THE LITTLE PRINCESS, 1939
Cast: Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher
At the end of 1899 a genius inventor creates a time machine and travels to the far distant future in the hopes of finding a peaceful utopian society. But what will mankind be like in the year 802,701.
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When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like Shirley Temple. I always thought she was so adorably talented with her singing and dancing. She brings so much energy to each character. I have never seen a little girl dig that deep for a crying scene. How does this girl at such a young age bring out such emotion in her characters, not to mention acting like a “little” adult? All of her characters have some tragic background and yet she smiles, sings, and dances her way through the significant changes in her life. She breaks your heart on screen while being a “curly-haired dimpled darling” or a “brave little soldier.”
One of my favorite Temple films is “The Little Princess.” It’s based on the novel “A Little Princess” by Anglo-American playwright and author Frances Hodgson Burnett (“The Secret Garden”). The screenplay, directed by Walter Lang was written by Ethel Hill and Walter Ferris. The film is Temple’s first picture in Technicolor by Fox. That same year, MGM also put out “The Wizard of Oz” in Technicolor.
The school is run by Mary Nash, who played Fraulein Rottenmeier in “Heidi (1937) alongside Temple. Nash plays the selfish headmistress Miss Amanda Minchin in “The Little Princess.” At the school, reputation is of the utmost concern due to wealthy status. Sara is treated well at first and is soon dubbed the ‘Little Princess’ by her classmates because she is from a notable family. At first the impression is that she's going to be a rich snob when she is sent to the school, but she is quick to show kindness to everyone.
While in school, Sara is befriended by Miss Minchin’s jolly brother, Bertie Minchin, played by Arthur Treacher. The highlight of the film is the chemistry between Treacher and Temple as they sing and dance. They are one of the best duos in Temple’s career that follows behind her pairing with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in “The Little Colonel.”You might recognize Treacher from other Temple films such as “Curly Top” (1935), “Stowaway” (1936) and “Heidi” (1937). He also played Constable Jones in “Mary Poppins” (1964) in addition to being Merv Griffin's announcer and sidekick on the “The Merv Griffin Show.”
In Sara's mind, her father is invincible and she never imagines that he might not make it through the war. On the day of Sara's birthday party, Miss Minchin receives word that Captain Crewe has been reported dead and that all of his assets have been confiscated by the enemy. To pay for Sara's expenses, Miss Minchin sells the girl's clothes and furniture, sends her to live in the attic. She then forces Sara to work as kitchen servant and makes her pull her hair (curls) back. Sara's spirit remains strong while she refuses to believe that her father is dead. She sneaks out and visits wounded men in the hospital trying to find him. Even Queen Victoria (Beryl Mercer), who is visiting the wounded, intervenes on behalf of Sara. With the Queen’s help, Sara is at last reunited with her beloved father.
The beauty of Shirley Temple films is their ability to teach children something significant about life. In “The Little Princess,” Sara's hope and optimism, not to mention her gracious spirit outweighs other people’s pessimistic attitudes. “The Little Princess” is one of the most charming of Shirley Temple films and is a classic from the golden era of Hollywood.