Katharine Hepburn was often wearing a red vest. Well, I have one myself, and, each time I  wear it (which is often), I think of Kate. 🙂
Anwyay, what the world would have been without Katharine Hepburn? What her co-stars would have been without her? Katharine Hepburn always seemed to have a perfect chemistry with the actors and actresses she was working with (young and old). Not always necessarily and  good off-screen chemistry, but certainly a good on-screen one. That was part of her professionalism. Kate made shining stars shine even more. She didn’t overshadowe them, she made them her equal (ok, I’m talking like James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story) in an unconscious way. She was a great and respectable lady from A to Z. She was a queen.
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Before leaving you, I have to reveal a little top list of my 10 most favourite Katharine Hepburn’s films. What do you think? Otherwise it wouldn’t been  a worthy article for this blog. 😉
1- Bringing Up Baby (and my second favourite movie of all times)
4- Little Women (I just love this scene with Joan Bennett when she shows her how to faint!)
5- Woman of the Year
6- On Golden Pond
7- The Rainmaker
8- Suddenly, Last Summer
9- Guess Who’s Comming to Dinner
10- Holiday
The film itself is not on the list, but I have to give an honorable mention to The Lion in Winter, because that certainly was one of Kate’s greatest performances.
I also invite you to watch my video tribute to her.
Since last Thursday, I watched a bunch of Katharine Hepburn’s films (some I had never seen, some I already saw). Of course, I’m going to watch more today. I will cook her famous brownies as well and read the other contributions for the blogathon. What a grant Kate’s day it will be!
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I, of course, want to thank Margaret for organizing this great event again. You can read the contributions here:
I’ll leave you with this quote by Katharine Hepburn that is a favourite of mine, because it makes me think so much of me. I love Kate’s mentality!
“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”
Happy heavenly birthday beautiful Kate! ❤
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I think this is my favourite Kate’s moment.