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

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