Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quality Street (Sidney Franklin) **

Sidney Franklin

Cast: Marion Davies, Conrad Nagel, Helen Jerome Eddy, Flora Finch, Margaret Seddon

Background: Marion Davies was probably most notable for being the mistress of William Randolph Hearst, and this caused some negative press for her, especially since he would end up financing her films. She was said to have strong comedic skills, but Hearst preferred her to star in expensive costume dramas and this hampered her career a bit. Quality Street was an adaptation of a play by JM Barrie.

Story: Phoebe Throssel (Davies) is ecstatic to be engaged to Dr. Valentine Brown (Nagel). Unfortunately, he goes off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars before their marriage. When he returns 10 years later, he is shocked at how much she has aged. She decides to pose as her younger niece Livvy to try and entice him.

Thoughts: Hearst liked her in the expensive costume dramas, and this fits that bill despite a premise that seems ripe for comedy. Part of the problem is director Sidney Franklin, who just doesn't have the light touch of a Lubitsch. The film takes forever on a rather dull courtship between Phoebe and Valentine, when this really should have been the first act. Of course, they may just have followed the play, but if you've got weak source material, you pay the price for sticking to it. The film is surprisingly humorless and does not take advantage of Marion Davies obvious comedic skills, which are hinted at in a few scenes when the director decides to lighten up. Nagel is a listless leading man, but there are some nice supporting performances, especially from Helen Jerome Eddy as Phoebe's best friend. It's a shame that this is one of the very few Marion Davies films available on DVD, because it is not representative of her best work at all.

Postscript: Davies would be very successful the next year with two King Vidor pictures, The Patsy and Show People. She was able to successfully transition to the sound era with performances in musicals like Marianne and Peg O' My Heart, but would retire in 1937 to spend more time with Hearst. There was a remake of Quality Street in 1937 with Katherine Hepburn in the Davies role, but it flopped badly at the box office.

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