Sylvia Scarlett (1936)

90 or 94.5 mins | Comedy-drama | 3 January 1936

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HISTORY

According to HR production charts and MPH 's "In the Cutting Room," Mrs. Patrick Campbell was a cast member. Modern sources, however, state that "Mrs. Pat," a noted British actress, was hired for $2,500 to play a small part but was not used in the production. HR production charts also add Connie Emerald to the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Natalie Paley was, according to the Var review, a "real" Russian princess, and in RKO production files, she is always listed as "Princess Paley." Contemporary reviewers noted the unusual mixture of period and contemporary costuming and decoration in the picture. Although the film received poor notices and did badly at the box office, the performance of Cary Grant, who was on loan from Paramount, was widely applauded in reviews for its assured comic lightness, a quality his previous film roles had not allowed him to demonstrate. The Time review claimed that Hepburn looked better "as a boy than as a woman." According to RKO production files, exteriors for the film were shot in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Modern sources state that the California coast north of Malibu was also used as a location.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: Cukor originally had wanted Evelyn Waugh to write the screenplay but hired British novelist John Collier instead. After Collier had completed his draft, Cukor brought in Gladys Unger and Mortimer Offner to tone down the sexual implications of the story and to write a ten-minute prologue and a fifteen-minute ending that would make Sylvia a more ... More Less

According to HR production charts and MPH 's "In the Cutting Room," Mrs. Patrick Campbell was a cast member. Modern sources, however, state that "Mrs. Pat," a noted British actress, was hired for $2,500 to play a small part but was not used in the production. HR production charts also add Connie Emerald to the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Natalie Paley was, according to the Var review, a "real" Russian princess, and in RKO production files, she is always listed as "Princess Paley." Contemporary reviewers noted the unusual mixture of period and contemporary costuming and decoration in the picture. Although the film received poor notices and did badly at the box office, the performance of Cary Grant, who was on loan from Paramount, was widely applauded in reviews for its assured comic lightness, a quality his previous film roles had not allowed him to demonstrate. The Time review claimed that Hepburn looked better "as a boy than as a woman." According to RKO production files, exteriors for the film were shot in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Modern sources state that the California coast north of Malibu was also used as a location.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: Cukor originally had wanted Evelyn Waugh to write the screenplay but hired British novelist John Collier instead. After Collier had completed his draft, Cukor brought in Gladys Unger and Mortimer Offner to tone down the sexual implications of the story and to write a ten-minute prologue and a fifteen-minute ending that would make Sylvia a more sympathetic and comprehensible character. Grant's salary was $15,000 and Hepburn's was $50,000. Hepburn negotiated for a large percentage of the film's profits. The film had not recouped its production costs of one million dollars as of 1984, however. Sylvia Scarlett , which had been a pet project of Cukor and Hepburn, had such a devastating reception at a preview screening that both Cukor and Hepburn offered to make a movie for producer Berman free of charge if he would shelve it. In a modern interview, Hepburn claimed that Berman expressed a half-joking wish never to see either one of them again. The film marked the beginning of Hepburn's "box office poison" cycle, which blossomed with two other 1936 RKO pictures Mary of Scotland and A Woman Rebels . According to modern sources, Mel Berns did makeup on the production. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Dec 35
p. 3.
Film Daily
12 Dec 35
p. 4.
Film Daily
23 Dec 35
pp. 7-10.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 35
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 35
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 35
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 35
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald
28 Sep 35
p. 343.
Motion Picture Herald
18 Jan 36
p. 46.
New York Times
10 Jan 36
p. 16.
Time
13 Jan 36
p. 42.
Variety
15 Jan 36
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Cost for Miss Hepburn
Cost for Miss Paley
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Mus rec
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
STAND INS
Doubles
Doubles
Stand-in for Katharine Hepburn
Stand-in for Cary Grant
Stand-ins
Stand-ins
Stand-ins
Stand-ins
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett by Compton MacKenzie (New York, 1918).
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 January 1936
Production Date:
14 August--22 October 1935
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 January 1936
Copyright Number:
LP6033
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90 or 94.5
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
1697
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

When Henry Scarlett's wife dies, he and his daughter Sylvia leave Marseilles to start a new life in England. To help her debt-ridden father escape from his creditors, Sylvia cuts her hair and dresses as a young man, calling herself Sylvester. Broke, Henry decides to smuggle some French lace through customs but makes the mistake of confessing his crime to Jimmy Monkley, a Cockney confidence man who exposes them to the customs authorities. Monkley tells them later on the train that he turned them in to keep the police from finding the smuggled diamonds in his own shoe. Impressed by Monkley's cleverness and the £100 he gives them as compensation, Henry and Sylvia agree to become partners with him, and in London, the trio attempts several unsuccessful con games. After Monkley tries to trick Maudie Tilt, a rich woman's maid, into stealing her mistress' pearl necklace, Sylvia denounces him and insists that they pursue a more honest path. Dressed in harlequin costumes, the trio and Maudie, with whom Henry falls in love, tour Cornwall as the "Pink Pierrots." In one village, they meet Michael Fane, an aristocratic but bohemian artist, who asks the spunky Sylvia to pose for him. Strongly attracted to Michael, Sylvia steals some women's clothing and shows up at his cottage as herself. Although he is involved with the Russian aristocrat Lily, Michael flirts with the starry-eyed Sylvia, delighted by her unmasking. Later, however, when the seductive Lily arrives, he all but dismisses Sylvia. Heartbroken, Sylvia returns to the caravan, only to discover that her father has committed suicide because Maudie deserted him. Soon after, Lily ... +


When Henry Scarlett's wife dies, he and his daughter Sylvia leave Marseilles to start a new life in England. To help her debt-ridden father escape from his creditors, Sylvia cuts her hair and dresses as a young man, calling herself Sylvester. Broke, Henry decides to smuggle some French lace through customs but makes the mistake of confessing his crime to Jimmy Monkley, a Cockney confidence man who exposes them to the customs authorities. Monkley tells them later on the train that he turned them in to keep the police from finding the smuggled diamonds in his own shoe. Impressed by Monkley's cleverness and the £100 he gives them as compensation, Henry and Sylvia agree to become partners with him, and in London, the trio attempts several unsuccessful con games. After Monkley tries to trick Maudie Tilt, a rich woman's maid, into stealing her mistress' pearl necklace, Sylvia denounces him and insists that they pursue a more honest path. Dressed in harlequin costumes, the trio and Maudie, with whom Henry falls in love, tour Cornwall as the "Pink Pierrots." In one village, they meet Michael Fane, an aristocratic but bohemian artist, who asks the spunky Sylvia to pose for him. Strongly attracted to Michael, Sylvia steals some women's clothing and shows up at his cottage as herself. Although he is involved with the Russian aristocrat Lily, Michael flirts with the starry-eyed Sylvia, delighted by her unmasking. Later, however, when the seductive Lily arrives, he all but dismisses Sylvia. Heartbroken, Sylvia returns to the caravan, only to discover that her father has committed suicide because Maudie deserted him. Soon after, Lily tries to drown herself but is saved by Monkley, who then runs off with her. Michael and Sylvia chase after Lily and Monkley, convinced that they belong with them. On the train, however, they realize that they actually love each other, and the pursuit ends. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.