Monday, July 03, 2017

OVP: Quality Street (1937)

Film: Quality Street (1937)
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Franchot Tone, Fay Bainter, Eric Blore, Cora Witherspoon
Director: George Stevens
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Score)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

Growing up, one of my favorite discoveries was the fact that Katharine Hepburn is at her best when she's funny.  Between Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, Hepburn surpassed her finest dramatic work and gave, in my opinion, her two very best performances.  This revelation was followed in turn by disappointment when it became apparent that these also happen to be two of the best films ever made, and Hepburn would occasionally flounder into overacting when given less structured or elegant humor.  As a result, I was not expecting Quality Street to bewitch me so ferociously when I caught it recently.  The film, based on JM Barrie's play, is a delight from start to finish, and features some prime Hepburn comedy.

(Spoilers Ahead) The plot to the picture itself is simple enough.  We have Phoebe (Hepburn), a young woman of some means who is in search of a bachelor, desperately in love with the local doctor, Valentine Brown (Tone).  Phoebe, however, cannot seem to tell Dr. Brown how she feels, and when he says he's off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars (when she thought he would propose), she assumes a life of spinsterhood.  Ten years pass, and Phoebe is dressed as an old maid, which surprises Dr. Brown, who says she's aged more than she expected, to which she's rightfully furious.  Phoebe then dresses in a beautiful gown and makeup, making herself look younger and passes herself off as her imaginary niece Livy.  Shenanigans ensue as Dr. Brown first is smitten with Livy, then realizes that he's actually in love with Phoebe, and all the while Phoebe and her sister Susan (Bainter) are trying to stave off the neighbors, who are certain that Phoebe and Livy are one-and-the-same.

If it sounds ridiculous, that's because it is.  The movie's plot is thin, and it's hard to imagine Dr. Brown not realizing instantly that Livy is Phoebe in disguise.  But once you move beyond that, this movie is actually quite delightful.  Hepburn and Tone are fine together, but it's really her chemistry with Bainter that sells the movie.  I loved every second of them trying to pull a fast one on their nosy neighbors, and their conviction that they will be able to both maintain the ruse and perhaps make their neighbors look the fools is marvelous.  Honestly-the film is filled with such lovely and delightful touches (even a very early-in-her-career cameo from Joan Fontaine), and at 83 minutes is deliciously spry, that you don't really care if you know exactly where it's going every step of the way.  Chart this one up in the Kate Hepburn comedic win column.

The film received one Oscar nomination, one of those truly random nominations for music that seemed to happen so often in the 1930's and 40's when studios could basically buy a nomination in the category there were so many nominees.  The actual score is omnipresent, accompanying almost every angle with bouncy strings and a playful attitude.  It's hardly groundbreaking or iconic, but it fits the movie itself like a glove, and it also led me to a picture I probably would have never seen otherwise (thus is the joy of the Oscar Viewing Project even if it thrusts upon me a movie like Suicide Squad in the same breath), so I'm grateful for the nomination even if it feels somewhat unearned.

Those are my thoughts on this charming little picture-has anyone else seen it?  If so, share your thoughts, and if not, please give me some of your favorite Kate Hepburn performances, either dramatic or comedic!

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