|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."
by Dennis Schwartz
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.
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
to take risks, Eve puts her life in danger by dating
supposedly respectable socialite Richard
Pidgeon), who is actually the brains
behind the criminal operation.
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
minor film doesn't overwhelm you, but it is mildly
REVIEWED ON 2/14/2015 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ
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.
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.
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