6/10
Misread Signals
18 December 2009
For her second time in a James M. Barrie role, Katharine Hepburn starred in a remake of Quality Street. Hepburn had previously played a little Scot's minx in The Little Minister also for RKO.

Barrie did right by her again, she was well cast as one of the Throssel sisters of Great Britain of the Napoleonic Era. She and sister Fay Bainter look like they're doomed to be spinsters. Bainter has resigned herself to that fate, but Hepburn still has hopes.

But when she thinks Franchot Tone might be popping the question, he's only around to tell her he's doing what Admiral Nelson expects of every man, his duty to England. In 1805 he enlists in the army and Hepburn and Bainter go on teaching school.

Ten years go by and when Tone doesn't at first recognize Hepburn when he returns, she thinks her prime has passed. But she'll teach Tone a lesson by impersonating her own made up niece. And what a niece, a naughty flirt who entrances all the young blades returned from the wars and doing a job on Tone's ego as well.

Quality Street has a quality history, it was first performed on Broadway by the immortal Maude Adams in 1901 and then made a silent film in 1927 starring Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel. I can certainly see why William Randolph Hearst thought this a good role for Davies. She could be both a crinolined heroine and also use her comic talents as well. Hepburn also gets to use her full talents playing one role straight and imitating a fictitious person at the same time.

Quality Street got an Oscar nomination for Best Musical Score. If it sounds familiar the theme was recycled later on for the frontier film Rachel And The Stranger. It was even given words that were sung on record by that film's star Robert Mitchum.

And George Stevens after doing Alice Adams with Hepburn was assigned this one as well. He'd do even better the third and last time he worked with Hepburn in Woman Of The Year.

Quality Street is a good film, but I'm sure that Depression Era audiences found a Victorian Era comedy a bit dated.
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