Katharine Hepburn and Franchot Tone star as the 1805 England-set movie’s two lovers, and the quality acting expected of them lights up director George Stevens’s 1937 romance, the second film of J M Barrie’s antique play, following director Sidney Franklin’s well-respected 1927 silent version with Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel.
Undoubtedly it is a dated, sugary story about an ageing spinster schoolmarm, Phoebe Throssel (Hepburn), pretending to be her own niece ‘Livvy’ in order to win back the Napoleonic Wars warrior Dr Valentine Brown (Tone), who fails to recognise her after a decade away in the British army.
However, despite the play story’s essential creakiness, there is plenty to admire here in the stars’ spirited performances, Robert De Grasse’s meticulous black and white cinematography, as well as glorious art, set (Hobe Erwin, Van Nest Polglase) and costume designs. And Fay Bainter is also on fine form as Susan Throssel, Hepburn’s sister and rival for Tone’s affections.
Fans of Hepburn and admirers of old-school Hollywood professionalism will not be disappointed. Notwithstanding all this, it was a resounding box-office flop from Hepburn’s period as ‘box office poison’.
Also in the cast are Eric Blore as the recruiting sergeant, Cora Witherspoon, Estelle Winwood, Florence Lake, Joan Fontaine, William Bakewell, Bonita Granville, Sherwood Bailey, Helena Grant, Carmencita Johnson, Clifford Severn, Yorke Sherwood, Sidney Toler and Roland Varno.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 3924
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