Spotlight on Elizabeth Taylor in Little Women
As much as I love classic films there’s also a special place in my heart for period pieces. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved watching tales of those who lived long before my time and one of my absolute favorites is Little Women. Not the Katherine Hepburn version, certainly not the Winona Ryder version but the technicolor MGM version starring June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien and Elizabeth Taylor. Since it’s so dear to me I thought I’d highlight it as part of the Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
In 1933 the original sound version of Little Women, starring Katherine Hepburn, was released and was a box office success. So, as things go in Hollywood, about a decade later David O. Selznick decided to remake it with an all star cast headed by Jennifer Jones. But the production proved to be too much of an undertaking and he sold the whole production, including some film sets and Mervyn LeRoy’s attachment as director, to MGM.
The studio wasted no time filling the roles with some its brightest stars. June Allyson was to be Jo March, Janet Leigh Meg, Margaret O’Brien Beth and Elizabeth Taylor Amy. Supporting them would be such familiar faces as Mary Astor, Peter Lawford, C. Aubrey Smith and Leon Ames.
The studio spared no expense and the film features lavish sets, elaborate costumes and glorious technicolor. Released in 1949 to coincide with MGM’s 25th Anniversary it was an astounding success.
That’s really no surprise as Louise May Alcott’s timeless tale of the March sisters was adapted beautifully with relatively minor changes made to the plot (rare for the era). And the acting is superb. Although almost 20 years older than her character, June Allyson perfectly embodies Jo’s strong will, high spirit and overwhelming love for her family. Janet Leigh is sweetly serene as Meg and Margaret O’Brien as Beth moves you to tears as only she can do. But it’s Elizabeth Taylor who really steals the show as Amy.
Aside from National Velvet, most of Taylor’s prior roles were supporting characters in light-hearted fare. The role of Any March truly allowed Taylor to showcase her immense acting talent. In the beginning she is spoiled, self-centered and largely used as comic relief.
But as time goes on through tragedy and triumph she develops a kindness and maturity that is reflected through her love of home and family. Though only 16 years old at the time Taylor handles Amy’s evolution as person with ease and I find myself fully immersed in her journey.
Little Women is a timeless tale that is as relevant today as upon it’s initial release. Despite numerous remakes the 1949 version remains the gold standard and I love it to this day.