Simoa over at Champagne For Lunch is hosting this blogathon about June Allyson. This year is the centenary of June’s birth, and I think it’s lovely to be marking this event with this blogathon. Be sure to visit Simoa’s site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read all the entries myself.
June Allyson was a very radiant actress. She had one of the brightest smiles of anyone that I’ve ever seen. June was also a very bright and bubbly person. She had a very distinctive voice and she is an actress who always makes me check out films if I see that she is in them. Although I don’t consider myself to be a major fan of June’s, I do like her very much and I greatly admire her acting talent.
My favourite of her film performances is as Jo March, in the 1949 film adaptation of the novel Little Women. This version and the one from 1994 are my favourite screen versions of this lovely coming of age story. These two versions capture the warmth and intimacy of the novel for me. I don’t like the 1933 film version, as I think the actors in it(especially Katharine Hepburn)overact their roles something fierce and this spoils watching that one (for me anyway).
In the 1949 film, June brings the character of the tomboyish Jo to life so well. June completely becomes this frustrated, warmhearted, outgoing, adventurous and passionate young woman. She also captures Jo’s passion for writing and the joy that it brings her. As the film goes on, Jo matures and grows into quite the young lady, and June really captures that change so well (watch her body language, emotions and mannerisms.) Compare how she acts in the first half of the film to how she is in the second half of the film.
June shows us that as Jo gets older she finally becomes more comfortable with being a woman and acting as her sisters do (properly, as was expected for the time period). Jo also finally accepts that it is okay to actually want to fall in love and be a wife, and she doesn’t mind that change entering in to her own life as much as she did when she was younger.
Jo is still very much herself in the second half of the film, but she doesn’t seek to shock or raise eyebrows with her behaviour as before. Jo still speaks her mind, but she becomes more tactful and respectful of tradition/custom when doing so. June conveys all of this to us through emotion, body language and expressions alone. It truly is a remarkable performance and is one that I never get tired of watching. I firmly believe that she gives one of her best performances as Jo March.
The 1949 film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film features strong performances from all the younger members of the main cast: June, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Richard Stapley. Rossano Brazzi, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith all provide solid support as the various adults in the sisters lives.
The March sisters. Left to right: Margaret O’Brien as Beth, Janet Leigh as Meg, June Allyson as Jo, and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. Image source IMDb.
The story follows the lives of four sisters, from their childhood to their adult years. The film is set in New England. The March family consists of four sisters; there’s the practical and beautiful Meg (Janet Leigh), the tomboyish and big hearted writer, Jo(June Allyson), the shy and gentle Beth (Margaret O’Brien) and the vain and funny Amy (Elizabeth Taylor).
The girls live with their mother (Mary Astor) and their loyal housekeeper Hannah (Elizabeth Patterson)while their father (Leon Aymes)is away fighting in the Civil War. Their only other relative is the wealthy and crotchety Aunt March (Lucile Watson).
The sisters are befriended by the lonely Laurie (Peter Lawford)their young neighbour who hates the restrictive life he leads with his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith). Laurie becomes a great friend and source of comfort to the March family. As they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she doesn’t return his feelings.
Jo is against change, she hates it with every fibre of her being and she just cannot see why things can’t stay as they are. Meg finds love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke (Richard Stapley) and the two get married. I love watching their relationship develop, they also go on to have a very loving marriage where they are equals (which was rare I think for the time period).
Jo and Laurie discuss their feelings for one another. Image source IMDb.
Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal later in the film breaks his heart. Jo goes to work as a governess in New York. While she is there, she finds herself falling in love, but with someone totally unexpected, the much older Professor Bhaer (Rossano Brazzi). When Jo and the Professor fall in love, Jo realises that this change in her life is not as unpleasant as she thought it once would be. A personal tragedy leads Jo to write a novel about her life with her sisters. It is published to great acclaim and Jo’s hard work as an author finally pays off.
While Jo is undoubtedly the star role here, I think that the actresses playing the other March sisters all get their chance to shine throughout the film. To me Janet Leigh, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien all feel like an ensemble, and I don’t think that they ever outshine one another too much.
Janet Leigh is terrific as the eldest sister, Meg. She makes you see that Meg would love to be pampered just once in her life. She has had to grow up before her time though in order to help her mother around the house.
Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely hysterical as Amy, the self centred, food lover of the family. Amy may be self centred but she loves her family deeply. She would do anything for her family and friends. Taylor steals every scene she is in.
Beth and Jo. Image source IMDb.
Margaret O’Brien (one of the best and most natural of the classic era child stars)is heartbreaking as the fragile Beth. She is the sister beloved by all who meet her. She may be young, but she is very wise too.
Peter Lawford is very good as Laurie. He shows us how Laurie comes to life through his friendship with the March family and becomes as outgoing as they are. Lawford is heartbreaking in the scene where be admits his feelings for Jo, only to have his hopes dashed.
Rossano Brazzi (swoon!) 🙂 is utterly loveable as the patient, gentle and kind Professor. Watching him slowly falling for Jo is so sweet. Brazzi lets us see how much this man cares for Jo and how he also respects her as a woman and as a writer.
Mary Astor is almost saintly as the loving mother of the sisters. Astor plays her as the mother everyone deserves to have. She is kind, honest and wants her girls to be true to themselves above all else.
The great character actor C. Aubrey Smith steals every scene he is in, as Laurie’s gruff, old fashioned and stern grandfather. Mr. Lawrence is actually quite a softie underneath that hard exterior. The scene where Beth thanks him for giving her the piano moves me to tears every time I watch this. Smith died shortly after filming his role in this and this was to be his final film.
I love the set design in this film especially for the interiors of the March home; that house really has the look of a lived in space, filled with personal items and it has a very warm and cosy look about it. The costumes are also beautiful, especially the ladies gowns. I especially love the yellow dress Amy wears when she visits Jo in New York. The films music by Adolph Deutsch is the prefect accompaniment to the story we are watching.
A lovely coming of age story, filled with strong and memorable performances. June is the films heart, and her performance in this is unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are the following. The girls buying Christmas gifts for themselves and then taking them back to exchange for gifts for their mum. The Professor singing in German and explaining the meaning of the words to Jo. Amy comforting Beth after they hear some horrible gossip about their family. Mr. March returning from the war and hugging each of his family. Laurie’s proposal to Jo. Mr. Brooke proposing to Meg. Beth thanking Mr. Laurence for his gift to her of a piano. Jo and Laurie dancing. Jo revealing she has cut her hair short and sold it. Amy letting Beth have her last cake. Meg telling Jo off for her improper behaviour in public. Amy and Aunt March visiting Jo in New York.
This is a beautiful film about family, love and about being true to yourself. This is a comfort film/story for me and it is one I return to again and again. In terms of personality I see myself as a mix of Jo and Beth, and I can certainly relate to some of the choices these two sisters make and to their respective personalities.
I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. What do you think of June’s performance as Jo? Please leave your comments below.