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"Big Brown Eyes"

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"Big Brown Eyes"

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Character's Name: Danny Barr
Release Date:  April 3, 1936
Director: Raoul Walsh
Studio:  Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 75 minutes

Cast: Cary Grant (Danny Barr), Joan Bennett (Eve Fallon), Walter Pidgeon (Richard Morey), Isabel Jewell (Bessie Blair), Lloyd Nolan (Cortig), Douglas Fowley (Benny Battle), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Cole), Alan Baxter (Carey Buttler), Henry Kleinbach (Don Butler), Helen Brown (Mother)

- by Zoë Shaw
Eve is in love with detective Danny Barr. And whilst he is keen on her too, she keeps him in his proper place. When Danny investigates a gem theft, Eve is sure his interest in Mrs. Cole is not all in the line of duty. Eve loses her job, but gets a new one as a reporter. A child murder takes place, and Eve tricks Benny into confessing that Russ Cortig is the killer. Eve gets fired, and Danny quits the force. Danny witnesses the murder of Cortig, by the gang boss, and the murderers grab him. Eve tips off the police and Danny makes an escape. All the thieves/murderers are caught. Did you get all that???

- by Debbie Dunlap
Dan Barr (CG) is a flatfoot on the trail of jewel robbers. Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett) is his girl of 5 years. We meet them spitting and sparring, but never doubting they're in love. Eve is a manicurist, with an eye for news. Soon after we meet her, she's out of the beauty salon and into the newsroom as an ace reporter. With Eve's help, Dan nabs one of the jewel gang members, Cortig, whose stray bullet killed a baby in the park. A spooked witness and a slick lawyer get Cortig off. One of the best lines in the movie: Eve: "Dan's mad that Cortig didn't get the chair. But not me. The chair's too good for him. They oughta fry him standing up." Disgusted with the lack of justice, Dan quits the force to find his own justice. Eve, likewise, quits the paper and returns to her job as manicurist. While giving a manicure, Eve unwittingly discovers that a prominent local citizen is the jewel gang's leader. All the while, Dan is hot on the trail. Their trails merge and the case is solved.

There are a couple of good "Who's on first" scenes. One big must see is the totally lame, but you just gotta see it ventriloquist scene. To see Cary do this scene is worth watching the whole movie. If you liked the bathrobe scene in 'BUB', you'll love the long ventriloquist scene. He plays a woman coming on to himself!

VARIETY Film Review - May 6, 1936
- by "Kauf"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Extra strong programmer, which should do nicely by itself on second runs, although it may have a bit of trouble running up any marks in aces.  It's a case of an extra good cast in a neat yarn with exceptionally strong dialog.  Pace lets down a bit and the title will hurt some, but those are about all the faults mentionable.

James Edward Grant, newest of the Dashiell Hammett school of crime writers, wronte the story for one of the nickel weeklies and Bert Hanlon and Raoul Walsh collabed on the adaptation, retaining all the flavor and helping by making it more humane.  It's still a tough story about tough guys and sophisticated crackers, but each of the characters has been handled almost as if separately manufactured and given personal attention.  Result is a group of believable people doing exciting, albeit unbelievable things.

From the personal standpoint of Joan Bennett, the picture gives her a good break and she takes it.  She has a distinct assignment and handles it with ease, which will probably result in her getting a new row to hoe in the future.

Miss Bennett is a shrewd manicurist in a Times Square barber shop, modern, nimble-witted and good at repartee.  She's in love with a cop (Cary Grant) and helps him round up a gang of jewel crooks and murderers.

There's a newspaper sequence and that, as usual, is so amazingly far from anything likely to happen that it'll hand news scribes a laugh.  Thus Miss Bennett is fired from her manicurist job and a couple of hours later lands a job as a reporter on a daily, at $30 a week.  She dictates all her stuff into a dictaphone and does it so well that the managing editor, listening in to her dictation, gives her a $20 raise.  It's as easy as that - but then, maybe the customers won't know the difference.

Grant handles his assignment with his usual ease.  He has developed into a really capable light comedian, and blends the romance with that convincingly.  Walter Pidgeon is the head menace, doing it with skill and finesse; Dougles Fowley is a comic crook in very handy fashion; Lloyd Nolan is fine as the killer, though just a mite too dandified; Marjorie Gateson is at her par in a comic society dame assignment; Alan Baxter is routine as another killer; Doris Canfield makes considerable of a bit as another manicurist.

Raoul Walsh helped on the adaptation besides directing and obviously fell in love with the dialog.  Some of it is so fine as to make this understandable, such as the scene when Miss Bennett helps Grant pack, and the scene just before Nolan is bumped off by Baxter.  But if Walsh were only the director he would have sacrificed some of the lines - good as they are - for the sake of tempo and the result would have been worth it.  

NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - May 2, 1936
- by Frank S. Nugent
- submitted by Barry Martin
With diligent employment of the simple declarative sentence and the primer of plot-boiling, "Big Brown Eyes," the new feature at the Capitol, stands forlornly as an elementary essay in melodrama which stumbles over its own footage and produced in this observer, at least, an equally elementary pain in the neck. Admitting a few suspenseful moments when Cary Grant is threatened with extermination by Alan Baxter and some other cinema criminals, the picture rarely is agile enough to surmount its shoddy writing and generally uninspired performances.

What Walter Wanger asks us to believe is the quite incredible romance between the blonde manicurist who becomes - just like that - a composite columnist-reporter-editorial writer on a newspaper and the lovelorn detective who scampers about, confiding headquarters' secrets in the columnist's aide and denying he has any personal interest in the ridiculous society matron whose diamonds have been stolen.

Sandwiched between these two animated caricatures is a bit of pious meditation on the inadequacy of the judiciary to deal with known baby-killers and the helplessness of a criminal ring before the combined onslaught of an ex-manicurist and a disillusioned detective. Miss Joan Bennett's portrayal of the Broadwayese cuticle-groom suggests that she has not been around the White Light district for years, and Mr. Grant, whose chief crime-detecting asset would seem to be his knowledge of ventriloquism, should be restored promptly to the rank of patrolman. Set it down as a flimsy and inadequate excuse to visit the Capitol.  

My Two Cent's Worth
by Debbie Dunlap 
January 2003
I just watched "Big Brown Eyes" again for the first time in several years.  As I popped it into the VCR, I was wondering if I'd still be a little in awe of it.  If the attraction, that spurred me to type out the entire movie dialogue, was still there.  It was.  The movie is so lame, but watching Cary's initial foray into screwball comedy is priceless.  In colleges & universities that study movie making, I think this film should be on the syllabus of any class studying screwball.  Cary Grant was THE screwball actor of that era; what a wonderful contrast to compare "The Awful Truth" with "Big Brown Eyes."  

Had Rosalind Russell, Katharine Hepburn or Jean Arthur been his co-star, I think this movie would have drawn much more attention.  Joan Bennett just doesn't bring the female lead to life like one of these other actresses could.  Where Joan Bennett tries to be a smart aleck, Russell would have made it work.  Where Joan Bennett tries to put her man in his place, Hepburn would have made it work.  Jean Arthur would have brought a zany sense of down-to-earth that Bennett just never pulls off.  Both Hepburn & Arthur could have made Eve's character tough, but vulnerable.  Joan Bennett just never quite pulls it off.  I always seem to know that she's an actress playing a part. 

Cary's acting in his early movies demanded a strong co-star.  I think "Wings in the Dark" is a good example.  He has a strong male lead, but Myrna Loy was the better actor.  Had a lesser actress been in this movie, it would have been absolute drudgery.  Cary still hadn't quite learned enough of the craft to carry the movie himself, as he so obviously did in later years. 

Although I believe that Cary's performance in BBE was much improved when compared to his performance in WitD, there are still times when he seems to be playing his part, and not becoming the character.  I think ... I think he was working so hard at figuring out how to be the character that he doesn't quite become comfortable enough to be the character.  Does that make sense?  Because of this and Bennett's glaring deficiencies, I never quite come to the point where I'm drawn into "Big Brown Eyes."  I think the reason for the fascination with this movie is precisely that I never become involved in it.  Probably because I'd seen so many consummate Cary Grant screwball performances before I'd ever found this movie, to me it's a study in how a CG screwball comedy didn't work.  Better yet, this movie is proof that Cary Grant had to work at his craft.  How many times do we hear that Cary made it look effortless?  Only Cary's dramatic roles garnered him Oscar nominations.  Watching "Big Brown Eyes" is a lesson in how difficult comedy is.  Specifically, how once upon a time, Cary didn't quite have it down pat.

The timing is horrendous, and I don't know if it's Cary who doesn't have it, or Bennett.  (Mostly Bennett.)  But the lines are great. 

Eve: I was just saying how mad Dan was at Cortig.
He thinks they should have given him the chair.
But I don't.
He doesn't deserve a chair.
They oughta fry him standing up.

The physical comedy has so much potential.  Where he was funny in "Kiss & Make Up" and "Ladies Should Listen," the physical side of his comedy had yet to emerge.  This is his very first screwball comedy!  "The Awful Truth" may claim ownership to this title, but I deny their claim.  TAT may be his first successful screwball comedy, but BBE was his first.  It may not be good, but it was his first. 

Which makes me think that Cary ought to have kissed Leo McCarey's feet.  It's a well known bit of trivia that Cary wanted out of his contract during the filming of "The Awful Truth."  He felt self-conscious about playing the part so "over the top."  But I think stretching to the point of being uncomfortable broke through whatever self-imposed physical barriers Cary had, and gave him the confidence to take his comedy wherever it needed to go in later comedies.  Could "Bringing Up Baby" have worked if Cary had been more conservative in his physical comedy?  It is interesting to note that Cary hated his performance in "Arsenic & Old Lace" for exactly the same reason.  He felt he'd been asked to take his character to the point of ridiculousness.  How many count A&OL as one of their favorite CG flicks?  I think Cary Grant shone brighter than any other star, simply because he was remarkable when he was ridiculous.  Because so very, very few actors could be act ridiculous and not appear to be ridiculous. 

CHICAGO DAILY TRIBUNE Film Review - June 2, 1936
- by Mae Tinée
- submitted by Renee Klish

Joan Bennett, Cary Grant Do Good Job Here

"Big Brown Eyes" Offers Money's Worth

Good Morning!

"Big Brown Eyes" offers the demanding movie fan considerable for his money.

Primarily, the piece is gay, romantic comedy.  But there come times when it takes itself very, very seriously, even to the point of plunging into a murder mystery.  So - you see, it is interesting - like a woman of many moods.  Charming, provocative - disturbing.  

The heroine, Eve Fallon, is a hotel barber shop manicure, much in love with Detective Danny Barr, whom she keeps up the air - and right down to earth at the same time.  Which may sound impossible - but Eve, nevertheless, accomplishes the feat.

As Danny investigates a jewel theft, Eve becomes convinced that his interest in the robberee - a fluttery Mrs. Cole - is warmer than duty demands.  Which notion on her part inspires a lot of action of one sort . . .

Well - Eve finds herself out of a job . . . And, just like that - obtains one of those movie conscious newspaper positions where, though she's had no experience at all, she becomes, in parlance of the streets, the whole cheese, with private office, dictograph, etc., the while editors hang on her words and presses stutter, or stop completely, until her stuff is in . . .

You find this remarkable young woman then hot on the trail of suspects in a child murder case . . . Her suspicions fasten on a certain racketeer - and she tips off her Danny. . . 

A farce of a trial, in which witnesses and jury are dominated by gangster influence, results in Eve and Danny again shaking the dust of unwanted jobs from their agile feet.  And now - that they're on their own and responsible to noBUDda - things start to break in earnest . . . It's all very exciting, and if you don't get all keyed up along about here, why there must be something wrong with the adrenalin.

Joan Bennett gives a highly satisfactory account of herself as the quick-thinking, wise-cracking heroine.  Cary Grant is aces as Danny - who, besides being a supercop, is no slouch as a ventriloquist.  Walter Pidgeon is a smooth and handsome article as a two-timing insurance detective.  Bright bits are turned in by Marjoric Gateson and Isabel Jewell.  Other players are capable.  So was the director.  

A good little show - even if you can't always believe it.

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