Quality Street (1937)

“Women have a flag to fly as well as men, Mr. Brown.”

Synopsis:
In early-1800s England, a young woman (Katharine Hepburn) living with her unmarried sister (Fay Bainter) falls in love with a man (Franchot Tone) who she believes will ask her to marry him, but who instead becomes a soldier. Upon his return ten years later, Tone is disappointed to find that Phoebe (Hepburn) has become an aging spinster, but quickly becomes enamored with her in a different form, as she pretends to be her much younger and more vibrant niece, Livvy.

Genres:

Review:
George Stevens directed this adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s farcical historical play, about a young spinster who takes revenge on her would-be suitor by magically turning herself into a young vixen he can’t resist, intending to break his heart just as he broke hers. Naturally, the film’s very premise is absolutely ripe for disbelief, given that it’s predicated entirely on the notion that a shift from tightly-bound headcap and serious expression to springy curls and gay demeanor is enough to fool a man into believing he’s seeing an entirely different woman. Yet Stevens has fun milking this scenario for all its worth, particularly through the incorporation of a Greek chorus of meddling old biddies (ring-led by wide-eyed Estelle Winwood), whose sole aim in life appears to be to get to the root of Livvy’s identity. Set roughly during the same era as Jane Austen’s novels, Quality Street evokes a similar social milieu of (non-working class) women whose only options in life are to marry or become spinsters; indeed, there’s an undercurrent of quiet desperation to the entire affair. Yet the mistaken identity plot keeps it lighthearted throughout, and it will certainly be of interest to Hepburn fans.

Note: Watch for Joan Fontaine in an early, uncredited role.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Katharine Hepburn as Phoebe/Livvy
  • Fay Bainter as Susan

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

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One Response to “Quality Street (1937)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    The film has been produced tastefully and with fine visual detail. However, though clearly encouraged by the tone of the material, this all rolls out in a noticeably over-played and theatrical manner.

    Favorite performances: the more natural deliveries provided by Cora Witherspoon as Patty and (the wonderful) Estelle Winwood as Mary.

    The ‘dual nature’ plot becomes a bit twee. My mind wandered some, from the preciousness – which seems to increase as the film progresses.

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