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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 <email@example.com>
Sylvia Scarlett is directed by George Cukor and is adapted from the Compton Mackenzie novel called The Early Life And Adventures Of Sylvia Scarlett. It stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edmund Gwenn & Brian Aherne. Plot finds Hepburn as Sylvia, who after her father (Gwenn) is discovered as being an embezzler, is forced to flee France for England; with Sylvia disguised as a boy so as to avert suspicion. On the channel ferry they meet Jimmy Monkley (Grant) who isn't shy of the odd con game himself. It could be a match made in grifter heaven?
Baffling and divisive, Sylvia Scarlett is certainly a film that will never be forgotten. The two most notable things about it are that firstly it's considered one of the most unsuccessful movies of the 1930s, whilst secondly it was the first pairing of super stars Hepburn & Grant. Who from here would go on to make three further, and better, movies: Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938) & The Philadelphia Story (1940).
Sylvia Scarlett puzzles in what it wants to be, it constantly shifts in tone to the point where one doesn't know what mood is needed to be in so as to enjoy it. Certainly if you needed a pick up it has moments of levity, but then it's also capable of dragging you down. It's also often absurd, and not in a screwball entertaining way either. While come the last half hour it's almost in the realms of fantasy and just a little hard to understand. The cast are fine, and by all accounts it was a real happy shoot (according to Cukor one of the best he worked on), but the bonkers narrative makes it something of an annoying watch.
It has fans, but in spite of Grant being my favourite actor, I'll never be one of them. 4/10
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