Finally saw the 1994 film of Little Women

I suppose if I’m going to be so long in reading Little Women , I might as well be long in seeing the film too! My lovely husband, keenly aware of my interest, set the DVR to tape Little Women on the Oprah Winfrey Network so I could watch it (awfully nice, thanks Rich!). I watched it last night with my daughter and we both enjoyed it a lot although the commercial interruptions on OWN are absolutely horrible and so frequent!

I don’t consider my 22 year old daughter to be the sentimental type at all but she really seemed to enjoy the movie. I did too even though it took great liberty with the story (Jo writing Little Women??). It did capture the spirit of the book and the scenery was beautiful. Orchard House looked splendid!

I very much liked Winona Ryder as Jo, her performance was very spirited. I always thought of Jo as much taller so I was surprised that detail was overlooked. There was great chemistry between Jo and Laurie (and none between Amy and Laurie – more on that in a moment); Christian Bale is sweet to the eyes. 🙂 Professor Bhaer was a bit too handsome but his face was very kindly as I would expect.

I didn’t care for Susan Sarandon as Marmee and I’m not sure why. It seemed like she came off as preachy. Marmee can be preachy but once I got into the into the character, I forgot about that. Sarandon never made me forget it.

Claire Danes did Beth to perfection but it was almost spooky during the final death scene with the look in her eye.

I missed the first part of the movie so I never really got to see the younger Amy, but the mature Amy really seemed to be lacking in spirit, and that’s why there was no chemistry between her and Laurie. I know Amy becomes a proper lady but I never got the impression she was lacking in spirit. I was very disappointed in this film’s depiction of my favorite character.

Meg was Meg, nothing more to say on that. 🙂 Oh, and I loved Aunt March. 🙂

I bawled like a baby through the movie and not just during Beth’s death scene. The anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming up in April and she’s been on my mind a lot lately. This story really makes me feel close to her so I missed her a lot last night while watching it. My daughter tactfully left me alone while I cried and I’m grateful to her. 🙂

Now the funny thing is that during the ALA workshop, several of the librarians and scholars said that they preferred June Allyson as Jo. I never could imagine Allyson in the part but now I’ll have to search out that movie and see it too. And of course, I must catch Hepburn’s performance!

16 Replies to “Finally saw the 1994 film of Little Women”

  1. This movie was the reason that (for a long time) I hated the Amy-Laurie match up. Once I read the book, the relationships seemed so much more real and right. (And of course it was my own fault for seeing the movie *before* reading the book – shame, shame on me!)

    I’m interested in seeing the older versions of the film, too. I’m not familiar with June Allyson, but I can only imagine Hepburn as phenomenal.

    1. Amy was so cold in that movie, it was a very straight reading of the character. Meg actually wasn’t fleshed out much either (although I did miss the Vanity Fair part). Beth was pretty fleshed out (for Beth) but all the energy was put into Jo.

      1. Meg at the ball — so good. You need to see the rest of the movie. She’s very well done.

  2. I like Hepburn as Jo. She is tall and awkward and just fits, and her voice reminds me of how Jo would speak. Its not a perfect performance, and it is 1930s so ya know.

    I’m not really an Allyson fan. She did a decent job but out of the three she’d be my bottom choice.

  3. This is my favorite movie! I watch it whenever I’m sad, and feel spirited up by it! I LOVED LOVED LOVED Sarandon as Marmee; I thought she was perfect. (I mean, Marmee is preachy, you know? In a good way.)

    I agree about the older Amy. You must watch the early part to see little Amy — she stole the show. Brilliant performance, and she ‘was’ Amy.

    Winona was amazing. Loved Laurie and Fritz and Meg — oh, and Beth.

    Now I want to see it again! I love the kissing scene at Christmas, between Meg and John. And well, I loved ere all so good.


  4. I watched it recently again and remembered all over again why it exasperated me.

    Winona Ryder was very good. The younger Amy was played by Kirsten Dunst and her performance rivals Ryder’s, almost stealing the movie. Just great. I thought the older Amy’s coldness was fine, too, because Amy was supposed to be playing cold and reproving to Laurie in Vevey. Meg was excellent; pretty, good, and slightly colorless.

    I was driven mad by Claire Danes as Beth. The performance was fine but physically Danes was completely wrong. Beth was supposed to be small, fragile and sickly but Danes looked as if she could have been captain of her field hockey team, scoring goals while carrying Jo on her shoulders down the field.

    Laurie is supposed to have black hair but otherwise the boy was suitably bouncy. John Brooke did not look like my conception of John Brooke, but I could cope with that.

    I loved the actor playing Professor Bhaer, Gabriel Byrne, though like all the characters, he was rather more beautiful than the Friedrich depicted by Alcott. He was 21 years older than Ryder, 43 to her 22, so the gap was appropriate.

    Susan Sarandon looked OK for the part of Marmee (though she was TRULY too beautiful and slightly too young at 47) but the words put in her mouth were so far from 19th century sentiments that I had to bite my lip to keep from groaning and wrecking the film for others. This same problem affected the role of Jo as well, but not as dramatically.

    The miscasting of Beth, Marmee’s 90s’ speechifying, the muddling of the line between Little Women and the Alcotts’ real lives, plus the overall “too clean, too pretty, too rich” sets, come close to wrecking the film for me.

    However… some of the scenes are perfect, and it must be said I am let down by all the film versions. In my dreams I would wish for the book to be done as a television drama with the length, quality, and meticulousness of Anne of Green Gables (1985) or the A&E Pride and Prejudice (1994).

    1. I agree about Claire Danes physically…although she was only 16 then and seemed to have the character nailed, I couldn’t get over how tall and thick she seemed, and when Marmee was massaging her big legs and feet when she had scarlet fever…well, it was like a robust opera singer playing Violetta in LaTraviata. Now that, thanks to your posts, I know more about the Alcotts, I appreciate the way the film emphasized Marmee as Beth’s principal caretaker.

  5. I really enjoyed the 1994 movie, though of course it really couldn’t match up to the book. I thought Winona Ryder was great as Jo, though maybe a little more feminine than I imagined her. The others were all fine. I must be one of the very few who didn’t really buy Chrisitan Bale as Laurie. Sure’s he was handsome, but didn’t fit my vision and came accross a bit of an ass at times (to Meg at the ball and then Amy in Europe) in a way Laurie in the books didnt.

    I also thought Susan Sarandon was pretty great as Marmee! Funny I liked her because I thought she was much less preachy than Marmee in the books. Oi, Marmee at times really drove me crazy in Little Women and I am convinced that Louisa labled the novel “moral pap” in large part because of marmee’s lectures.

    I tried watching the older versions of the movie and didn’t like them and so couldn’t get through them.

  6. I am a huge fan of the 1994 Little Women (Christmas treat) but I totally agree with some of the criticisms here. Ryder’s version of Jo is my favorite! She is tomboyish, fun but there is a tenderness to her that was in the books.
    In the first half of the movie, Meg is there and her story is told but in the second half…she is just a passing cameo. It is kind of annoying. I did like the wedding scene of Meg and John, there is a kind of old fashioned sweetness in the costumes and the singing around the couple.
    I. Ryder and Danes play Beth’s death scene with great simplicity and sincerity that isn’t shown melodramatically. Her death itself doesn’t make me cry but the scene after where Hannah is putting petals everywhere. It kills me every time.
    Now onto Amy…Dunst does a great job with her. She’s funny, a bit of a brat but is great and then Samantha Mathis comes in and..she plays Amy just so cold. Like, the personality was squeezed out of her. Mathis looks a lot like how I expect Amy to look but doesn’t act like her.
    Christian Bale as Laurie AND Gabriel Byrne as the Professor. Totally good looking and the acting was great.

  7. I know this is eons later and I just happened upon your site due to a search but I want to add my two cents.

    I liked the movie more than I expected but not as much as I would have liked to.

    I, personally, am NOT a Winona Ryder fan. I do not think she can act. That I did not hate her in this film and could buy her as “Jo” is quite a compliment. There were moments I wished she would have done a better job BUT she did better than I had expected to begin with so…

    I thought Susan Sarandon was a lovely “Marmee.” Kirsten Dunst was good although, at times, I really could tell she was acting and that bugged me. The actress who took over as “Amy” was pretty wooden. I get that grown “Amy” is a lady and all that, but she was always a bit more spirited and warm…and I did not get that from the actress.

    I loved Claire Danes as “Beth.” Was she perfect, no; but she was believable as “Beth” and she made me cry in the death scene. The other actress was fine as “Meg.” I am not sure what I think of Eric Stoltz’s “John” as I have not read the book (I know…shame on me!) and in the play versions I have read, he does not seem to be as stuffy and stodgy as Stoltz portrayed him. In the play versions I have read, he seems more shy, reserved and kind than stuffy. How does he come across in the book?

    Really loved a number of the costumes.

    Anyway, just my few thoughts on the movie!

  8. I just came across this post and want to say that while I enjoyed the 1994 film more than the earlier ones, I had a few problems with it too: the fact that Beth seemed larger than her sisters and that Ji was the shortest, that Laurie should have been tall with black hair, and I really didn’t like the depiction of John Brooke. The adult Amy didn’t bother me as much as the other things I mentioned. I liked this Professor Bhaer better than some of the earlier ones because he is easier on the eye. One thing that bothered me about the adult Amy is that she didn’t look anything like the young Amy. As to the preaching by Marmee sounding too modern, don’t forget that Marmee and Louisa were way ahead of their time in their ideas.

    1. I’ve yet to see the Katherine Hepburn movie and I actually liked the June Allyson version when I thought I wouldn’t. Susan Sarandon’s Marmee was too preachy for me.

      1. Most people praise Hepburn to the hilt, which is all right, but sometimes she seems almost as artificial of a tomboy as June Allyson. I think June Allyson was only 5’3″ like Wynona Ryder. Hepburn, however was 5’7″, which was more like it should be. Susan Dey and Eileen T Weiss were also both too petite to play Jo. I think Ryder actually did the most justice to Jo’s personality. There was too much boo-hoo-ing done by Hepburn and Allison. Also the demeanor of the entire 1933 and 1949 movies was totally different than the 1994, where the actresses and actors seem more relaxed and less stilted. I like the 1994 version because it is the most educated, with reference to the German Romantic Movement of the times, the inclusions of the French and German languages, and arranging the story to be a little more like the Alcotts’ real life: Beth dying before there were any babies, and Jo actually writing Little Women. I believe that some deviations from the book were done to underscore important points: Marmee always lecturing so we realize what her beliefs and ideas were, Jo crying with Beth rather than Meg over her short haircut so that we realize the special closeness of Jo and Beth…little techniques that are necessitated by having to condense a 502-page book into a 2-hour film. As a former music major, I enjoyed Friedrich’s violin playing and the way he took Jo to see Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers…since Friedrich was poor, leave it to him to take Jo to see something that originally was a flop! And for them to have to sit in the uppermost balcony. I had a ticket like that once and was dizzy on those rickety stairs up there.

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