Sylvia Scarlett is puzzling in its tangents and sudden jumps, plus the almost poetic lines that are given to Katharine Hepburn. At moments the film [from the novel by Compton MacKenzie] skirts the border of absurdity.
Mistake seems to have been in not sticking to a broad vein of comedy. In the serious passages, notably the half-crazy jealousy of the father (Edmund Gwenn) for his young and helter-skelter wife (Dennie Moore) there is little preparation in the audience’s mind for anything so serious as a suicide.
Perhaps it is not valid to ask whether anybody would really fail to suspect the true sex of such a boy as Hepburn looks and acts. But while carrying this off well enough, she shines brightest and is most likeable in the transition into womanhood inspired by her meeting with an artist (Brian Aherne).
Cary Grant, doing a petty English crook with a Soho accent, practically steals the picture. This is especially true in the earlier sequences. A scene in an English mansion to which Hepburn, Grant and Gwenn have gone for purposes of robbery is dominated by Grant.
The picture is half-whimsical, almost allegorical, and with the last half having a dream-worldish element that’s hard to define, and equally hard to understand.