Wednesday, June 22, 2016


In 1897, young Priscilla (Shirely Temple) and her widowed mother Joyce (June Lang) leave their impoverished life in England to live with Priscilla's grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith), a colonel in a Scottish regiment in Northern India. Life on the military compound is not easy, but Priscilla, with her smile and joyful outlook, manages to charm almost everyone: a young and handsome lieutenant whom she nicknames Coppy (Michael Whalen)—and who nicknames her Wee Willie Winkie from the Kipling poem, the gruff Sgt. MacDuff (Victor McLaglen) who lets her participate in military exercises, and even Khoda Kahn (Cesar Romero), the leader of a group of Indian rebels who have been stealing weapons in anticipation of an uprising. Kahn, who is being held in jail, escapes during a raid on the arsenal, his escape made possible because house servant Mohammet Din (Willie Fung) smuggled in information to Kahn using little Priscilla as a unwitting messenger. During the fracas, MacDuff is fatally injured, and he dies listening to Priscilla sing "Auld Lang Syne" at his bedside. Eventually, Joyce decides the situation has become too dangerous and decides to go back to England, but Priscilla makes a last-ditch attempt at bringing the two sides together through negotiations by sneaking away with Mohammet Din and meeting with Khoda Kahn. Can this 9-year-old girl succeed in ending the bloodshed between two sides with seemingly intractable conflicts? Of course she can; she's Shirley Temple!

The Temple movies I've seen (including HEIDI and BRIGHT EYES) have tended to be less sappy and melodramatic than their reputations would indicate (except for THE LITTLE PRINCESS). This one teeters occasionally but generally avoids too much cuteness and tear-jerking (except, of course, for McLaglen's death scene). Temple and McLaglen are very good, as is Romero. Lang is colorless, and Whalen, who becomes her love interest, looks and sometimes acts rather suspicious, though ultimately he's a straight arrow. Directed by John Ford, who may be responsible for the fact that sentiment doesn't overwhelm the story. [TCM]

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