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Little Men (1940)

Approved | | Comedy, Drama | 29 November 1940 (USA)
Jo March and her husband Professor Bhaer operate the Plumfield School for poor boys. When Dan, a tough street kid, comes to the school, he wins Jo's heart despite his hard edge, and she ... See full summary »

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(screen play), (screen play) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Jo
...
...
Major Burdle
...
Dan
...
Nan
...
Professor Bhaer (as Charles Esmond)
Richard Nichols ...
Casey Johnson ...
Francesca Santoro ...
...
Lillian Randolph ...
...
Edward Rice ...
Anne Howard ...
Jimmy Zahner ...
Jack (as Jimmy Zaner)
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Storyline

Jo March and her husband Professor Bhaer operate the Plumfield School for poor boys. When Dan, a tough street kid, comes to the school, he wins Jo's heart despite his hard edge, and she defends him when he is falsely accused. Dan's foster father, Major Burdle, is a swindler in cahoots with another crook called Willie the Fox. When the Plumfield School becomes in danger of foreclosure, the two con men cook up a scheme to save the home. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

29 November 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Louisa May Alcott's Little Men  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although Elsie the Cow is billed 8th playing Buttercup as "'Elsie' - The Moo Girl of the New York World's Fair" in the opening credits, she is billed last (26th) in the end credits, simply as 'Elsie' playing 'Buttercup.' In 1939, she was quite famous, appearing in ads for the Borden Milk Co. See more »

Goofs

At about five minutes, the Baby turns completely around in its box between shots. See more »

Quotes

Major Burdle: [to Willie] I won't lose his love and respect, not even if i have to steal the money to prove than I'm honest.
See more »

Connections

Version of Little Men (1998) See more »

Soundtracks

Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
(1854) (uncredited)
Written by Stephen Foster
Played by Schuyler Standish on violin
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User Reviews

 
Terrible as an adaptation, and apart from some virtues mediocre on its own terms
29 April 2016 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

'Little Men' is a charming, entertaining and heart-warming book. If you like the more popular 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives', 'Little Men' won't disappoint as it does have much of the ingredients that make those two books so good. The main reason why there is a personal preference towards the other two is to do with that 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' are stories I've known and loved since childhood whereas 'Little Men' was introduced to me quite some years later.

While this 1940 adaptation of 'Little Men' didn't do much for me, it does have virtues that prevent it from being a complete disaster. Visually it is quite handsomely mounted, with sumptuous black and white photography, elegant costumes and evocative sets and scenery. Roy Webb's score complements beautifully, and it is a lusciously orchestrated and rhythmically characterful score in its own right, never feeling too twee or overly-jaunty. A couple of performances are good, with very funny Jack Oakie and lively George Bancroft coming out on top. Jimmy Lydon does well, and his reform does provide the one moment in the film where a tear really is brought to the eye. Elsie the Cow is also very cute.

Sadly, the rest of the cast are not particularly memorable and struggle to bring life to characters that are just not interesting. Even though Jo is much older than the spirited yet hot-tempered youthful Jo seen in 'Little Women', Kay Francis is far too subdued, disadvantaged by how blandly as a result of being mostly stripped of that liveliness and spirit Jo is written. Charles Esmond is also much too stiff as Mr Bhaer, and rather too buffoonish and naive too. The other children don't generate much spark, only Dan shows any signs of development.

It's not their fault though, because they don't have much of worth to work with, which would have been far less problematic if the film had stuck more to the book. Speaking briefly about how 'Little Men' fares as an adaptation, out of all the film adaptations of Alcott's books it is by far and large the weakest and most uninspired. Although none of the other film adaptations of Alcott's work are completely faithful to their source material and there are significant alterations and omissions in some, this is the only one to change the original story beyond recognition to the extent that if the title and characters' names hadn't been left intact it would have been something else entirely.

Judging films and adaptations as standalones this reviewer has always found a fairer way to judge, but apart from a few good things 'Little Men' is pretty mediocre on its own terms. The script is rather messy, the subtle social commentary and gentle tone is predominantly replaced by overused and increasingly idiotic slapstick, maudlin sentiment, mostly teeth-gritting humorous moments (Oakie does have some very amusing moments though admittedly, just that the more repetitive ones suffer eventually from being overly-absurd) and dialogue that takes one completely out of the time period and setting.

Didn't find myself particularly engaged by the story in 'Little Men' either, with the first half-hour being particularly slow-going with a lot of dialogue but not much going on in the story-telling. Due to so many changes and omissions, which hurt the energy and flow, it's also rather limply paced, dramatically dreary, can feel choppy and just everything that made the original story such a lovely read is not present here.

Overall, a few merits here but mediocre and disappointing as an overall film, while faring terribly as an adaptation. 4/10 Bethany Cox


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