Sylvia Scarlett is a 1935 romantic comedy film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, based on The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett, a novel by Compton MacKenzie. Directed by George Cukor, it was notorious as one of the most famous unsuccessful movies of the 1930s. Hepburn plays the title role of Sylvia Scarlett, a female con artist masquerading as a boy to escape the police. The success of the subterfuge is in large part due to the transformation of Hepburn by RKO makeup artist Mel Berns.
|Directed by||George Cukor|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||Gladys Unger|
|Based on||The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett|
by Compton MacKenzie
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||Joseph H. August|
|Edited by||Jane Loring|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|December 25, 1935|
This film was the first pairing of Grant and Hepburn, who later starred together in Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Grant's performance as a dashing rogue sees him incorporate a Cockney accent and remains widely considered the first time Grant's famous personality began to register on film. (Grant used the Cockney accent in only a few other films, notably 1939's Gunga Din and Clifford Odets' None but the Lonely Heart in 1944.) Cockney was not, however, Cary Grant's original accent. He was born and grew up in Bristol, which has a very different accent from that of London, although it was much closer to Grant's pre-Hollywood accent than the voice he used in most films, a product of his attempting to sound more American in order to broaden the range of roles for which he could be cast.
Sylvia Scarlett (Katharine Hepburn) and her father, Henry (Edmund Gwenn), flee France one step ahead of the police. Henry, while employed as a bookkeeper for a lace factory, was discovered to be an embezzler. While on the channel ferry, they meet a "gentleman adventurer", Jimmy Monkley (Cary Grant), who partners with them in his con games.
After a disastrous test screening, Cukor and Hepburn reportedly begged producer Pandro Berman to shelve the picture if they agreed to make their next film for free. According to RKO records, the film lost a whopping $363,000, and thus began a downturn in Hepburn's career (causing her to be branded "box office poison") from which she would eventually recover. A Turner Classic Movies article suggested that the film's themes of sexual politics were ahead of its time and that the film's reception has improved over the years.