Thursday, September 24, 2009

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

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