Monday, April 06, 2015


In 1899 England, widower Ian Hunter is off to fight in the Boer War and leaves his young daughter (Shirley Temple) at a well-regarded boarding school run by somewhat stand-offish Mary Nash and her more engaging brother (Arthur Treacher), a former music hall entertainer. Because Temple has been a bit spoiled, she is referred to as a "princess," but she's very pleasant and she soon makes some friends: an ill-treated servant girl (Sybil Jason), a teacher (Anita Louise), and a riding instructor (Richard Greene) who happens to be sweet on the teacher. On the day of Temple's birthday party, news arrives that Hunter has been reported dead and the enemy has taken all his money. Nash, who has just barely tolerated Temple all along, turns on her, taking her clothes and making her live in the attic and work as a servant. She bonds more strongly with her friends, including an Indian gentleman (Cesar Romero) who lives next door and who secretly provides her with nice furnishings for her shabby room. Meanwhile Temple refuses to believe that her father is actually dead and goes searching the nearby military hospital constantly to see if he's shown up, Sure enough, he's there in a shell-shocked daze though none of the doctors know his name and she keeps just missing him. The climax involves a chase through the streets and a visit to the hospital by Queen Victoria.

This is one of the last of Shirley Temple's little girl roles before she became an adolescent. Her movies aren't generally to my taste, but this one is certainly watchable, even as the plot grows predictably and tediously melodramatic. It's based on a classic story by Francis Hodgson Burnett, and I kept getting the story mixed up with Burnett's other big book which was also turned into a movie, The Secret Garden. Temple is good, and Treacher, who gets to do a dance routine with her, is fun. The rest of the cast mostly downplays the drama, which is actually a bit of a problem when it comes to Mary Nash, the mean headmistress; I could have stood for her to be a little more wicked. Greene and Louise make a rather bland couple, but Jason does well as the downtrodden servant and Romero is memorable in a small role. [TCM]

No comments: