DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

BIG BROWN EYES (director/writer: Raoul Walsh; screenwriter: from the short stories Hahsit Babe and Big Brown Eyes by James Edward Grant/Bert Hanlon; cinematographer: George Clemens; editor: Robert Simpson; music:  Gerard Carbonara; cast: Cary Grant (Danny Barr), Joan Bennett (Eve Fallon), Walter Pidgeon (Richard Morey), Lloyd Nolan  (Russ Cortig), Alan Baxter (Gary Butler), Majorie Gateson (Mrs. Cole), Douglas Fowley (Benny Battle), Isabel Jewell (Bessie Blair), Henry Kleinbach (Don Butler), Helen Brown (Mother); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; Paramount; 1936)

"Unsentimental gangster film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Raoul Walsh ("The Tall Men"/"The Naked and The Dead"/"Battle Cry") craftily directs this lively and unsentimental gangster film. The crime drama/comedy tries to cash in on the  success of The Thin Man (1934) by teaming up Joan Bennett and Cary Grant for screwball comedy. It's based on the short stories Hahsit Babe and Big Brown Eyes by James Edward Grant. Screenwriter Bert Hanlon turns in a sloppily crafted script, that redeems itself with lightweight Damon Runyon-esque comedy. While Walsh gets a superb performance out of Cary Grant, as the Manhattan cop, but he goofs up scenes that look awkward and undeveloped.

Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett) is a sassy manicurist in a hotel barbershop who loses her job and somehow becomes a newspaper reporter to team up with NYC detective Dan Barr (Cary Grant) to uncover a-vicious insurance racket. You see, Eve has a crush on the hunky cop, who is not sure how to respond to her advances.

Willing to take risks, Eve puts her life in danger by dating supposedly respectable socialite Richard Morey (Walter Pidgeon), who is actually the brains behind the criminal operation.

We witness such things as the two-fisted detective using his former vaudeville skills as a ventriloquism to get out of a jam and his investigation of a jewel robbery. Also the ineffectiveness of the judicial system to deal with the death of a baby shot in his stroller. Lloyd Nolan as a caricature Broadway gangster, who plays the gangster heavy for boss Pidgeon.

The minor film doesn't overwhelm you, but it is mildly amusing.

REVIEWED ON 2/14/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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bigbrowneyes.html

brody-The streetwise, Manhattan-born director Raoul Walsh had the inspiration to turn England’s own Cary Grant into a hard-boiled New York City police detective in the 1936 crime comedy “Big Brown Eyes” (which I discuss in this clip). Grant had prominent roles in a pair of Mae West films, and he capered antically as a Cockney comedian in George Cukor’s “Sylvia Scarlett,” but Walsh pulled off the unlikely feat of making Grant an instant American type. He also made him a Walsh type, akin to the police-officer character played by Spencer Tracy in the director’s 1932 comic romance “Me and My Gal.” The snappy touch of cynical wit that Walsh lent Grant became one of the actor’s trademarks; without it, his comedic breakthrough in “The Awful Truth” might have had less spice, and his bewildered frustration in “Bringing Up Baby” might have had less sex. (The key to the paleontologist that he plays in Hawks’s seminal screwball comedy is that he’s not naïve, squeamish, or even repressed; he’s already eroticized.) Walsh had a good eye for actors. In his grand-scale 1930 Western “The Big Trail,” he gave another big fellow his first leading role: John Wayne.

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Big Brown Eyes (1936): Raoul Walsh, who would go on to great success with other icons like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, helms a Damon Runyon-esque New York comedy where Cary Grant plays a hunky cop on the trail of some jewel thieves. Joan Bennett plays his fiancée, a girl who goes from manicurist to newspaper reporter and back again to help her handsome detective get the scoop. The story has some dark turns, what with one of the middlemen in the jewel scam accidentally shooting a baby, but the plot takes a backseat to the Grant and Bennett romance. She makes a good foil for the actor. By this point, he's settling comfortably into the suave persona that would define the Cary Grant name, and he needed lead actresses who could play tough and independent, matching him wisecrack for wisecrack. Bennett is able to wrap Grant around her finger in much the same way Rosalind Russell would later in His Girl Friday.

For the most part, Big Brown Eyes is an amusing trifle. The villains (Walter Pidgeon and Lloyd Nolan) make no bones about being pretty bad guys, and it's easy to root for the two lovers to bring them in. Some of the storytelling is clumsy, however, and there is a particularly weak scene where Grant's character is supposed to be using his ventriloquist skills to trick Joan Bennett. The woman's voice we are to believe he is mimicking is so obviously dubbed in, you'd be better to close your eyes and imagine it's a real conversation. Much funnier is when Bennett does the same thing moments later to make fun of him, only she actually performs the voices. Her exaggerated tones when impersonating both the male and female speakers are quite funny, and the laughs are egged on by Grant's constant frustration with Bennett's constant annoyance with him and life in general.


In this film, Joan Bennett is a manicurist who becomes a newspaper reporter. She joins forces with detective Cary Grant to get the goods on a particularly-vicious insurance racket. Joan unwittingly puts her life in danger by dating a socialite who is actually the brains behind the criminal operation.

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Bennett is a wisecracking manicurist in a hotel barbershop (was there ever a 1930s heroine who didn't crack wise?) who meets anyone who is anyone in the film's Damon Runyon cast of characters. She is in love with Grant, a city detective who is also enamored of her but somewhat wary of her

glibness. Grant investigates a jewelry theft carried out against the rich Gateson, and Bennett is jealous of his attentions to the wealthy victim. She loses her manicuring job and, in a bit of convenience that only Hollywood could create, she immediately catches on as a reporter and goes out to

investigate a child's murder. Jewell is a witness who inadvertently informs Bennett that Fowley may be involved. She writes a story to that effect and Fowley, who is in jail, fears gang reprisals for having "named" the killer (he really didn't say a word, but Bennett abused the power of the press

to intimate that), and as a result does, in fact, put the finger on Nolan. The subsequent trial is a travesty and Nolan, who pays off everyone, is freed. Bennett is fired and Grant quits the police force, but soon enough, a new intrigue begins, having something to do with jewel thieves and framing

Nolan and a mess of other complications. Some truly dumb attempts at comedy in all the wrong places mar the overall effect of what might have been an enjoyable mystery.


Sassy manicurist Eve Fallon is recruited as an even more brassy reporter and she helps police detective boyfriend Danny Barr break a jewel theft ring and solve the murder of a baby.

Dan Barr is a flatfoot on the trail of jewel robbers. Eve Fallon is his girl of 5 years. We meet them spitting and sparring, but never doubting they're in love. Eve is a manicurist, with an eye for news. Soon after we meet her, she's out of the beauty salon and into the news-room as an ace reporter. With Eve's help, Dan nabs one of the jewel gang members, Cortig, whose stray bullet killed a baby in the park. A spooked witness and a slick lawyer get Cortig off. Disgusted with the lack of justice, Dan quits the force to find his own justice. Eve, likewise, quits the paper and returns to her job as manicurist. While giving a manicure, Eve unwittingly discovers that a prominent local citizen is the jewel gang's leader. All the while, Dan is hot on the trail. Their trails merge and the case is solved.

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With diligent employment of the simple declarative sentence and the primer of plot-boiling, "Big Brown Eyes," the new feature at the Capitol, stands forlornly as an elementary essay in melodrama which stumbles over its own footage and produced in this observer, at least, an equally elementary pain in the neck. Admitting a few suspenseful moments when Cary Grant is threatened with extermination by Alan Baxter and some other cinema criminals, the picture rarely is agile enough to surmount its shoddy writing and generally uninspired performances.

What Walter Wanger asks us to believe is the quite incredible romance between the blonde manicurist who becomes—just like that—a composite columnist-reporter-editorial writer on a newspaper and the lovelorn detective who scampers about, confiding headquarters' secrets in the columnist's aide and denying he has any personal interest in the ridiculous society matron whose diamonds have been stolen.

Sandwiched between these two animated caricatures is a bit of pious meditation on the inadequacy of the judiciary to deal with known baby-killers and the helplessness of a criminal ring before the combined onslaught of an ex-manicurist and a disillusioned detective. Miss Joan Bennett's portrayal of the Broadwayese cuticle-groom suggests that she has not been around the White Light district for years, and Mr. Grant, whose chief crime-detecting asset would seem to be his knowledge of ventriloquism, should be restored promptly to the rank of patrolman. Set it down as a flimsy and inadequate excuse to visit the Capitol.


BIG BROWN EYES, based on two short stories by James Edward Grant; screen play by Raoul Walsh and Bert Hanlon; directed by Raoul Walsh; produced by Walter Wanger for release by Paramount. At the capitol.
Eva Fallon . . . . . Joan Bennett
Danny Barr . . . . . Cary Grant
Scola . . . . . Walter Pidgeon
  . . . . . Isabel Jewell (Bessie Blair)
Corsig . . . . . Lloyd Nolan
Benny Battle . . . . . Douglas Fowley
Mrs. Cole . . . . . Marjorie Gateson
Carey Butler . . . . . Alan Baxter
Don Butler . . . . . Henry Kleinbach
Mother . . . . . Helen Brown


Joan Bennett is a manicurist who becomes a newspaper reporter. She joins forces with jaunty detective Cary Grant to get the goods on a particularly vicious insurance racket. Bennett unwittingly puts her life in danger by dating a supposedly above-board socialite (Walter Pidgeon) who is actually the brains behind the criminal operation. Big Brown Eyes is an enigma; every time we think we're in for a screwball comedy, something awful happens to jolt us back to reality. It's hard to lightly dismiss such scenes as the shooting death of a baby in its stroller