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In rural 1840's Scotland, Gavin Dishart arrives to become the new "little minister" of Thrums's Auld Licht church. He meets a mysterious young gypsy girl in the dens and to his horror Babbie draws him into her escape from the soldiers after she incites a Luddite riot. But unknown to Gavin, Babbie is more than she seems. And they must overcome her secret, the villagers' fears of her, and worst of all, Gavin's devotion to his mother's sensibilities, before they can openly declare their love. Written by
A mysterious & headstrong gypsy girl falls in love with THE LITTLE MINISTER called to pastor in a small Scots village. Soon her influence has him behaving in a most unclerical manner, with repercussions for the entire community.
Although sadly neglected & overlooked, this fine, sentimental film, based on a 1891 novel by Sir James M. Barrie, features excellent performances and superior production values. RKO lavished care & money to get the details just right; it is a fine example of how Hollywood films of the period could evocatively portray other times, other places.
Katharine Hepburn has one of her most fetching roles in the exuberant Babbie. Full of boundless energy & good humor, yet fiercely protective of those weaker & less fortunate than she, Hepburn turns in a beguiling, always entertaining, performance. While there is really no mystery as to the true identity of her character, this in no way hinders Hepburn from continually delighting her expectant audience.
In the title role, John Beal (born James Alexander Bliedung in 1909) had doubtless the best role of his career in this, his second, film. By underplaying his scenes, he holds his own with the vivacious Hepburn. Exhibiting real star quality, it is unfortunate that the good movie roles failed to materialize. Beal did quite a bit of work through the years on the stage and had a triumph in television's THE ADAMS CHRONICLES in 1976. John Beal died in 1997 at the age of 87.
A very fine supporting cast lends depth to the smaller roles: Andy Clyde as the lonely village policeman; Donald Crisp as the local doctor; Reginald Denny as a pompous army captain; Mary Gordon as an elderly indigent; Alan Hale as the community's repentant drunk; Lumsden Hare as a strict & powerful church deacon; Eily Malyon as a member of the aristocracy; Beryl Mercer as Beal's devout mother; and Dorothy Stickney as a fluttery maid.
Mention should be made of Max Steiner's lovely score, which incorporates old & familiar tunes.
A couple of historical notes: the Auld Licht (Scottish for 'Old Light') is mentioned many times in the film. This was the very conservative Church of Scotland, or Presbyterian Church in America, which had the allegiance of a majority of the Scots people. Barrie's original novel was of the Kailyard (Scottish for a small cabbage patch near a cottage) School of writing which had great favor in Scotland in the late 19th Century. This style featured highly idealized & sentimental representations of Scottish village life. Thrums in THE LITTLE MINISTER would certainly be a prime example.
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