Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Little Women" 1978 Movie Version

I wrote a pretty thorough review of this movie last year on my other blog -- you can read it here.  But for this read-along, I did want to post about it because I feel it's a very cool adaptation, and I wish more people knew about it.  So today, I'm going to post about each of the main characters and how I think they work or don't work.

This is a TV miniseries that aired in 1978, and it's available to watch for free on Hulu here (if you live in the US, anyway).  You can also buy it on DVD, which I did because I liked it so well.  I've taken a bunch of screencaps for this post -- I'm sorry they aren't clearer, but the DVD is not exactly HD. 

Okay, on to the characters :-)

Jo March (Susan Dey)

I like Dey's portrayal of Jo a lot.  She's impulsive, full of a sort of uncontainable energy, and fiercely intelligent.

She's not traditionally beautiful, which I appreciate, since Jo's hair is supposed to be her greatest physical beauty.  But she has a clear, forthright face, and all together, she very much fits my idea of Jo.

Meg March (Meredith Baxter)

Baxter makes a suitable Meg.  She's proper and ladylike, and gives the impression she's wishing for something she hasn't quite defined yet.

Meg is kind of a thankless role, I think, because she doesn't have a lot to do.  Aside from allowing herself to get dressed up like a society girl and drinking champagne one time, she's a very good girl, and good characters are hard to add depth to, I think.  Meredith Baxter does make Meg fairly likeable, rather than turning her into a goody-two-shoes or a rebellious shrew.

Beth March (Eve Plumb)

Speaking of goody-two-shoes... Plumb doesn't play Beth as one, either.  She's patient and kind and thoughtful and altogether nice, but I get the impression she has to work at being those things.  I like that.

If she looks familiar, that's because Plumb played Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch.  I find her less effective as the younger Beth than as an older, ailing Beth who has resigned herself to her fate.  The scenes between her and Jo later on are especially sweet.

Amy March (Ann Dusenberry)

I feel like Dusenberry is the one jarring note in the cast.  She looks and acts way too old to be young Amy.  When she grows up and meets Laurie again in Europe, she works better, but I never quite buy her as Amy, alas.

Marmee March (Dorothy McGuire)

I love Dorothy McGuire.  She's like the ultimate movie mom, isn't she?  From Friendly Persuasion to Old Yeller to The Swiss Family Robinson to The Greatest Story Ever Told, she has played so many of my favorite movie moms.  Add her turn as Marmee to that collection!  She's firm, but not stern; kind, but not soft; tender, but not mushy; intelligent, but not unladylike.  I love her portrayal, and I think she may be my favorite Marmee ever.

Laurie/Teddy (Richard Gilliland)

Okay, Gilliland is not especially handsome.  And I had a Ken doll with that exact same hair style back in the '80s.  But I actually quite like him as Laurie.  He's earnest and mischievous and fun.

By the time he and Jo have finished getting acquainted at the Christmas dance, I have no problem believing him as Laurie.

Professor Friederich Bhaer (William Shatner)

Yes.  Shatner plays Professor Bhaer.  And I really like him in this role, though he's probably much more handsome and charming than necessary.

His German accent is tolerable, and he's so earnest and helpful, alternately bombastic and shy... I can't help but like him.

Mr. Laurence (Robert Young)

Young sports an impressive mustache as Mr. Laurence.  He growls and rants, but is also kind and thoughtful, and I find him perfectly acceptable.

EDIT:  I forgot Aunt March!  You know she's never going to forgive me.  What shall I ever do to make amends?  I'm so very fond of her, and I can't believe I forgot to include her here.

Aunt March (Greer Garson)

As you might expect, Greer Garson is absolutely superb as Aunt March.  Querulous, commanding, didactic, soft-hearted, and with a sly sense of humor that peeps out now and then.  

Okay, that's all I've got, folks.  If you like the looks of this adaptation, do try it!  Because it's a three-hour miniseries, it can go into more detail than a feature film, and overall, it's a very faithful and enjoyable adaptation.


  1. Thanks for this review, Hamlette...I will have to look this one up...I love old movies and this one looks extra good because it is longer...
    I didn't enjoy th '94 adaption too much, mainly because too much was squeezed into a very short space of time. And I'm sorry, but they spoilt the professor in that one - anybody else share my opinion?
    Have a great day!

    1. I don't! I adore the 1994 adaption. It's actually my favorite movie of all time. I watch it every Christmas. I adore the professor in it. :)

    2. I hope you like this version, then, Kelly-Anne! But I'm curious now -- how do you think they spoiled Professor Bhaer in the '94? Too... Irish? I quite like Gabriel Byrne, so I enjoy his portrayal. While I don't think the '94 is perfect, I do love it a lot. I just showed it to my kids recently, and they now love the story so much I got the girls some Little Women paper dolls to play with :-)

    3. Yes, I'm sorry Kelly-Anne, I have to disagree over this one. I loved the professor in the 1994 movie! So charming, but not classical handsome, just like the professor was in the book. Like Hamlette, I'd love to know what you didn't like about the professor in the '94 movie.

  2. I haven't heard of this one but I want to watch it just for Dorothy Maguire as Marmee. She plays such amazing moms, as you said and I can picture her doing Marmee perfectly!

    1. Lois, I think you will love Dorothy McGuire in this :-) I hope you can see it!

  3. I really want to watch this! I'm going to see if that HULU link works for me once school is out in a few weeks. I have wanted to see it & didn't realize it was available online! :)

    1. Corinne, last spring, I stumbled on some blogger referring to it and saying they'd watched it on Hulu. I had wanted to watch this adaptation for 20 years, and I happened to have strep throat and be holed up in my bedroom with a computer and no children, so I watched it and loved it so much I got the DVD and watched it again soon after. Isn't technology wonderful?! I hope you enjoy it when you see it :-)

  4. I forgot to include Aunt March in my review! Bad, bad me. She's played to perfection by Greer Garson -- a highlight of this adaptation, and I can't believe I somehow failed to include her, even though I'd screencapped her and everything. Oops! At least I remembered eventually, and I've added her in at the end now.

  5. You have made my day! Finally! Someone else besides me has heard of this version. :-)
    I have to agree with everything you had to say about the other characters. I think that this version and the 1940's version are my favorite because I really like June Allyson as Jo. Which version of Little Women is your favorite?

    1. And now you've made mine! Other than the blog where I first read about it being available on Hulu, no one I've encountered has seen it. Until now!

      I have not seen the 1949 version yet! I actually bought a used copy recently, so I hope to watch it soon. I did see the 1933 version many, many years ago, but I don't remember it much at all. My library has it, so I want to get it sometime too. So for right now my favorite is the 1994, because I watched it so many times with friends as a teen and in college, and it has wonderful memories attached to it. But this one is rapidly becoming dear to me too!

  6. I saw this version once, but it was a really long time ago. Time to break it back out and see what I think now!

  7. I haven't seen this version, but I'll watch Greer Garson in anything, and am curiously fascinated by the idea of William Shatner in a role which requires him to be shy. Talk about out of character!

    1. Lynn, isn't Greer Garson cool? I loved her in Random Harvest. Even more than in Mrs. Miniver!

      Shatner's Bhaer comes off more as retiring and a bit hesitant than shy, I think. If/when you see this, I hope you either post about it or come back here and let me know what you think of it!

  8. I've never heard of this! I tend not to love 70s movies, but I might have to give this one a try, since you gave it such a glowing review. Thanks for letting us know about this! :)

    1. I tend to not love 70s movies either, but this one isn't too doofy or "modernized" like so many 70s stuff. I hope you like it!

  9. This does look fun! I must see if my library has it...


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