Little Minister, The (1934): Starring Katharine Hepburn as Feisty Gypsy

One of Katharine Hepburn’s early (and lesser) films, The Little Minister, a tender illicit romance directed by Richard Wallace, is based on the novel and play by James M. Barrie, adapted to the screen by Jane Murfin, Jack Wagner, Victor Heerman, Mortimer Offner, and Sara Y. Mason.

The tale is set in rural 1840s Scotland, focusing on labor and class issues.  Gavin Dishart (John Beal), a staid cleric who is newly assigned to Thrums’ Auld Licht church, meets Babbie, a nobility member who disguises herself as gypsy in order to interact with the local villagers and protect them from her guardian, Lord Rintoul, who wants to keep them under control. The villagers regard as a pariah.

Initially, the conservative Dishart is appalled by the feisty girl, but gradually he begins to appreciate her inner goodness. Their romantic liaison scandalizes the townspeople, and the minister’s position is jeopardized until Dishart’s heroism transforms the opinion of the local villagers.

The scandalous (“unholy”) alliance, almost runs the little minister out of town, but when he is accidentally stabbed in a fracas, the townsfolk come to their senses.

Previously filmed in 1921, the new version of The Little Minister was given sumptuous production values by RKO Radio, trying to make the film a worthy follow-up to Hepburn’s Little Women (a better film, directed by George Cukor in 1933).

The film, whose world premiere was held at Radio City Music Hall, was popular but its high budget (about $650,000) resulted in a loss; it was RKO’s most expensive film that year and Hepburn’s most expensive to date. In the following year, she would score much better in George Stevens’ Alice Adams, for which she garnered an Oscar nomination.

The soundtrack includes the traditional Scottish tunes, “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond,” “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” and “House of Argyle.” 

Katharine Hepburn as Babbie
John Beal as Reverend Gavin Dishart
Alan Hale as Rob Dow
Donald Crisp as Doctor McQueen
Lumsden Hare as Tammas Whammond
Andy Clyde as Policeman Wearyworld
Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Margaret Dishart
Billy Watson as Micah Dow
Dorothy Stickney as Jean Proctor
Mary Gordon as Nanny Webster
Frank Conroy as Lord Milford Rintoul
Eily Malyon as Lady Evalina Rintoul
Reginald Denny as Captain Halliwell


Directed by Richard Wallace
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by Jane Murfin, Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, based on J. M.  Barrie’s 1891 play
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography: Henry W. Gerrard
Edited by William Hamilton
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date: December 28, 1934
Running time: 110 minutes


TCM showed the movie on July 27, 2018 and the again April 6, 2020.