Quality Street (1937)


(director: George Stevens; screenwriters: from the play by Sir James M. Barrie/Allan Scott/Mortimer Offner; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Henry Berman; music: Roy Webb; cast: Katharine Hepburn (Phoebe Throssel), Franchot Tone (Dr. Valentine Brown), Fay Bainter (Susan Throssel), Eric Blore (Recruiting Sergeant), Cora Witherspoon (Patty the Maid), Estelle Winwood (Mary Willoughby), Bonita Granville (Isabella), Joan Fontaine (Charlotte Parratt); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1937)

“Even the film’s star Katharine Hepburn said she found it repulsive.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

What a lifeless clunker! Even the film’s star Katharine Hepburn said she found it repulsive. The public responded by staying away in droves. This film, after a long string of box office failures for Kate (The Little Minister (1934), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Mary of Scotland (1936) and A Woman Rebels (1936)), knocked her off the top of the hill as Movie Queen, a title she claimed since her smash hit in the 1933 Little Women. For a long time after this film she became known as “box office poison.” It was filmed before with Marion Davies in 1927. It’s based on the whimsical play by Sir James M. Barrie; a film about the fear of being an old maid.

The setting is changed from the book’s early 19th-century Scotland, at the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, to England of the same time period. The twenty-year-old Phoebe Throssel (Katharine Hepburn) expects her longtime admirer Dr. Valentine Brown (Franchot Tone) to propose on his visit to her Quality Street home, but he instead tells her he enlisted in the British army. This news crushes her. Phoebe and her older sister Susan (Fay Bainter) become old maid teachers in the Misses Throssel School for Boys and Girls, and live a drab mundane life. Ten years later Captain Brown returns from the war and calls on Phoebe in her Quality Street house to invite her to the homecoming ball, but is disappointed how haggard she appears. Desperate not to lose the dashing suitor, she dresses up elegantly when he returns to take her to the ball and he’s pleasantly surprised but fails to recognize her. So Phoebe poses as her 16-year-old niece Livvy and pulls off the switcheroo. In the end, the masquerade is discovered by Captain Brown and he diplomatically arranges it so everything works out copacetic.

This lightweight fare did nothing for me. The farcical romantic comedy was hard to believe and even tougher to endure. The unimaginative script by Allan Scott and Mortimer Offner limited both Stevens and Kate, whose fluttery mannered performance bordered on being grating.