- by Zoë
Henry Scarlett is forced to
flee France and takes his daughter, Sylvia with him. She is disguised as a
man. They meet Monkley, a cockney bloke, and swindle some people in London.
Sylvia falls for an artist and abandons her disguise, but he refuses to take
her seriously. Her rival runs away, and leaves the way clear for Sylvia's
- by Marsha
"Sylvia Scarlett" (even though it doesn't have
much in common with the very interesting novel it is based on) is a very good and
surprisingly dark movie.
The heroine, Sylvia (Katharine Hepburn), changes her sex
and becomes "Sylvester" when she and her improvident father relocate from France
to England. On the packet they meet Arthur (Cary Grant), a Cockney thief and con-man. It is
a very atypical role for Grant. There is nothing polished, high-class, urbane, or even
really charming about Arthur. He is a crook, unscrupulous and realistic. When her father
(not a very moral character himself) and Arthur join forces, Sylvia-Sylvester (Arthur
finds out about her sex), is forced to work with them. After a number of schemes (such as
begging money under the pretence of a lonely orphan), all of which fail either because of
lack of skill or Sylvia's scruples, Arthur, Sylvia (still in her male guise), Sylvia's
father and a chambermaid who becomes his mistress form a traveling theater group. During
one of their performances, they meet Michael, a young and fairly well-off young artist,
who wants "Sylvester" to pose for him. Sylvia falls in love with him, but he
doesn't take her seriously, even when he finds out she is a girl. Another complication is
Michael's beautiful, self-destructive and cruel fiancée. When after a break-up with
Michael, she tries to commit suicide and is fished out by Arthur and Sylvia, Sylvia
decides that her life won't be ruined the way Sylvia's was. (She just accepted a proposal
from Arthur, even though they don't love one another). The problem is, the fiancée runs
off with Arthur, and Michael and Sylvia set out to recover them. After an eventual journey
they catch up with the runaways, but each is strangely reluctant to confront them.
Michael thinks Sylvia wants Arthur back, and Sylvia thinks Michael wants his fiancée back.
However, they cannot bring themselves to go to the runaways (who are on the same train
with them), and realize they love one another. They jump off the train and you see them
kissing, while the camera shows Arthur looking at the scene out of the window and laughing
at the fiancée's assertion that Michael would love to have her back.
This movie is mainly Katharine Hepburn's. She portrays a
surprisingly engaging and wistful girl. Sometimes you almost hurt for her. But Cary Grant
(though this is one of the rare movies where he doesn't get the girl) is also very good in
a such unusual for him role. It is a surprisingly stark and realistic movie, rather grim.
The crime life is stripped of its glamour, and the pitifulness of the troupe's existence is
also exposed. And the scene where Sylvia's father realizes the chambermaid left him for a
richer lover is one of the most heart wrenching and chilling scenes I've ever seen. Yet,
the scene where Michael draws Sylvia's profile in jail is so purely tender. The movie
suffered from the expectations of the viewers' which expected something quite different
(even I was at first taken aback). It is not a screwball comedy, Cary Grant's character is
low class, and it is rather bleak, but it is a wonderful and moving film nevertheless.
VARIETY Film Review - January 15, 1936
- by "Land"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Despite good production values and some strong performances,
'Sylvia Scarlett' is not a reliable candidate for public
favor. The story is hard to get. It is puzzling in its
tangents and sudden jumps plus the almost poetic lines that are
given to Miss Hepburn. At moments the film skirts the border
of absurdity and considerable of its mid-section is downright
As an acting opportunity for the
star the name part is varied and colorful although frequently at
the expense of credulity. Mistake seems to have been in not
sticking to a broad vein of comedy. In the serious passages,
notably the half-crazy jealousy of the father (Edmund Gwenn) for
his young and helter-skelter wife (Dennie Moore) there is little
preparation in the audience's mind for anything so serious as a
Perhaps it is not valid to ask
whether anybody would really fail to suspect the true sex of such
a boy as Miss Hepburn looks and acts. But while carrying
this off well enough she shines brightest and is most likeable in
the transition into womanhood inspired by her meeting with an
artist (Brian Aherne).
Cary Grant, doing a petty English
crook with a Soho accent, practically steals the picture.
This is especially true in the earlier sequences. A scene in
an English mansion to which Miss Hepburn, Grant and Gwenn have
gone for purposes of robbery is dominated by Grant.
Throughout this interlude Miss Hepburn is in the background and
pretty silly pouring herself glass after glass of champagne while
tossing off free verse about the bubbles being pearls that should
be returned to the sea. In other sequences Grant also stands
out. Aherne enters late and never overcomes the
Picture also offers Edmund Gween.
English legit, and Natalie Paley, from Russia and a bona fide
princess, and Dennie More, soubrette from Broadway. Gwenn
will be very useful to casting directors in Hollywood. He
brings plenty of experience and versatility. It may not be
so easy for the princess. Her English isn't too good and
neither is her acting here. Miss Moore will be typed for
goofy dames and shows promise.
Half-whimsical, almost allegorical,
and with the last half having a dream-worldish element that's hard
to define, and equally hard to understand, 'Sylvia Scarlett' will
encounter a cross-drift of indifference to some of its basic plot
situations. Transition of a group of petty crooks into a
troupe of vagabond actors traveling in a two motor coach caravan
is especially harsh upon the credibility of the story.
NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - January
- by Andre Sennwald
- submitted by Barry Martin
Katharine Hepburn dons
trousers, dances gypsy-like on the English countryside and achieves what is
customarily if discouragingly referred to as a personal triumph in her new
film at the Radio City Music Hall. Probably it is unkind to say of
"Sylvia Scarlett" that it begins at 12 sharp and ends at 1:40, and
yet that is precisely its total effect. With what accuracy Compton
Mackenzie's novel has been transferred to the screen this deponent knoweth
not. But the film has a sprawling, confused and unaccented way of telling
its story that might easily be the result of too literal a dramatization of
just that sprawling kind of a book.
Since George Cukor and Pandro S.
Berman are responsible for the film, you can be sure that the
seeds of aspiration are in it. As the awkward, imaginative,
tremulously frustrated heroine of the tale, Miss Hepburn, is on
her home grounds, and she plays the part with a richness of
understanding that compares favorably with her performance in
"Alice Adams." Individual scenes of laughter and
heart-break come through cleanly, but the story and its people
seem purposeless and possess the blurred outlines of shapes that
are being projected through a veil.
In the main, "Sylvia Scarlett"
collects some odd characters and sets them on an odd sort of
vagabond odyssey. When Sylvia's father commits larceny and is
forced to flee France, Sylvia joins him and becomes a boy for the
occasion so as not to be a bother during their flight. They join
up with a raffish cockney, practice a bit of swindling in London,
and then take to the road with a Pierrot show that also includes a
daffy servant-girl whom they have picked up on their travels.
Sylvia's secret passion for a handsome artist finally causes her
to abandon her disguise and attempt to recapture her girlhood. It
is in the bitter-sweet indecisions of her romance with a man who
refuses to take her seriously that Miss Hepburn is at her best.
There are several excellent
performances under Mr. Cukor's management. Edmund Gwenn, of
course, is completely satisfying as the baffled and sanctimonious
father who finally goes mad and wanders on the heath like King
Lear in the overwrought scenes near the end. As the amiably daft
maid-servant, Dennie Moore plays with a freshness and a gift for
humor that should quickly gain her attention in Hollywood. Cary
Grant, whose previous work has too often been that of a charm
merchant, turns actor in the role of the unpleasant cockney and is
surprisingly good at it. As the Bohemian artist, Brian Aherne
assumes a studied carelessness and a heavy jocularity that are of
no vast assistance. There is a good bit by Natalie Paley as a kind
of Russian adventuress who is never quite clarified in the
writing. Something fresh, touching and funny seems to have gone
into "Sylvia Scarlett," but it got caught in the
- by Kathy Fox
This is Cary Grant's
first picture of four with Katharine Hepburn, and this is his 21st film.
At this point in his life, Grant is becoming disenchanted with Paramount
Pictures and in the autumn of 1936 he announces that he will become a
free-lance actor. This was unheard of in this day and age, and Cary
paved the way for other actors to do the same in years to come. He was
loaned out to RKO to do SYLVIA SCARLETT to teach Grant a lesson, but this
turned out to be a turning point in Grant's career. In May of 1937,
Grant signed his semi-exclusive contract with Columbia Pictures to do WHEN
YOU'RE IN LOVE, while at the same time he was offered a role in THE TOAST OF
NEW YORK by RKO. He would work at Columbia during the day and film at
RKO at night, while receiving the same salary he had made at Paramount.
SYLVIA SCARLETT, is a disjointed picture with loosely held plots about a
cockney Jimmy Monkley (Grant) a con-man who meets up with Sylvester (Sylvia)
Scarlett (Hepburn) playing a man, and her father Henry (Edmond Gwenn) who
are fleeing Marseilles after Henry has stolen money from the lace company
where he works. The three get together and form a con operation.
Hepburn poses as a boy until she finds out she has fallen for Michael Fane
(Brian Aherne) and exposes her real identity. Grant has fallen for
Fane's girl and Sylvia has fallen for Michael Fane. In the end, each
gets the person he/she desires. Grant's humble beginnings enables him
to play Monkley as if he were born for the part, which in a way, he was.
The film did not do that well, but paved the way for the Grant to become the
great actor that he was destined to become.
Click here to read Jenny's Crackpot
Reviews at the Cary Grant Shrine
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