Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Comedy  |   Release Date - Dec 12, 1935 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 97 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Universally rejected by the public upon its initial release, Sylvia Scarlett's reputation has undergone a reversal over the years, and it is now recognized as an unusual film of exceptional quality. Certainly, the reasons why the public shunned it are clear. Not only were both stars playing somewhat against type, they were playing characters that sometimes challenged the audience to approve of them. In addition, the movie shifts tones and genres wildly, in a manner that is more acceptable to modern audiences, but would have been off-putting in 1935. The undercurrent of homosexuality that runs through the film gives it texture, but also discomfited potential fans. And Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant don't even end up together. From a critical point of view, only the last of these is really bothersome; it makes sense on a schematic level, but the stars' personalities and charisma fight against the logic of this turn of the script. Director George Cukor provides some of his finest work, assuredly keeping the film firmly on track even as it veers from comedy to tragedy to melodrama, all the while maintaining its stylish and delectable edge. The script is filled with wonderful moments, employing gay subtext to good effect, and featuring witty banter, memorable big scenes, and almost poetic atmosphere. Hepburn is never for one minute believable as a man, but the artifice is part of what makes her performance so attractive; Grant has one of his earliest opportunities at creating a self-centered and amoral character that the audience nevertheless cares for. Over it all, there's a constant push-and-pull struggle that gives the film a very fetching vitality. Sylvia Scarlett is an audacious motion picture; it's fortunate that time has proven its value.