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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Classic Film Review: Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Sylvia Scarlett stars Katharine Hepburn as the title character, the daughter of a thief (Edmund Gwenn) who has liberated some expensive lace from his employer and needs to escape the country. A man travelling with a daughter would be too conspicuous so Sylvia becomes Sylvester. On the boat they meet Jimmy Monkley (Cary Grant) who, after shopping them to customs for smuggling lace, invites them to come along with him and make some immoral money. Along the way they encounter artist Michael Fane (Brian Aherne), who Syvlia - still dressed as Sylvester - immediately falls for.

One of the main problems with this film is the incoherence. There seem to be a set number of 'situations' that the characters are boxed into with no real logic between them. In addition, the characterisation's a bit rubbish (you'd show more emotion if your father had stumbled off a cliff, I think) and some of the accents are appalling (surprisingly, Grant's is the worse of all!). However, it does have some comical moments stemming from the male impersonation of the title character. Hepburn, of course, does boyish extremely well and it's not a stretch to believe the impersonation - it's actually more difficult to accept the character when she goes back to being Sylvia.

One thing that did surprise me was the satisfying ending. The writers weren't overcome with the necessity to shoehorn the characters into the ending appropriate to the billing, perhaps the best bit of characterisation throughout the whole film.

This is an odd one - entertaining in parts, lacklustre in the main. However, it's worth watching just for Hepburn's performance as Sylvester (and there is an almost amorous moment where her step-mother decides to take a chance on her 'step-son').

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