Don’t most girls feel vulnerable or counted out due to their socioeconomic status at some point? There is always an emphasis on wearing the right clothes to the right places and having things or a home to reflect a high enough status to be accepted. When this film begins, Alice (Katharine Hepburn) is anxiously getting ready for a party, but cannot even afford flowers from the shop for a little corsage. She pretends she’s only looking around, acting too good for the flowers that are too expensive for her and ends up hastily picking flowers from a local park before anyone can catch her. If she had been caught in action this day in age, there might have been a nasty viral text, possibly with an incriminating image circulating the teen social circles.
When Alice gets home, we see that her flowers are not the only problem. She has to wear an old frumpy dress, looking a little too childish for her age and none of the boys asked her to go as a date. Her brother, Walter (Frank Albertson) takes her, but leaves her looking like a wallflower while he rolls dice in the coat room. Through it all, Alice keeps her chin up and finds a way to smile. It seems like a miracle when a dashing young man, Arthur (Fred MacMurray) genuinely asks her to dance.
Alice’s mother (Ann Shoemaker) blames the social woes Alice has to bear on her father, Virgil (Fred Stone). He has loyally worked a local drugstore for decades with no advancement, and has been on a generous sick leave for a while. His wife urges him, for the sake of making Alice more desirable for a suitor, to seek more money, or better yet open that glue factory he knows a secret formula for. The way Virgil sees it, he is in no position to ask for a raise or take a huge financial risk with a glue recipe he knows is equally the property of Mr. Lamb (Charley Grapewin). But seeing the despair and heartbreak their meager status brings his daughter may be enough for a father to risk it.
Despite Alice’s lack of status, things seem to be going well between her and Arthur. Mrs. Adams thinks that inviting Arthur over to a nice dinner would help speed up the engagement process. With Alice and her mother buzzing about the house to make sure everything is perfect, the dinner slowly becomes disastrous.
Hepburn portrayal of sweet, nervous Alice is moves us to like her and cheer her on, even when we want her to just relax. Poor Alice’s intentions are good and pure, but her approach is far too forced. She tries so hard to be perfect, whether she’s pretending to be too good for the flowers at the shop, trying not to look like a wallflower at the dance or mustering a fake smile when it seems that all the dinner plans have gone terribly. Hepburn brings out these qualities masterfully, earning her her second Oscar nomination, but unlike her first, it was only a nomination.
The film turns into a cute lesson in being enough just the way you are, even though Booth Tarkington’s novel had a much different ending. That’s just how 1930’s Hollywood goes.
“A penny for your thoughts.”