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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>
Howard Hughes visited the set one day, landing his amphibious plane near the beach where they were filming. Hughes said he stopped by to say hello to his good friend Cary Grant but in actuality he wanted to meet Katharine Hepburn, whom he was fascinated by. The film The Aviator (2004) recreates this first meeting of theirs. See more »
In the scene in which Sylvia and Michael are having a conversation and then lie down to go to sleep, their conversation continues though their lips have stopped moving. See more »
[speaking to Sylvia dressed as a boy]
"I say, uh! I know what it is that gives me a queer feeling when I look at you. There's something in you to be painted."
See more »
Androgeny is a quality that some of the biggest of our great stars possessed: Garbo, Dietrich, Grant, Vanessa Redgrave, to name a few, and of course, Katharine Hepburn. In "Sylvia Scarlett," she plays a young woman masquerading as a young man for part of this rather strange film that can't make up its mind what it is. The movie also stars Cary Grant, Edmund Gwenn and Brian Aherne. Gwenn is Henry Scarlett, an embezzler who has to high-tail it out of England fast. When his daughter Sylvia insists on going along, he tells her everyone will be looking for him with his daughter, so Sylvia becomes Sylvester by cutting his hair and donning mens' clothes.
On the boat, the two meet Jimmy Monckley, a con man, and eventually team up with him for a series of cons. Then a flirtatious maid friend of Jimmy's joins them and they become vaudevillians in one of the film's more bizarre twists. Henry, a widower, marries said maid and winds up obsessive and jealous (with, one suspects, good reason since she makes a pass at Sylvia as Sylvester). One night at a performance, the cast meets an artist, Michael Fane, whom Sylvia falls for, and she ultimately reveals himself to him as a woman.
The plot of this film changes more than the sexes, with Hepburn inexplicably staying a boy once she and her father have made their escape to France. There are some great scenes - the con in the French park, with Sylvia pretending to be a destitute boy who can't speak English, and the scene where the dress she stole on the beach so she could make her big reveal to Michael is recognized by the owner. Also, the act they perform is amusing. It probably would have been better to stick with the con angle and have the script go from there, but it goes from that to the performance angle to a love triangle etc.
Katharine Hepburn makes both an excellent boy and young woman in the throes of first love, and Cary Grant has an early, uncharacteristic role as an absolute thief and heel who is also somewhat abusive. His persona would change, and he would find it difficult to convince anyone later on to let him go back to this type of character who is not redeemed at the end. But his good looks and charm make him a natural rogue. The underrated Brian Aherne, who it appears wound up taking a back seat to Errol Flynn, is marvelous as Michael. He's romantic, sexy, and gives the role a light touch.
Directed by George Cukor, "Sulvia Scarlett" is a dizzy film that's not a wild comedy (which it probably should have been) or a drama or a love story. It's remembered today for Hepburn's cross-dressing. A shame, because it could have been remembered for more than that.
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