review for The Little Minister on AllMovie

The Little Minister (1934)
by Craig Butler review

This last film version of J.M. Barrie's novel is delightful. True, the makers approach the material a trifle too seriously, thereby losing some of the lighthearted whimsy that the material needs to be an unqualified success. But this doesn't keep the film from being charming on its own terms. It also offers Katharine Hepburn one of her best early roles. Indeed, at one point the title character asks "Can a man like a woman against his will," neatly stating the theme that underlies so many of Hepburn's films (Bringing Up Baby and Pat and Mike, for instance). Hepburn is in full take-charge mode here, but also gets to act coy and vulnerable as demanded -- and she clearly relishes the chance to play both the peeress and her feisty gypsy alter ego. John Beal does very well as the minister, underplaying to provide contrast to the effervescent Hepburn but still standing his cinematic ground against her. Donald Crisp is sagely humane as the doctor, and Alan Hale is good as the town drunk. The production is lavish and often beautiful, and Richard Wallace's direction is dependable and occasionally sprightly. The Little Minister is a bit dated and some modern audiences will find it a bit cloying, but those in the right frame of mind will enjoy it greatly.