The Challenge from Top 10 Films UK:
The basic idea is: what if you had a magic ticket that transported you into any movie you wished? What films would you want to enter the world’s of?
When I was a tomboy climbing trees a long time ago, I always wanted to be in the old black-and-white 1933 version of Little Women I watched on TV. Katharine Hepburn made such a wonderful Jo: full of spirit, awkward and gawky, liable to outbursts of “Christopher Columbus” when startled, so alive and intelligent. Like Laurie, I wanted to be part of the March family. I wanted to be either Jo or Katharine Hepburn (never quite sure where to draw that line) and live in Concord, Mass. and experience life and write and fall in love.
Prof. Bhaer in that film was not quite what I had in mind, however. Paul Lukas was a very good actor (Oscar-winner for Watch on the Rhine, also in Lord Jim, etc.) and quite professorial, but not husband material, or even boy-friend material, in my 13-year old opinion, and I usually lost interest in the film about the time that Jo moved to New York. And the whole “Beth” thing was terrifying and looming in the not too distant future. Time to go climb a tree…
Fast forward a few (!) years to 1994 and here is another Little Women, with a great cast of mostly younger actresses, including Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst, and younger actors (Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz), and Susan Sarandon as Marmie. As I watched the film on the big screen, I was immediately immersed in the colorful New England scenery, the March home, the snow, all of it real and inviting. The script and the pace of the action–all the words I remembered from earlier film versions and the book seemed to be here–and the eccentric and delicate score by Thomas Newman highlighted the special moments I recognized but saw through new eyes, thanks to director Gillian Armstrong. This movie was like a big swimming pool full of everything I wanted and I was swimming away in it, happily. And I was so caught up in my experience of the details of Jo’s life and the March family’s joys and tragedies that I forgot all about the inevitable move to New York.
Was I surprised when Jo looked up from her breakfast in the dining room of her temporary home in New York to discover an intriguing if somewhat subdued gentleman sitting not far away, a handsome, dark-haired presence who caught her eye and nodded amiably? You are damned right I was! Who the heck was that? That was very different from any Prof. Bhaer I had ever seen or imagined or even hoped for! Who was that guy? So unexpected, so gorgeous. And my oh my–what was going to happen to poor Jo?
That “guy” was the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, known then in the United States primarily for his work in Miller’s Crossing. He would soon be more famous here for a little mystery-thriller that came out of nowhere a year later: The Usual Suspects. And now we know him for all sorts of films and a recent television series, In Treatment. But in this version of Little Women, Mr. Byrne slips into mid-nineteenth century fashion and demeanor as though born to it and, in the process, he takes Prof. Bhaer to a whole new level. Educated and intellectually powerful, yes. A philosopher and musician, check. Soft-spoken and charming, got that. Hot and sexy. Wait! That’s not supposed to…
Ah, but it does.
It was a brilliant idea, to add sex and romance to the quiet relationship that Jo and the Professor develop. A meeting of the minds is one thing, and one thing to be cherished and honored. But a meeting of, well, everything–now that is something usually found only in daydreams. And here are Jo and Friedrich, finding it. And I am there. So there.
And now I’m all grown up and Prof. Bhaer turns out to be all grown up, too–a complete human being with the added appeal of intense blue eyes, luscious black hair, and a smile to die for. Oh, yes. I want to be in this film of Little Women and I want to be Jo, no question about it. So long as Gabriel Byrne is my Prof. Bhaer.
To close, here is a fan video by Laura with a decidedly modern take on the good Professor. What a man indeed! Enjoy!
Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer