Escaping to England from a French embezzlement charge, widower Henry Scarlett is accompanied by daughter Sylvia who, to avoid detection, "disguises" herself as a boy, "Sylvester." They are ... See full summary »
Escaping to England from a French embezzlement charge, widower Henry Scarlett is accompanied by daughter Sylvia who, to avoid detection, "disguises" herself as a boy, "Sylvester." They are joined by amiable con man Jimmy Monkley, then, after a brief career in crime, meet Maudie Tilt, a giddy, sexy Cockney housemaid who joins them in the new venture of entertaining at resort towns from a caravan. Through all this, amazingly no one recognizes that Sylvia is not a boy...until she meets handsome artist Michael Fane, and drama intrudes on the comedy. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Before Spencer, there was Cary...and this odd film
This is an odd film - definitely an odd one. Even in a period when the Hayes Office, the Breen Office, the movie code, and the Catholic Legion of Decency were still finding their feet, this film just stretched gender roles as far as possible. And the audiences of 1935, who tolerated MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, THE INFORMER, and many other films, would not tolerate this one.
The issue is whether or not the audiences of 2006 would tolerate it. I gather that we are better used to bi-sexual, homosexual, or transsexual genres in movies in the last half century, but having said that I keep realizing that many people aren't. I also note that of the four Grant - Hepburn films this one is the least revived (which is odd, because it was the first one made). I have a feeling that the fans of this film fall into three categories: those who enjoy the sexual suggestiveness of it's storyline, those who enjoy the two stars and their acting abilities, and those who like the director, George Cukor. Outside those three groups, there are many people who are probably (at best) indifferent to this movie, and (at worst) positively hostile to it.
I could understand part of the hostility. It is the crazy screenplay in the film. This movie never comes to grips with exactly what it wants to do. It starts off with a kind of "Dr. Crippen" situation (though actually not as serious), wherein Edmund Gwenn has committed embezzlement and must flee France with his daughter Hepburn - whom he disguises as a son to help his own escape disguise (this resembles Crippen's disguising his girlfriend Ethel Le Neve as a son when fleeing to Canada on the "Montrose"). Hepburn just barely passes as a boy (her bony face just makes it). Then they meet grifter Cary Grant, and join him in a series of con games.
First problem in script here - if Gwenn and Hepburn are fleeing the French authorities to get to England, doesn't it undercut their efforts to continue a criminal path with Grant? If they are caught (as they nearly are) the British police will return Gwenn to France, rather than probably ignore him if he just behaves himself in England. Of course, for them to get into a story involving Grant the script requires them to behave in line with him.
This was the first film that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant appeared in together, and in the wake of the later Tracy series it has somehow gotten pushed slightly (not totally) into the shadows. It is similar to the series of musicals by Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier for Paramount in the early 1930s, that are slightly (not quite totally) in the shadows of the later musical series with Nelson Eddy. The later films (particularly BRINGING UP BABY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) are far more popular - despite the screwiness of the former those films (and HOLIDAY) have coherent plots. We aren't trying to figure out if the film is funny or sad, or if it's about con artists or small time performers. We don't have to worry in the later three films about allegory (the scene in SCARLET when they are performing in Comedia del Arte costumes, with Gwenn - growing jealous about his girlfriend's activities - dressed as "Pierrot" is definitely allegorical). One can say SYLVIA SCARLET is a film with something for everyone - question is does that make it a good film?
Because I like George Cukor (who later would work with both Grant and Hepburn to better effect), and see that Hepburn and Grant and Brian Ahearn and Gwenn are giving their all to their parts, I am willing to say I'm favorably impressed enough to give this an "8" out of "10". But I will maintain that this odd little movie is not one meant for large audiences or for huge popular approval.
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