After seeing Marion Davies in a terrific silent film called “The Patsy,” from 1928 (at the 2012 Pordenone Silent Film Festival), I eagerly awaited the arrival of an earlier film, “Quality Street,” from 1927, in my mailbox. Davies stars in Quality Street as Phoebe, a girl in love with Dr. Valentine Brown, played by Conrad Nagel. Much of the film plays in the house on Quality Street that Phoebe shares with her sister, Susan, and their maid, Patty.
Despite the clues that anyone on earth would notice, the remarkably undemonstrative Dr. Brown fails to fully understand Phoebe’s interest, leaving her frustrated and confused. When Dr. Brown finally gets enough courage to kiss Phoebe, it suddenly begins to rain, interrupting her plans to finally get his marriage proposal. Then, the war with Napoleon breaks out, and Dr. Brown enlists and goes away for years. Phoebe becomes a dowdy school marm and an old maid.
When Dr. Brown returns as a military captain, he intends to marry Phoebe, but is put off by her appearance and rejects her. This pushes Phoebe to adopt a ravishing alter-ego, the lovely Miss Livvy. The fooled Dr. Brown romances Miss Livvy, and the fun and confusion continues as the women in the house on Quality Street go to great lengths to keep the ruse going.
A modernization of the story might have worked better, particularly since Davies could better utilize her great comedy talents if she played a more modern character. It’s interesting to see that the mistaken identity plot is still around after all these years. Of course, that type of plot is so well suited to Marion Davies that she fully or partially played it a few more times in her wonderful career.