Next up in our run of Cary Grant films as we celebrate him as the Star Of The Month, we have his 1936 film Big Brown Eyes, also starring Joan Bennett!
Coming Up Shorts! with… The Three Little Pups (1953)
(Available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 6 minutes, 44 seconds)
Three little pups (including Droopy) take on a dogcatcher. This one is a fun variation on the whole “Three Little Pigs” idea (with the narrator even briefly, “mistakenly” referring to them as pigs). Of course, the wolf as the dogcatcher is quite a bit of fun, especially once he reveals himself as a slightly different, more laidback character than we first see. That alone adds to the hilarity (and one can even see the time and influence of television in its early years here). A very fun cartoon (as have been most of the Droopys) and one worth coming back to periodically!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Some jewelry has been stolen from the wealthy Mrs. Chesley Cole (Marjorie Gateson). All the gossip is that the police are highly unlikely to recover it, so she turns to private detective Richard Morey (Walter Pidgeon), who has been successful in recovering stolen items. However, the police still try to help find the jewelry, and assign detective Danny Barr (Cary Grant) to investigate. Mrs. Cole is enamored with him (much to his dismay), and things get worse when Danny’s girlfriend, manicurist Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett) walks in on them. She assumes the worst about Danny, and returns to the barber shop where she works. Danny follows her to explain, but she ends up getting fired for yelling at him. However, another job is waiting, as her friend Jack Sully (Joseph Sawyer) has offered her a job as a reporter at the local newspaper, and she takes him up on it. Meanwhile, as we (the audience) quickly find out, Richard Morey is not really a private detective, but a mobster, and he pushes his lieutenant, Russ Cortig (Lloyd Nolan), to go meet the thieves in the park and pay them for the jewelry. However, they balk at the amount offered to them, and, in his anger, Russ takes a shot at them. He misses, instead hitting a baby in a stroller, and he runs off. The case of the baby killer becomes a big thing, and Danny is soon assigned to the case. Eve has forgiven him, and decides to help him out. Between the two of them, they find another thug who squeals on Russ when they push him hard enough. However, at the trial, there isn’t enough evidence to convict Russ, and he goes free. In frustration, Danny resigns from the force, planning to go after Russ on his own. Unable to publish what she believes to be the truth, Eve also resigns as a reporter and goes back to her old job as a manicurist. With Richard Morey hiding in the shadows as the leader of this gang (and willing to double-cross anyone), can Danny and Eve discover the truth, or will crime pay for this racketeer?
Big Brown Eyes was based on the two short stories “Hahsit Babe” and “Big Brown Eyes” by James Edward Grant. I myself haven’t read either of those stories (and so cannot comment on how well they were adapted). What I do know is that this movie seems to cover a few different genres, including comedy, gangster, and mystery. Especially with the two leads working together to solve the crime, it almost seems like one of the Thin Man clones that came about in the wake of that film’s success. My own opinion is that it’s an inferior film compared to that classic, but there is some fun to be had here. I enjoyed some of the comic moments that started the film, including a bit of ventriloquism as Cary Grant’s Danny attempts to reconcile with Joan Bennett’s Eve (whether that was actually Cary Grant doing some ventriloquism or just somebody else dubbing the other voice, I have no idea). The other fun moment is later in the film, with Danny packing, and Eve trying to figure out where he is going so that she can join him (and getting nowhere in the conversation). As for the mystery, it’s more or less of the Columbo variety, where we the audience quickly learn the culprits, and it’s just a matter of how they will be caught.
As the detective, Cary Grant does a fairly good job. It’s still not quite the persona we’re used to, but he’s still proving that he can act. You can see how much he wants to catch the crooks, and how much it bothers him when one gets away with murder at the trial. Not to mention he shows how uncomfortable he is when trying to interview Mrs. Cole (you know, the moment he gets in trouble with his girlfriend). It’s not Cary at his best, but he does well enough here. Overall, I’d say it’s still worth trying this movie out as something different for him.
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Big Brown Eyes (1936)
This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the three film Cary Grant Collection from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. This release makes use of an HD scan of the movie. It has its moments where it looks pretty good, and some moments don’t look as well (I’d sooner say middle of the road than completely awful). It’s not as cleaned up as one would prefer, but it’s mainly the start of the (original) Paramount credits that really looks rough, along with a few shots later in the movie. But, it looks about as good as I would begin to hope for (especially considering its relative obscurity), so it’s probably the best way to see it for now.
Film Length: 1 hour, 17 minutes
My Rating: 7/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Ladies Should Listen (1934) – Cary Grant – Wedding Present (1936)
Mississippi (1935) – Joan Bennett – Wedding Present (1936)
Walter Pidgeon – The Girl Of The Golden West (1938)
Ladies Should Listen (1934) – Cary Grant Collection – Wedding Present (1936)
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