Sylvia Scarlett is one of those movies which really does need to be taken into historical context. For a modern audience a girl dressed as a man pretending to be a girl might be an old story and but in 1935 it hadn’t been rendered trite by other movies. This is a movie that was made in the face of mounting pressure on Hollywood to heavily censor scripts. Had the censors been active there is no way the kiss between Dennie Moore (playing Maudie) and Katharine Hepburn (as Sylvester Scarlett) would have ever taken place.
Sylvia Scarlett is not a naïve movie though it has a wonderfully naïve ending the meat of the story deals with gender bias, gambling addiction, social status and mental illness. For a movie that bites off so much it manages to deliver a story which is unencumbered by pontificating sermons though almost falls into that trap during one set piece. Edmund Gwenn gives a superb performance though he is given a run for his money by character actress Dennie Moore. Katharine Hepburn and Brian Aherne give decent performances but could have used a little more direction as they sometimes go a little over the top.
That leaves Cary Grant who is, simply put, brilliant as Jimmy Monkley a cockney accented Brit always looking for an angle and a way to find easy street. Grant is relaxed and alternately vicious, conniving and gentle in a role which gave him some room to act. It is easy to see from this performance why he became such an incredible star in Hollywood.
For Hepburn completists and Grant fans Sylvia Scarlett is a must see just as it is a must see for fans of one of the original big five studios RKO. Sylvia Scarlett is a solid movie and has some great laugh out loud moments as well as some bitter and biting moments.