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

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