LITTLE WOMEN (1994)
Louisa May Alcott's popular novel has been adapted to the screen four times. The 1933 George Cukor production, starring Katherine Hepburn, is on the Vatican's list of 45 best films. This most recent version, directed by Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career), emphasizes the trade-offs between marriage and a passionate commitment to career — an important issue for many women today. But it also remains true to the spirit of the original in presenting family as the place where our basic values are formed.
Little Women's emotional spine is the coming-ofage of Jo March (Winona Ryder), an aspiring writer in New England during the Civil War. She and her three sisters are being raised by their mother (Susan Sarandon) in genteel poverty while their father is off fighting. They learn how to cope with illness, suitors and a mean-spirited rich aunt. Their deep love for each other sustains them through disappointments and success.
TENDER MERCIES (1983)
Most of us mess up our lives pretty badly at one time or another. Christianity teaches us that redemption is one sincere change of heart away, and God usually shows us the way if we're willing to listen.
Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is a talented country-western singer-song-writer who's destroyed his career and personal life through alcoholism. A relationship with a widowed motel owner (Tess Harper) and her young son offers him a chance start anew. But life's twists and turns have a few nasty surprises left. “I don't trust happiness,” the singer declares. “I never have, and I never will.”
Australian director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) and screenwriter Horton Foote (To Kill A Mockingbird) show that the path to redemption isn't easy but always worth the effort. The Oscar-winning Tender Mercies is filled with simplicity, grace and true-to-life emotions.
TO KILLA MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
People's values are usually formed in childhood, and a parent's influence is the determining factor. The Oscar-winning To Kill a Mocking Bird dramatizes a widowed father's attempts to raise two pre-adolescent kids in a small Southern town during the depths of the Depression.
Jean “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) nostalgically recollects the summer and fall of 1932 when she was a 6-year-old tomboy. But the bitter is mixed with the sweet. When her lawyer-father, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl, most of the townsfolk ostracize the family.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” Atticus advises, “until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” The kindly patriarch walks the talk, teaching his children to always stand up for their beliefs and extend charity even to those who are different.
Arts & Culture correspondent John Prizer writes from Los Angeles.