BIG BROWN EYES is the somewhat nonsensical title for a diverting film about a police detective and his manicurist-turned-reporter girlfriend solving a baby's murder and cracking a ring of jewel thieves. The film is a blend of comedy and melodrama which works surprisingly well.
Cary Grant plays the detective and Joan Bennett is his girlfriend. BIG BROWN EYES was the first of two releases in which they costarred in 1936; the second, WEDDING PRESENT, was reviewed here in May. Grant and Bennett are an appealing team, and it's a shame they didn't make more movies together. As noted here previously, in 1937 Grant costarred with Joan's older sister, Constance, in the classic TOPPER.
BIG BROWN EYES costars Walter Pidgeon in an uncharacteristic role as a smooth-talking, urbane villain, who from time to time tries to impart some education to his henchmen. Pidgeon, strolling around with a bowler hat and umbrella, seems to be having a good time in the role. The following year Pidgeon signed with MGM, where he remained for nearly two decades.
Lloyd Nolan is featured prominently as one of Pidgeon's henchmen, who would have perhaps been happier working as a florist. Isabel Jewell, Henry Brandon, Douglas Fowley, and Alan Baxter are also in the cast.
Well-known model Jinx Falkenburg can be seen as one of the manicurists. Falkenburg may be remembered by some film fans for her small role playing herself in 1944's COVER GIRL with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.
Helen Brown, who played the baby's mother, was not a household name but acted steadily in small parts over six decades -- though she wasn't onscreen between 1965 and 1985 -- appearing in an episode of E.R. in 1994, the year she passed away.
The film is directed with flair by Raoul Walsh, who utilizes some interesting angled shots and quick edits to move the story forward at a fast pace of 77 minutes. Walsh conveys disturbing violence without a drop of blood being seen; the baby's unintended death, caught in the crossfire of a gun battle, is conveyed by a single shot of the mother's horrified reaction, and what the imagination does is more potent than if it had actually been shown. Filmmakers could learn from this but alas, subtlety is rarely prized when depicting violence in modern films.
BIG BROWN EYES is available on DVD as part of the five-film Cary Grant Screen Legend Collection. The other films in the set are WEDDING PRESENT, KISS AND MAKE UP, WINGS IN THE DARK, and THIRTY DAY PRINCESS.