1 item from 1998
Unlike Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women", which has been rendered successfully three times by Hollywood (most recently in 1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo), the 1871 sequel "Little Men" has not fared well. The 1935 and 1940 versions are not considered major works, and the current Legacy release is a lonely, family-classic orphan in a cruel, cold boxoffice world.
Faithful to the book, screenwriter Mark Evan Schwartz ("Star Quest") and Montreal-based director Rodney Gibbons (a former director of photography, from "Pinball Summer" to "Screamers") re-create the early 1870s with a good eye for detail and casting, but it's hard to imagine today's computer-age kids flocking to such a straightforward, wholesome tale with gentle humor and many sensible, constructive lessons about life.
Mariel Hemingway is inspired casting as the grown-up Jo, who is married to professor Fritz Bhaer (Chris Sarandon). Together they run a boys boarding school in their large home, with formal classes, fun group activities and strict rules.
The Bhaers are rational and tolerant. When homeless Nat (Michael Caloz) is brought into the warm, communal environment, he's immediately grateful but must learn not to lie. Fritz's unusual form of punishment, making Nat inflict pain, has the desired effect, but the scene is a bit intense for younger viewers.
With new buddies such as egg-gathering Tommy Bangs (Ricky Mabe) and home run-hitting Nan Harding (Gabrielle Boni), Nat never forgets about his former partner in crime Dan Ben Cook), and the little tough guy keeps coming back. Indeed, Dan makes life interesting and more dangerous for all of them, introducing the boys to gambling and fighting and almost burning down the house.
Saving Dan from himself and protecting everyone else from his dark impulses becomes the thrust of the story, and the two adults have plenty of other worries, including everyday finances and what's to become of an untamable horse that's been running wild in a corral since Dan arrived.
While most of the film's humanistic agenda goes down easily enough, Dan tames the bucking horse in a laughable conclusion. The friendly, upbeat narration is read by Kathleen Fee.
Caloz and Cook are little scene-stealers, particularly the latter in his Artful Dodger costume. From the crowded streets of Boston to the Bhaers' cozy lair, "Louisa May Alcott's Little Men" is visually nourishing thanks to Georges Archambault's fine cinematography and Donna Noonan's solid production design.
Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE MEN
in association with Image Organization presents
an Allegro Films production
Director: Rodney Gibbons
Producers: Pierre David, Franco Battista
Screenwriter: Mark Evan Schwartz
Executive producers: Meyer Shwarzstein,
Director of photography: Georges Archambault
Production designer: Donna Noonan
Editor: Andre Corriveau
Music: Milan Kymicka
Nat Blake: Michael Caloz
Jo Bhaer: Mariel Hemingway
Dan: Ben Cook
Fritz Bhaer: Chris Sarandon
Tommy Bangs: Ricky Mabe
Nan Harding: Gabrielle Boni
Running time -- 98 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
1 item from 1998
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