VHS / DVD
RKO Radio Pictures
94 minutes on DVD – original release 95 minutes
Produced: August 14-October 22, 1935
Filmed on location in Laurel Canyon - Hollywood Hills - Los Angeles
and on the North Coast – Malibu – California - USA
Premiere: December 12, 1935
After Sylvia Scarlett's father commits larceny and is forced to flee France, she joins him, masquerading as a boy, so they will not easily be detected. They join up with a raffish cockney, Jimmy Monkley, soon practice a bit of swindling in London, and then take to the road with a Pierrot show. Sylvia soon becomes involved with a handsome, well-to-do artist, Michael Fane.
Richard Watts Jr. – New York Herald Tribune - 1936
"The dynamic Miss Hepburn is the handsomest boy of the season. I am forced to say that her vehicle is a sprawling and ineffective essay in dramatic chaos, with characters and situations enmeshed in vague obscurities, but for Miss Hepburn's performance I have only admiration. I don't care for Sylvia Scarlett a bit, but I do think Miss Hepburn is much better in it that she was as the small-town wallflower in Alice Adams."
Eileen Creelman, New York Sun – 1936
"Mr. Cukor's theatrical direction and the star's artificial performances are among other unpleasant problems of the day. Miss Hepburn destroys her usual striking good looks by chopping off her hair and wearing highly unbecoming masculine garb, in which she still glides instead of walking, she makes a most unconvincing boy. The picture is a tragic waste of time and screen talent."
Geoff Andrew – Time Out
"A small and intriguingly bizarre gem, its picaresque story once again revealing Cukor’s abiding interest in the joys and pains, deceptions and truths associated with the art of acting. The performer here is young Sylvia (Hepburn), forced to dress as a boy when her embezzler father (Gwenn) returns to England from France in dire straits. The pair fall in with troublesome landladies, a touring theatrical company, a roguish con-man (Grant), and a romantic painter (Aherne); and the film comes to centre on the way Hepburn’s life of pretence affects not only her own emotional development but those around her. Just as the sexual nuances of her various encounters remain ambiguous, so the film seems unable to decide whether to opt for comedy, romantic adventure, or tragedy; Gwenn, for example, gradually loses his sanity, a darkening backdrop to the scenes of light, breezy banter between the leads. Odd, then, but entirely civilised and engaging, and Hepburn was rarely more radiant or moving."
Jonathan Rosenbaum – Chicago Reader
"For my money, the most interesting and audacious movie George Cukor ever made. Katharine Hepburn disguises herself as a boy to escape from France to England with her crooked father (Edmund Gwenn); they fall in with a group of travelling players, including Cary Grant (at his most cockney and remarkable), and the ambiguous sexual feelings that Hepburn as a boy provokes in both Grant and Brian Aherne (an aristocratic artist) are part of what makes this film so subversive and special. It boldly and disconcertingly seems to switch tone and genre every few moments, from farce to tragedy to romance to crime thriller and back again – rather like the French New Wave films that were to come a quarter of a century later – as Cukor’s fascination with theatre and the outsized talents of his cast somehow hold it all together, The film flopped miserably when it came out in 1935, but it survives as one of the most poetic, magical, and inventive Hollywood films of it’s era. John Collier collaborated on the script, and Joseph August did the evocative cinematography."
What Kate had to say
Katharine Hepburn – Me - 1991
"Sylvia Scarlett – a real disaster – with Cary Grant. Our fist picture together. It was a strange experience. Compton Mackenzie wrote the book. As we shot the picture, I began wonder what Cukor was thinking. I just did not seem to me to work – just not funny.... Cary Grant's performance in this picture is magic. He was his true self – a real cockney – slightly plump and full of beans. His energy was incredible, his laugher full und unguarded. Teddy Gween and I were his stooges. It was a great setup, which didn't quite work. And the relationship with Brian Aherne was dull. Not Brian's fault."
What fellow actors, the director and friends had to say
Pandro S. Berman
"By far the worst picture I ever made, and the greatest catastrophe in Kate's thirties' career.... I had nothing to do with it. I despised everything about it. It was a private promotional deal of Hepburn and Cukor; they conned me into it and had a script written. I said to them 'Jesus, this is awful, terrible, I don't understand a thing that's going on.' I tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t be stopped; they were hell-bent, claiming that this was the greatest thing they had ever found."
George Cukor – Interview with Garvin Lambert – 1970
"It had remarkable vitality and it's survived all kinds of things. Even after it was passed over, it kept on playing in little theatres for years, and I'd use it as an insanity test. When people said to me – Judy Holliday said one – 'Oh I loved that picture!' I used to tell them, 'Now I know about you, your mind is not too good.' It was a lost cause for many years. I suppose that for Kate and myself, out attitude has frozen into being comic about it.... I'd always liked the book, and it struck me that Kate had that quality they used to call garçonne, and I thought it would be a perfect part for her."
George Cukor – Interview with the American Film Institute – 1978
"I saw the picture recently and thought the first part was terribly amusing, but then the story seemed to bog down. There was a terrible outcry when it was first released. All my experiences at the previews were disasters. People were actually walking out in the middle of the film. After one screening, Kate and I saw the producer of the film, Pandro S. Berman, and we immediately offered to do another picture for him for nothing. He looked at us, not realizing that we were kidding and trying to laugh it all off, and he said with a straight face, 'I hope I never see either of you again.' Sylvia Scarlett was a picture in which the central idea simply got out of hand. Now it's become a kind of cult film. There are some amusing things in it, but forty years ago they didn’t work. Now, when humour in films is much more offbeat, audiences see a liveliness in Syliva Scarlett."