Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)

Dan Ward: "What was she burning about?"
Richard Barry: "I keep her awake nights."

Order: 11
Year: 1936
Rated: G
Runtime: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Shirley Temple as Barbara Barry/Betsy Ware/Bonnie Dolan
Michael Whalen as Richard Barry
Jack Haley as Jimmy Dolan
Alice Faye as Jerry Dolan

Plot: A sheltered rich girl goes on a "vacation" and becomes part of a radio act for her soap manufacturer father's main competitor.

When I was about nine years old, our family finally got a satellite dish. All through the summer of 1997, I constantly switched between three channels: Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, and Lifetime: Television for Women. Although many might believe that Lifetime has unsuitable programming for children, it scared me shitless, and I never ever talked to strangers because of it. Of course, it didn't take television to warn me about strangers with candy, my parents did educate me. But Lifetime actually showed what could happen.

What does this have to do with Shirley Temple you ask? Well, as you may have seen for yourself, Shirley often plays a friendly, out going character who is willing to sit on anyone's lap. It's difficult for someone of this generation, a generation that has been exposed to dozens of investigative reports on 20/20 and Dateline dealing with molestation and Internet predators, to watch a child be so inviting to adults.

In the case of The Poor Little Rich Girl, Shirley plays (you guessed it!) a poor little rich girl named Barbara Barry. Barbara is the only child of Richard Barry, a successful soap manufacturer, and thus kept under close watch by Collins, her strict nanny. After Collins sends the child to bed for sneezing, Richard and Barbara decide that she is ready to go to school so she can interact with other children. The next day, Barbara and Collins head the train station, but the child is left alone and Collins is hit by a car. Barbara then ventures out on her own when her nanny doesn't return.

Barbara then assumes the alias of Betsy Ware, an orphan character in her favorite book. She meets a stereotypical (but charming) Italian organ grinder, who invites her to stay with his large family. But danger lives in the building, and a creepy man is seen watching the "orphaned" Betsy through the window as she sleeps.

Meanwhile, the vaudeville act Dolan & Dolan is trying to make their way into the radio biz. While Jimmy Dolan (played by Jack Haley who also played the Tin-Man in The Wizard of Oz) is practicing his latest routine, he hears someone from below mimicking his every step. He rushes downstairs to find "Betsy" and after learning of her orphan status decides to "adopt" her into his act, much to his wife's chagrin. Betsy Ware then becomes "Bonnie Dolan" of Dolan, Dolan, & Dolan.

Eventually, the Dolans make it on to Peck's Radio Hour, a venture to bring more business to the Peck Soap Company and less from Barry's. While listening to his competitor's new show, Richard discovers his daughter singing her version of a standard. He rushes to the company after calling the school and learning that she never arrived. Subsequently, the truth comes out about "Bonnie" being Richard's daughter. The Dolans fear for their own necks and decide to leave Barbara on her own at the apartment and call her father with her location. And this is when it gets a little scary. The creepy guy, who had previously tempted Barbara with candy to follow him God knows where, actually sneaks in the apartment and has a few minutes of alone time with her until the Dolans come to their senses and Barbara's rescue.

In the end, Barbara and her father are reunited. He merges his company with Peck's. And Barbara is allowed to remain a part of Dolan, Dolan, & Dolan. Other than the extremely unsettling attempted kidnapping there is more that bothers me and that is the fact that Collins' disappearance is never settled. Richard asks of her, but Barbara replies that she never came back from her initial exit. From Mr. Barry's lack of concern for his former employee's whereabouts, one can only assume that this remained an unsolved mystery.

It seems like I've been a little hard on The Poor Little Rich Girl. It truly is a good Shirley movie, and, in my opinion, has some of the best music in the canon. For the most part it's cheery and good natured, save for the unnamed pedophile who's scenes are minor and unfitting to the over all mood of the film. Perhaps Shirley's trusting nature makes her more likable than if she were suspicious of every kindly gentleman she meets. After all, how would she make new friends? How would she melt the hearts of cantankerous business men? How would she get adopted? I realize that Barbara Barry was a very sheltered little girl, completely unaware of the dangers in the real world, but I can't help but admit that several scenes make me very nervous for her even if I know things turn out all right.

Featured Songs
"Oh My Goodness" - Shirley Temple
"When I'm With You" - Tony Martin, Shirley Temple, and Alice Faye
"But Definitely" - Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, and Jack Haley
"Buy a Bar of Barry's" - Shirley Temple
"You've Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby" - Alice Faye, Jack Haley and Shirley Temple
"Peck's Theme" - Shirley Temple
"Military Man" - Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, and Jack Haley

Captain January (1936)

Capt. Nazro: “What is that?”
Capt. January: "What do you think it is?"
Capt. Nazro: "How many guesses do I get?"
Star: “It’s a cake! Cap made it himself.”
Capt. Nazro: “Oh, did he? Then I guess I’ll just eat the candles.”

Order: 10
Year: 1936
Rated: G
Runtime: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Shirley Temple as Star/Helen Mason
Guy Kibbee as Captain January
Slim Summerville as Captain Nazro
Buddy Ebsen as Paul Roberts

Plot: A lighthouse keeper adopts a shipwrecked child and raises her as his own uncontested until a staunch truant officer gets involved.

Captain January may be my favorite Shirley Temple movie. For some reason, one that I can't quite put my finger on, I have always held this movie above the others. Perhaps it's the whole nautical thing. The romanticism of the sea, and the men that give their lives to serve it. It's not really a common thing anymore, unless you join the Navy, I suppose. Captain January's character's all speak with a salty vocabulary and use an abundance of maritime metaphors and mottos.

In this case, a retired captain finds a young girl washed ashore near his lighthouse on the fictitious Cape Tempest located in Maine. He raises her as his own, and no one in the seaside town objects. Although initially Captain January tries to contact a few people in a scrapbook that drifted to land along with the girl, eventually, he gives up hope and happily accepts his new found fatherhood.

Star, the name January bestows on the child, is a popular citizen in the community. On her many trips into town, she entertains the other sailors with her advanced skills in dancing and singing. In one of the most beloved and best dance sequences, "At the Codfish Ball", Star dances with sailor Paul Roberts (played by Buddy Ebsen, the actor who was originally intended to play the Tin-Man and who is also known as Jed Clampett on "The Beverly Hillbillies"). After this extended dance number, the new truant officer discovers that Star has been "home schooled" and insists she takes a test to see if January was an effective educator.

January, along with his "frenemy" Captain Nazro, educates Star to the best of their ability. Both captains fight over what is necessary third grade knowledge. A lot of the humor comes from January's and Nazro's bickering. My favorite involves them showing off their collection of tattoos. Armed with Bible verses, navigational skills, and minimal information on fractions, Star still manages to pass her test.

However, trouble is a-brewing. The government has decided to switch to a new fangled electric light, and thus putting the light keeper out of a job. Without the means to support Star, the hatchet faced truant officer is sure to put Star in an orphanage. Nazro takes it upon himself to contact the people in the scrapbook, and luckily they write back, just in time to see Star ripped from the only family she has ever known.

Captain January is a very light-hearted film, definitely more so than Our Little Girl, The Littlest Rebel, and even Bright Eyes. Still, it manages to create a heart-wrenching conflict without having someone die, which considering the predecessors, is saying something. In the end, Star's long lost aunt and uncle (who are loaded, of course) buy a boat and employ January as the captain, Nazro as the first mate, and Paul as a sailor.

Featured Songs
"Early Bird" - Shirley Temple
"At the Codfish Ball" - Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen
"The Right Somebody to Love" - Shirley Temple

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Littlest Rebel (1935)

Virgie: "Daddy, you told a fib."
Capt. Cary: "Well, this is war, honey."
Virgie: "Why isn't it a sin to tell a fib in war?"
Capt. Cary: "I don't know why it isn't a sin to do anything we do in war."

Order: 9
Year: 1935
Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Shirley Temple as Virginia "Virgie" Cary
John Boles as Capt. Herbert Cary
Jack Holt as Colonel Morrison
Bill Robinson as Uncle Billy

Plot: After a Confederate soldier and a Union officer conspire together to make certain of the rebel's daughter's safe passage to an aunt in Virginia, both men are arrested and sentenced to death.

Maybe The Little Colonel was extremely successful. Or maybe the movie going audience liked to see Shirley tap dance in a hoop skirt. For whatever reason, The Littlest Rebel, the 9th movie in the canon is the second to be featured in the south and to be effected by the Civil War.

Unlike The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel begins right before the Civil War. Young Virgie Cary is having a welcome home party, replete with the finest little ladies and gentlemen. Suddenly, the party is interrupted with the news of war. (This scene is very similar to Gone With the Wind but predates the film by four years and the book by one). The children are ushered out, and soon the romantic splendor of the old South begins diminishing.

Soon the Cary plantation is taken into Yankee custody and it's always a huge production when Capt. Cary sneaks home for a visit. Yankee patrollers are constantly on the look for the rebel spy. Eventually, Virgie, her mother, and two slaves, James Henry, a character too reminiscent of Stepin Fetchit, and Uncle Billy, the kindly butler (played by Bill Robinson in his second Shirley movie), are forced to evacuate the house and take shelter in a slave's cabin. After spending all night in the rain, Virgie's mother catches pneumonia. Capt. Cary is summoned, and Virgie's mother soon dies.

With no one to take care of her, save for Uncle Billy and James Henry, Capt. Cary decides to transport Virgie to his sister's home in Richmond. Luckily, Virgie had previously touched the heart of a Yankee officer who decides to help Capt. Cary take his daughter to her aunt's. Colonel Morrison gives Capt. Cary a pass, and the location of one of his uniforms. Still, even under this disguise, Capt. Cary and Virgie are caught. Both men are then sentenced to be hung.

Little Virgie will have none of this, so she and Uncle Billy go to Washington and request a meeting with Abraham Lincoln. If Virgie can charm the president, (which, come on now, is as certain as George Clooney having a date this Friday night), and tell the true motives of her father's and Col. Morrison's actions, then they might go free. I don't think I need to tell you how it ends.

The Littlest Rebel is one of the darker Shirley films. Obviously, it deals with the horrors of war (in a PG fashion) from a child's point of view. Virgie is never told that the Confederates are going to "lick the Yanks in thirty days". Her mother struggles to feed her child and slaves. The Yankees raid the house and steal the food. This film portrays that war is hard for everyone, even women and children.

The racism in this film is less cringe-worthy than in earlier films, although it's a little hard on 21st century sensibilities. There is one point where Virgie paints herself with shoe polish and hides her golden curls in a handkerchief when the Yankees are raiding the house. There's also a few kindly, but slow-witted slaves that Virgie seems to be friends with. But Bill Robinson's gentle portrayal of Uncle Billy makes one forget of the previous racial follies.

Featured Songs
  • "Dixie" - Shirley Temple
  • "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" - Shirley Temple
  • "Polly Wolly Doodle" - Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson

Curly Top (1935)

Edward: "Just suppose the figure of that lovely child should suddenly come to life. Suppose it smiled at you and waved its hand. What would you do?
Genevieve: "I'd call a doctor!"

Order: 8
Year: 1935
Rated: G
Runtime: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Shirley Temple as Elizabeth Blair a.k.a. "Curly Top"
John Boles as Edward Morgan
Rochelle Hudson as Mary Blair
Esther Dale as Aunt Genevieve Graham

Plot: The wealthy chairman of the board of trustees of an orphanage adopts a charming young girl and her older sister under an alias.

I really don't have much to say about Curly Top. Maybe it's because it's everything you'd ever want or need in a Shirley film. Or maybe it's because it's 2 in the morning and I'm feeling uninspired to write. Don't get me wrong, I like Curly Top. It's one of the best in the canon and it certainly brightened my mood after the joyless journey that was Our Little Girl.

So far in the canon, Curly Top has had the most musical numbers. I was starting to think I was crazy after I made the claim about the Shirley movies . This is the movie with the other signature Shirley song, "Animal Crackers in My Soup" which little "Curly" sings to her fellow orphans at dinner. Of course, this is also the day when the board of trustees, a group of crusty investors, save for multi-millionaire bachelor Edward Morgan, arrive for their monthly inspection. The trustees are appalled at the lack of discipline. But Mr. Morgan is charmed by little Curly and wishes to adopt her. Curly agrees, but her older sister, Mary denies Mr. Morgan. Technically, Mary has custody of Curly, but is too poor to move out of the orphanage so she works there as a maid. Basically, they're a package deal: Curly can't be adopted unless Mary comes along.

After a night of contemplation, Edward Morgan decides that Mary can come along, but then he creates a false identity, one Mr. Hiram Jones, so the Blair sisters will be unaware that it is he who is providing the better life for them. Why does he do this, you ask? Well, during a schmaltzy and sexually tense scene between Edward and Mary, he explains that Mr. Jones has been looking for someone to love him in spite of his millions of dollars.

Curly Top isn't heavy in conflict. In fact, as soon as Curly is adopted, there is no conflict. Most of the film is made up of scenes showing Curly's adjustment to the sweet life. Oh, and then there's the romance between Mary and Edward that is eventually consummated after is his confession that there is no Hiram Jones. Curly Top is truly a feel good film, and one that isn't bogged down by a lot of emotional drama. Songs, tap dancing, and Shirley's charisma...there isn't much more to ask for.

Featured Songs

  • "Animals Crackers in My Soup" - Shirley Temple
  • "It's All So New to Me" - John Boles
  • "The Simple Things in Life" - Rochelle Hudson
  • "When I Grow Up" - Shirley Temple (Later reprised by Arthur Treacher, Billy Gilbert, and Esther Dale)
  • "Curly Top" - John Boles

Our Little Girl (1935)

Elsa: "Mother’s going away for a little while and when she comes back she won't be married to Daddy any longer."
Molly: "Who will you be married to, Mommy?"

Order: 7
Year: 1935
Rated: PG (Probably for adult themes)
Runtime: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Shirley Temple as Molly Middleton
Rosemary Ames as Elsa Middleton
Joel McCrea as Don Middleton
Lyle Talbot as Rolfe Brent

Plot: After a young girl's parents begin to separate, her father to his work and her mother to the neighbor, she runs away in hope that it will bring them back together.

Our Little Girl is probably the most depressing Shirley movie of them all. That's saying a lot considering how many times a little girl can be orphaned. Although this movie does end happily (kind of) it's one hell of a depressing ride getting there.

In the opening of the movie, we see Elsa and little Molly Middleton preparing a cake for their bi-annual picnic trip up to Heaven's Gate. Elsa calls her busy doctor husband to see if he's still coming and even though he's incredibly involved with his work, he meets them for cake and swimming. There's about ten minutes of this overly sweet family bonding and I couldn't help but feel pangs in my stomach of impending doom.

In fact, on their walk back from Heaven's Gate, the Middletons run into their friend, Rolfe Brent who quickly invites Elsa to go horseback riding. Don doesn't mind as he's busy with his work. Over the next few months, Elsa and Rolfe spend more and more time together and presumably begin an affair off screen. Don isn't entirely the victim either. His assistant, Nurse Sarah Boynton, is in love with him and we are never certain if he's
leading her on or not.

Our Little Girl is painful because little Molly is completely unaware of her parents' failing marriage until Rolfe asks her to call him "Uncle Rolfe" and tells her that soon she'll be living in his house. Don is upset, but hides it and offers Molly a trip to the circus to take her mind off of her expected picnic at Heaven's Gate. While at the circus, Sarah comes to inform Don of an emergency at the hospital and she is left to take care of his daughter.

For those of you afraid of clowns (like yours truly) fear not, because Molly doesn't end up joining the circus like the creepy video box portrays. Instead, Molly sneaks out and makes her own Heaven's Gate picnic. Elsa and Don are immediately informed and begin searching for her. In the mean time, Rolfe and Sarah lament to each other that they are the losers and that Don and Elsa are meant to be together. And then everything is magically patched up in an exceedingly short amount of time. Even for a Shirley Temple movie, everything is magically patched up in an exceedingly short amount of time.

The impression I got from Our Little Girl was that it was written by someone who suffered some severe childhood trauma involving unfaithful parents and needed a way to healthily let go of their suffering... then they remembered it was a Shirley Temple vehicle, tacked on a rushed happy ending, and decided to call it "Our Little Girl".

This brings up a topic that I've been wondering about. Were Shirley's movies made for children? Or the parents? Or both? Although nowadays, "family" is its own genre, in the thirties there was no such thing. (Kind of like "teenagers" didn't exist until post World War II). Certainly all the movies so far have had some adult themes, but is that because there was no such thing as "family friendly" films or was it so the parents didn't get bored? Burning questions all, and unfortunately, I have no answers.

This movie is one of my least favorites in the canon (only behind the painfully dull Stand Up and Cheer!) It's just so damn depressing and uncomfortable. I spent half my time shielding my eyes, and trust me, I am not an eye shielder! At least it was only 65 minutes long, so the pain was over quickly. Save this one for when you're in a crappy mood.

Featured Songs
"Lullaby to a Doll" - Shirley Temple

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Little Colonel (1935)

Lloyd: "Don't you dare poke me with that old stick!"
Colonel Lloyd: "You'd better learn some respect for your elders."
Lloyd: "I won't respect anyone who pokes me with a stick!"

Order: 6
Year: 1935
Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Shirley Temple as Lloyd Sherman
Lionel Barrymore as Colonel Lloyd
Evelyn Venable as Elizabeth Lloyd Sherman
John Lodge as Jack Sherman

Plot: After a young southern belle defies her colonel father to marry a Yankee, he refuses contact with her, but this changes several years later, when her charming and equally stubborn daughter makes her way in to his life.

The Little Colonel was not a Shirley movie that I grew up with. In fact, I bought it along with Stand Up and Cheer!, the next movie in the canon, Our Little Girl, and the last, Young People. That being said, this movie was one that I didn't think I was going to fully enjoy, but, surprisingly, I did.

The Little Colonel is known for having the Oscar winning Lionel Barrymore as a co-star. Despite being one of Hollywood's top actors, he is actually billed second to Shirley. In this film, he plays her grandfather, Colonel Lloyd, but he might as well be Colonel Sanders. White suit, string tie, white pointed mustache and goatee combo...and the film is set it Kentucky. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if The Little Colonel ripped off KFC, but it turns out the fast food chain was established until 1952, so if anything, KFC owes Fox. But then, I can't help but wonder if all antebellum colonels dress the same. It's a mystery.

Because this movie is set in the 1870's, you might have guessed that Shirley is surrounded by freed slaves and you'd be right. First, Hattie McDaniel, who is mostly known for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind, plays the same role here only it's ten years later and her name is Mom Beck. (I know this is off topic, but I hate the fact that Hattie McDaniel beat Olivia de Havilland for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for a role no different than this one). Anyway, Lloyd is also friends with two black children, May Lily and Henry Clay who act as her main playmates. And later, she starts a friendship with Walker, her grandfather's butler, over a love of dancing. Walker is played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and this is the movie with the famous "staircase dancing" scene.

When Elizabeth left her home to marry a Yankee, I had hope that the marriage would survive against all odds. Fast forward six years and Jack Sherman is heading west to make it rich, and Elizabeth and Lloyd go back to Kentucky to live in the family cottage. I knew that he was going to get swindled, and sure enough he bought a faulty gold mine. When he finally comes home, Jack is feverish and I was just waiting for him to die. But he didn't. A guy from the Union Pacific railroad comes by and buys the land and almost immediately, his sickness is cured.

To makes a long story short, Lloyd's parents do survive and everything works out for them in the end. Elizabeth is also reunited with her father, thanks to little Lloyd's persistance. In the case of The Little Colonel, Lloyd doesn't bring together a quarreling couple, she brings together an estranged father and daughter.

Featured Songs
  • "Love's Young Dream" - Evelyn Venable
  • "Wade in the Water" - Ensemble
  • "Love's Young Dream" - Shirley Temple
  • "My Old Kentucky Home" - Bill Robinson

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bright Eyes (1934)

Shirley: "Loop, isn't this the lady whose picture you have in your book?"
Loop: "Yeah. She's one of them."

Order: 5
Year: 1934
Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Shirley Temple as Shirley Blake
James Dunn as James "Loop" Merritt
Charles Sellon as Ned Smith
Judith Allen as Adele Martin

Plot: An orphaned girl is taken in by a snobbish family at the insistence of their rich, crotchety uncle, even as her devoted aviator godfather fights for her custody. (This plot synopsis is from IMDb. I couldn't word it any better myself.)

I have probably seen Bright Eyes more than any other Shirley Temple movie. I had a friend named Alysha Middleton who whenever over at my house insisted on watching Bright Eyes. It's the most commonly known Shirley movie, thanks to "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and, ultimately the movie that shot her to stardom. After several forced viewings ala Alysha, I began to resent it and avoided it when picking out a movie to watch. Until today I hadn't seen it since 1998.

I have to say I liked Bright Eyes far better than movies #1 through #4. I was starting to think that maybe my Shirley fandom was something perpetuated by fond childhood memories. Although I'm certain that's part of it, Bright Eyes has reinstated my faith in Shirley Temple movies and I am looking forward to the next seventeen movies in the canon.

One of the reasons this movie is so much better than its predecessors is because of its supporting characters. Of course, Shirley is as sweet and impish as ever, but this time, other characters manage to not be blinded by her spotlight. Take the character of Joy Smythe, the young daughter of Shirley's mother's employer. The exact opposite of Shirley, Joy is a terror, selfish, spoiled, undeserving, destructive, and rotten to the core. This reader is actually considering having her tubes tied, that's how horrid Joy is. Not only is Joy your stereotypical spoiled little rich girl, she is also quite terrifying. Case in point: she wants to operate on Shirley's doll and requests a machine gun for Christmas. I'm surprised she didn't kill Shirley's dog Rags and shove him in the freezer.

Obviously, Joy's presence in the film is to make Shirley a more sympathetic character, if that's at all possible. After all, not only did Shirley lose her father in a plane crash, her mother also "cracks up" after getting hit by a car on Christmas. Her godfather, "Loop" (James Dunn's last role in a Shirley movie) breaks the news to her on her first airplane ride. It's a heartbreaking scene and very well acted by Dunn.

After Shirley is orphaned, the Smythes take Shirley in, much to the insistence of their cantankerous and wealthy Uncle Ned who has fallen for Shirley's charm. He wants to adopt her, and the Smythes are willing to go along with anything as long as they get a piece of the will. Also in the mix is Adele Martin, Mrs. Smythe's good natured cousin who quickly sees through Uncle Ned's tough exterior. If you hadn't guessed already, Adele and Loop are romantically entangled. They were once engaged, but she left him (the sordid details are never fully explained) and he's never fully forgiven her.

A custody battle ensues, but in the end, the judge allows Shirley to choose whom she wants to live with. Naturally, she chooses Loop, Uncle Ned and Adele. Adele and Loop make up and plan to get married. The Smythes are left with nothing but their bratty daughter, who gets a well deserved slap in the very last scene.

Bright Eyes is much richer than former Shirley movies. Many fans will claim this one as their favorite, but I am keeping silent on my ranking until I've viewed all 22 films. I will say this, if you're going to watch only one Shirley film, this should be it. It's a splendid and heartwarming example of the formula and a gateway for many fans.

Featured Songs
"On the Good Ship Lollipop" - Shirley Temple
"The Man on the Flying Trapeze" - Charles Sellon

Now and Forever (1934)

Jerry Day: "Toni, we're rich."
Toni Day: "Again? That's nice."

Order: 4
Year: 1934
Rated: NR
Runtime: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Gary Cooper as Jerry Day
Carole Lombard as Toni Day
Shirley Temple as Penny Day
Guy Standing as Felix Evans

Plot: A con artist originally intends to blackmail his brother-in-law into paying $75,000 for the custody of his daughter, but changes his mind after he gets to know her.

Now and Forever didn't end the way I expected it to. After years of viewing Shirley's movies, I was fairly certain I knew the formula inside out: cute singing orphan + dysfunctional couple = happy family and schmaltzy ending. But I was wrong. Dear readers, I must announce that Now and Forever has a bittersweet ending instead of the usual sugary sweet kind.

From the get go, things are little bit darker than usual. Jerry and Toni Day are a couple that flit all over the world and con their way into free food and lodging. But after three years of this life, Toni is growing restless and isn't sure that chasing trains (the most overused phrase in the film) is the way she wants to spend her golden years. Luckily at this time, Jerry receives word about his six year old daughter from his first marriage. His first wife's (she's dead, of course) brother wants to adopt little Penny Day, and the reckless Jerry is all for long as he gets money out of it. This pretty much tears it for Toni and she heads to Paris to clear her head.

Jerry travels to his brother-in-law's home, fully intending to hand over custody for a steep 75 grand. While bargaining, he meets his daughter, probably for the first time since her birth and finds her to be a charming little creature and decides to keep her. What ensues afterwards is typical single father fair. He only feeds her hot dogs and ice cream and spoils her rotten. After struggling for a few weeks, Toni returns from Paris and finds herself in the surprising position of stepmother.

One thing about Now and Forever (and Little Miss Marker, for that matter) is that they are much slower paced than the Fox films. It seems as though Penny has been with Jerry for six months before things start going sour. An old rich widow is captivated by Penny and thinks that Jerry is an unfit father and offers to take Penny off his hands when he grows tired of her. And much to this film fan's surprise, he does, despite his denial.

Towards the end of the movie, Jerry steals one of the widow's gaudy emerald necklaces and hides it in Penny's Teddy bear. After Penny learns the truth, Toni takes the blame so Penny can keep a positive view of her father. Jerry, sickened with himself, gets the necklace back, returns it to its owner and tells the widow that she take Penny and raise her as a proper young lady, but not before he gets shot in a fight for the necklace. In the last scene of the movie, Jerry waves good-bye to his daughter while she in unaware that he's given her up. He then falls to his death, after neglecting his gunshot wound.

It was the very beginning of Shirley Temple's reign, and the formula had not yet been perfected. As unsatisfying as Now and Forever is, I give it props for ending the way it did. Penny did end up with the right person. Still, it does seem like kind of a cop out. It's much more satisfying to have her work her magic on the crooked and negligent and whip them into decent parents ala Little Miss Marker. However, Now and Forever unwittingly teaches an important lesson that some people are not meant to be parents and they should be willing to let their children have a better life, if the opportunity is available. Personal opinions on parenting aside, Now and Forever takes an interesting and anti-climactic place at the beginning of the Shirley Temple canon, and truly, it would not fit well anywhere else.

Featured Songs
"The World Owes Me a Living" - Shirley Temple

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baby Take a Bow (1934)

Kay Ellison: “You couldn’t get away from me if you tried.”
Eddie Ellison: “I tried to hide from you in prison and it was hopeless.”

Order: 3
Year: 1934
Rated: PG (for a frightening scene)
Runtime: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Shirley Temple as Shirley Ellison
James Dunn as Eddie Ellison
Claire Trevor as Kay Ellison
Alan Dinehart as Detective Welch

Plot: An ex-con, who has long since gone straight and started a family, is accused of stealing a pearl necklace from his employer which complicates further after an old pal gives the necklace to his daughter.

Baby Take a Bow was never really one of my favorites. Maybe it's the lack of songs, maybe it's the very prolonged game of hide and seek. Whatever the reason, this movie just doesn't leave me with that fuzzy feeling inside. Although it does have its merits, but they all have to do with Shirley's parents.

First of all, Baby Take a Bow is the only Shirley movie (that I can think of right now) where both of her parents are alive. This may not sound like much, but let me warn you right now, dear readers, that no actor has been orphaned more than Shirley Temple. In the future, if there's a scene with our little star smiling and singing with both her parents, be forewarned that one, if not both of them, will soon kick the bucket.

Secondly, not only are Shirley's parents both alive and well, they are also very happy together. Another forewarning, Shirley likes to play accidental matchmaker. (As seen with Sorrowful Jones and Bangles Carson in Little Miss Marker). If two people, usually acting as surrogate parents for whatever reason, have a little tiff, nothing can bring them together faster than a sweet, singing orphan in need of a mommy and daddy. In the case of Eddie and Kay Ellison, their marriage is tightly held together with no unraveling in sight.

And thirdly, I admire the opening scenes of Baby Take a Bow where Kay is purchasing a ticket to Niagra Falls for her honeymoon with one short detour to Ossining, NY (the location of the infamous Sing-Sing Prison) to pick up her sweetie from the pen. Despite harassment from the sales clerk and Welch, the detective responsible for Eddie's incarceration, Kay stands her ground, unashamed of her future husband. In the case of this movie, Shirley's papa is an ex-con. Of course, we never discover his actual crime but one can only assume it was robbery. Young Shirley could never spring forth from the loins of a murderer. I'm very impressed that Hollywood at that point in time would tell the tale of how a criminal could see the path of righteousness and become a good husband and father. Not only is Shirley's father (played by James Dunn, once again) fully redeemed, a friend of his also gets out of Sing-Sing and becomes a functioning member of society. It's refreshing, that's all I'm saying.

Still, like I said before, there's just something about Baby Take a Bow that doesn't fully satisfy me. The last half hour consists of a nerve racking (okay, so it's not Mission Impossible, but it's intense for me) scene where Welch is searching casa de Ellison for the missing pearls. First they're in Eddie's pocket, then they're in the coffee pot, then they're in the carpet sweeper...ugh. Call it farcical if you want, it's stressful to me. Over all, Baby Take a Bow (named after James Dunn and Shirley's song in Stand Up and Cheer!) isn't a bad Shirley movie, but it's not particularly good either. As with any movie, you'll have to make an opinion yourself.

Featured Songs
"On Account-a I Love You" - James Dunn and Shirley Temple