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

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