“Big Brown Eyes” and “Hot Saturday” highlight the range of leading man Cary Grant’s early work

UW Cinematheque curates a double feature of 1930s Hollywood on February 4.
Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett) hands detective Danny Barr (Cary Grant) his gun back. Both coquettishly smile at one another.
In “Big Brown Eyes,” Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett) hands detective Danny Barr (Cary Grant) his gun back.

UW Cinematheque curates a double feature of 1930s Hollywood on February 4.

Sophisticated and handsome but not afraid to get silly, Cary Grant was one of Hollywood’s most beloved leading men. Before he became synonymous with Hitchcock thrillers and madcap romantic comedies, he came up through Hollywood in the 1930s; and you can catch a 35mm double feature of Grant’s early starring roles at UW Cinematheque this Saturday, February 4, starting at 6 p.m.

Playfully blending film noir and dialogue-driven comedy, Big Brown Eyes (1936) features Grant and Joan Bennett as a police detective and his manicurist-turned-reporter girlfriend who’s trying to catch a gang of murderous jewel thieves. With its pulpy plot punctuated by Grant and Bennett trading rapid-fire wisecracks, Big Brown Eyes is a charming warm-up for the screwball comedies Grant would make over the next few years. Director Raoul Walsh worked in seemingly every genre during his long career, and he deftly balances the hard-boiled crime elements with colorful characters and snappy banter.

A racy pre-Code romance with surprising sexual politics, Hot Saturday (1932) stars Nancy Carroll as Ruth Brock, a small-town bank teller who lives for weekend parties with her friends. Despite the drunken escapades, Ruth has maintained her reputation, but a rebuffed date decides to teach her a lesson by spreading a rumor about Ruth and big-city playboy Romer Sheffield (Grant). Ruth is branded a promiscuous hussy and loses her job overnight due to “loose morals.” Desperate to preserve her honor, Ruth convinces her recently returned childhood flame Bill Fadden (Western regular Randolph Scott) to propose to her, but finds the malicious gossip hard to escape.

When William A. Seiter directed Hot Saturday, Hollywood was increasingly under attack by conservative rural America, who were outraged by the titillating films supposedly corrupting their youth. It’s easy to view the film as a rebuke of small-town America’s supposed moral high ground—Hot Saturday’s town of Marysville is populated by scowling, puritanical gossips and their depraved, horny sons. Compared to the yokels Ruth hangs out with, Romer is a catch. Dressed in a white suit, Grant portrays him as an urbane, charming rogue, a preface to the many redeemable cads he’d play later in life.

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