Quality Street (1937): George Stevens’ Clinker, Starring Katharine Hepburn in One of her Worst Performances

The second version of James M. Barrie play, Quality Street, first filmed as a silent with Marion Davies in 1927, is one of the weakest films of Katharine Hepburn, which even she disliked.
As directed by George Stevens, this stale period movie, which is now set in 1815 Regency England (instead of 1805 Scotland), reportedly to benefit from that era’s more relatable mores and attractive costumes, contributed to Hepburn being labeled “box-office poison.”
Hepburn plays old spinster Phoebe Throssel, a woman who’s 30 and still unmarried.   Offered the opportunity to reunite with Captain Brown (Franchot Tone), whom she hasn’t seen in years, Phoebe desperately wants to rekindle his affections, and masquerading herself as her own teenaged niece.
Hepburn performance is affected and mannered, and she is not helped by a listless, uninvolving narrative, adapted to the screen by Allan Scott and Mortimer Offner.
Quality Street was both an artistic and commercial flop, losing about $250,000.
It would take three years for Hepburn to climb back to the top, at MGM, in George Cukor’s 1940 comedy, The Philadelphia Story, in which she reprised her previous stage role, specifically written for her.
Franchot Tone (then married to Joan Crawford) proves again that he is a good partner to major female stars (opposite Bette Davis in her 1935 Oscar-winning Dangerous), but not a major star of his own; in later decades, he would become a reliable character actor.
You can see Joan Fontaine (Olivia de Havilland’s younger sister), then 18, making her debut under her RKO Radio contract. In a few years, Fontaine would become a major star and Oscar-winning actress (Hitchcock’s Suspicion, in 1941).
Running time: 85 minutes
Release date: March 26, 1937