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To escape from France with her father, Sylvia Scarlett (Katharine Hepburn) cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy. When they meet shady operator Monkley (Cary Grant), he suggests that they team up and work as confidence tricksters. Before long, however, they have run out of cash, so Monkley calls on an old friend, Maudie, who works as a maid in a wealthy London household.
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I picked this one up filling in the gaps I had missed from Danny Peary's "Cult Movies" and he points out two ideas which make this film interesting. Firstly, the film is a constant stream of acts, pretences and make believes - Sylvia pretends to be a boy, Munkly pretends to be an honest man reporting Sylvia's father to customs to smuggle his own booty in, Sylvia acts as a penniless French boy to scam racegoers, they convine a maid that they are stage scouts with Sylvia's father dressing up as the lord of the house following which they buy a travelling theatre caravan - everything in the film is one big act after another! If you watch it again knowing that you can plug into the theatrical conventions that don't normally slip across into filmic conventions - things like the way the characters speak out loud to be heard at the back of the auditorium, the exaggerated gestures, the idea of a girl playing the male lead etc. The other thing he points out is how the film covertly presents issues of gender and sexuality that is unusual for that period - certainly not in a blatant or sexual way, probably not in an intentional one - as a boy Sylvia gets kissed by a girl, invited to bed with a man and has a man confess to being curiously attracted to him/her, not particularly something you expect in a 1930s film!
Its not a classic film and it is somewhat let down by its plot and script, particularly at times seeming to fall into a lull or lose its way a little, but it does entertain.
It is helped by Kathrine Hepburn been such a slim actress, and looks like
a very much like a boy. Until she opens her mouth. I just wonder if in those
days, if people had heard the rumours about both Hepburn and Grant
sexuality. These days there would not have the same reaction. An odd
film but interesting
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
In London they join up with a trickster cockney Cary Grant (the accents not great but I've heard a lot worse) and they try to pull a series of scams. Hepburn oscillating moral compass sees them go straightish and they move to Cornwall as group of singing performers.
This film has an amusing premise but fails to take advantage of it unlike "Some Like It Hot"; there's no real laugh out loud moments; not even with the reveal. There's just a feeling of light fun.
Unlike the Million Pound Note with the same lightness, fun (but stronger laughs) and charm this film bursts its bubble of charm about halfway though by introducing some irritating characters and going rather melodramatic from which the film fails to recover.
Other than some, I assume accidental, amusing moment - Grants dancing, some lines that can be read a few ways - the reason to watch the film is Kathrine Hepburn who performs well as both a man and women but I'm not sure that's even enough to warrant recommending it.