Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Little Men (1940) review, OR My Introduction to a Famous Cow

So I was browsing around on the Roku, and I cam across a cgannel called a Very Roku Halloween. I thought "JACKPOT!". Halloween is my favorite holiday, and since I quit cable a few years back, I've missed the viewing staples such as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The channel does offer some classic horror movies, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but for some reason which I still don't understand it also featured the 1940 rendition of Little Men, the sequel to Little Women.

Since I enjoy watching various productions of my favorite book and critiquing them, I decided to give it a whirl.

Let me emphasize again, that everything about my viewing experience was confusing. I don't understand why this film was featured in a channel dedicated to Halloween, but that's easily overlooked in my excitement at the potential for discovering hidden gems of Hollywood.
The music in the opening credits immediately reminded me of the overture from Gone With the Wind, which was unexpected but nice.
But then I was confused again when a cow was credited in the opening credits. That's right folks, Elsie the Cow turns in a memorable performance in her portryal of Buttercup. Maybe that would be pretty memorable if Buttercup was a human, or a horse or a cat, but she's a cow. So the cow is getting credit for a being a cow? OK.
What's even more hilarious is that
Elsie "the actress" has her own IMDB page.
NOW, I was hooked. I had to see how this cow factored into the film presentation of the sequel to my favorite book, a beloved classic.
According to her screen time thus far, Elsie made a name for herself at the New York World's Fair. And my further research, yes, I actually did research on a cow for more time than I'm willing to admit, revealed that she was pretty famous around this time because she was being featured in advertisements for Borden milk.So, maybe she does deserve her own film credit. I decided to March (get it?) on in the story of Little Men.
So the opening of the film introduces the viewer to characters named Major Burdle, and his secretary, who looks like a poor man's version of Jean Harlow in a hair snood. Then a character named Willie comes in with the devastating news(?) that Lefty is dead.
"What? Who the hell is Lefty?" I wondered. Shouldn't I be in Plumfield, reunited with my old friends Jo and Professor Bhaer? Shouldn't I be watching John Brooke and Meg's twins, Daisy and Demi play with the other pupils? Instead I got this:
Apparently, this awkward exchange is the back story of Danny. Danny is the first inkling of textual truth in this portrayal of Little Men, because the story is focalized through him, which is how the reader is introduced to other characters. Unfortunately, Danny seems to be mimicking Mickey Rooney's performance in Boys Town, which is almost as anachronistic as the actress' dark eyeshadow.
The rest of the story is a little more recognizable because it takes place at Plumfield and there are other children at the school, which is the essence of Alcott's sequel. However, it does diverge from the text in some significant ways, the biggest one being that in the novel, the school is sponsored by Laurie, who is inherently wealthy. The plot of the film centers on the possibility of Plumfield closing due to lack of funds. So, this film rendition is completely excluding a major part of Alcott's literary world.
Isn't that kind of like if a Harry Potter film exluded the part about Harry's mother being born to a Muggle family?
So if you haven't guessed already, my overall opinion about this movie presentation of Little Men is pretty poor.
The best part about watching this movie comes not for the librarian part of me, nor the Alcott enthusiast ,but for the amateur classic film historian:
Remember how I said that the opening credit music reminded me of the Gone With the Wind overture? Well, it's probably not a coincidence since This film uses several of the Gone with the Wind exterior sets, including Tara.
Also worth noting is actress Lillian Randolph, who portrays the cook Asia. Her name might not register with you, but you probably recognize her from her roles in The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (another one of my favorite movies) and It's a Wonderful Life (one of everyone's favorite movies).
I guess I'll have to watch the 1934 rendition of Little Men next, mostly just to see Ralph Morgan, brother of Frank Morgan (He's the Wizard of Oz) play Professor Bhaer.
It doesn't appear to feature any cows though- will it even be worth it?
Hollywood needs more cows!

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