In my previous post I traced Shirley Temple’s 1934 rise through the headlines and attempted to quantify her growing popularity while doing so. As I mentioned in that post it’s easy to just toss off names and dates without putting real meaning behind them, so this time I’ll try to pump a little more color into Shirley’s 1934 with brief descriptions of each of her major releases throughout that year.
Stand Up and Cheer!
This one has the feel of the more beloved Warner Bros. musicals of the same period right down to its rally round the New Deal and the presence of 42nd Street’s own Julian Marsh, Warner Baxter, in the lead.
For fans of Shirley, you’ll be waiting awhile for her one performance alongside James Dunn, “Baby, Take a Bow,” and if you're coming to this title without knowledge of the racial stereotypes of the era be prepared for some shocking moments of political incorrectness, many courtesy of Stepin Fetchit.
As to the story, there isn’t much, but the basic framing of the several song, dance and comedy acts is enough of a doozy to make you smile: Baxter’s Lawrence Cromwell has been tabbed U.S. Secretary of Amusement by the President as part of a New Deal effort to cheer the Depression ravaged public. Love interest Mary Adams (Madge Evans) serves under Cromwell as head of the children’s division and that’s where Dunn and Shirley make their entrance.
I wouldn’t recommend sitting the youngsters down for this one, especially if Shirley Temple is your sole focus, but for regular visitors to the era Stand Up and Cheer! is an interesting hodgepodge of performances. A bit of Dick Foran and Sylvia Froos, a little John Boles, and a very important, albeit brief, breakout performance by six-year-old Shirley Temple.
Little Miss Marker
Columbia’s 1933 adaptation of Damon Runyon’s Lady for a Day tore our hearts out making dreams come true for a downtrodden old lady (May Robson); Paramount’s 1934 adaptation of Runyon’s Little Miss Marker tore our hearts out making dreams come true for a poor orphan girl, none other than Shirley Temple.
Stand Up and Cheer! gave the world a little taste of Shirley, but in Little Miss Marker she steals any heart less hard than Adolphe Menjou’s and penetrates any soul less steely than gritty Charles Bickford’s.
Menjou’s bookmaker Sorrowful Jones winds up saddled with Shirley after accepting her as a marker on her father’s horse bet. The horse is a loser and Shirley’s old man offs himself, but Sorrowful keeps little Markie (Temple) on hand, presumptively as part of a racing scam on Steve’s (Bickford) part, but really because she has chipped away at his icy heart. Meanwhile Steve’s girl, Bangles Carson (the tragic Dorothy Dell), warms up to Sorrowful as she watches the former skinflint fall hard for the little girl. When little Markie loses some of her luster, picking up slang and attitude from Sorrowful and the gang, Bangles and Sorrowful try to recapture her innocence by staging an Arthurian party with Markie as Princess and a whole host of hoodlum pals as various knights and princes. Steve’s untimely return spells disaster and very nearly tragedy.
If Shirley can tug the heartstrings of Menjou, she can surely get to us. A classic scene that shows how the phenomenon grew comes during the party. Sorrowful and Bangles present Markie’s “Challenger,” the race horse at the center of Steve’s scamming, leaving a few of the boys (including Sam Hardy and Lynne Overman) frozen with wistful smiles cracking their rough faces, experiencing an unfamiliar happiness for the little girl and perhaps even tapping the nostalgia of their own youthful bygones. They catch themselves and the magic comes as you do too, the viewer just as completely wrapped up in the moment as Sorrowful’s gang.
The songs come mostly courtesy of the talented Dorothy Dell, who also teaches Shirley’s character to sing “Laugh You Son of a Gun.”
Baby Take a Bow
Shirley is back in support as James Dunn’s daughter with a very lovely Claire Trevor as her mom.
At the open Trevor’s Kay is on a train to Sing Sing to reclaim Dunn’s Eddie Ellison at the end of a prison stretch. On the way they each meet Larry Scott (Ray Walker), just headed up the river himself, and reacquaint themselves with the looming presence of insurance investigator Welch (Alan Dinehart). Welch has it in for Ellison and Scott throughout Baby Take a Bow, even after we advance six years to find the Ellisons a happy young couple whose lives are brightened by their precocious daughter, Shirley, played by, you guessed it, Shirley Temple.
Welch winds up tracking Ellison and Scott after escaped inmate Trigger (Ralf Harolde) steals a pearl necklace from, coincidence of coincidences, Ellison and Scott’s employers, the Carsons (Richard Tucker and Olive Tell). Trigger winds up planting the goods on Shirley who, unbeknownst to dear old dad, makes a game of hide-and-seek out of the pearls, teasing their appearance all throughout an uncomfortable scene where Welch basically invades and conquers the Ellison apartment.
While Shirley isn’t the star she has a lot to do in this one including memorable interactions with each Harolde, Dinehart, Trevor and Dunn, as well as a rooftop performance singing alongside Dunn at her own birthday party.
Silly stuff with Dinehart particularly overbearing by design. It pays off with a few laughs and an overall strong Depression-era vibe surrounding the ex-cons and their employment situation. Not a popular one among the Shirley devotees, though for the adult members of that crowd I’ll say that Shirley is particularly delightful in taking a long gleaming knife to the rope binding Ralf Harolde after his capture. As Shirley saws towards sweaty Harolde’s throat it’s hard to suppress a laugh at the unlikely image of Shirley wielding the big blade.
Um, maybe Baby Take a Bow isn’t for the real little ones.
Now and Forever
Low-grade con man Jerry Day (Gary Cooper) can’t bring himself to follow through with his plan of selling off daughter Penny (Shirley) to his haughty brother-in-law in Now and Forever. By the time his price of $75,000 is met Day has made up his mind to take along Penny on his return to girlfriend Toni (Carole Lombard) who awaits him in France.
After turning down the easy money he could have gotten for Penny, Jerry is left to swindle Felix Evans (Sir Guy Standing) on a deal for a fake gold mine. Jerry bumps into Felix on board the ship to Europe and it is soon apparent that Felix is an even bigger crook than Jerry. After meeting Toni in Paris, Jerry vows to go the straight and narrow path for Toni’s sake as much as little Penny’s. But when Jerry’s $35-a-week job isn't enough to pay Penny’s $2,000 private school tuition he is forced to steal a valuable necklace from Mrs. Crane (Charlotte Granville) during the lavish birthday party she throws for her friend Shirley. After passing the necklace to fence Felix, Jerry’s crime is discovered by his young daughter and her heart is broken by catching her father in a lie about it. Jerry resolves to return the necklace, but his plan doesn’t come off without complications.
Another Paramount loan-out, this one clearly intended to be Gary Cooper's movie, though Shirley steals every scene once she shows up. She only gets to perform one song in Now and Forever, “The World Owes Me a Living,” during Mrs. Crane’s party, and a good portion of that is muted while Cooper hides the stolen necklace.
Co-billed with Cooper, Carole Lombard’s part is subordinate to the other two stars, but she is especially impressive in this one. I’ve always favored Lombard’s dramatic roles over her more celebrated screwball comedies and she’s very good here, both with Cooper and especially young Temple.
At the end of 1934 came Bright Eyes, which had its premiere in New York on December 20 and nationwide just after Christmas. Fox stuck with what worked, teaming Shirley once again with James Dunn, this time in a movie they created entirely for the talents of their new young star. After this there would be no more loan-outs as Shirley Temple dominated the remainder of the decade for Fox and Fox alone.
Shirley only sings one tune in Bright Eyes, but it is the classic “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” She performs it for a group of airplane pilots led by Dunn’s Loop, as they taxi the runway for her on Christmas day just before terrible news is delivered making Shirley an orphan.
Prior to that Shirley’s mother works as a housekeeper for the Smythe family, a bland couple who have a holy terror of a daughter, played by Jane Withers, and a cantankerous old uncle who dangles a large inheritance over them that is eventually threatened by his fondness for little Shirley. Both wealthy Uncle Ned (Charles Sellon) and working-class Loop (Dunn) want Shirley for their own, but the little orphan is under care of the Smythes, who have no interest whatsoever in Shirley outside of keeping Uncle Ned happy. Complicating matters is the reappearance of Loop’s old flame, Adele Martin (Judith Allen), who just happens to be Mrs. Smythe’s cousin and arrives on Christmas day to stay with the family.
A classic Shirley Temple moment comes just after she's finished singing for the pilots and Adele arrives to tell Loop what has happened to Shirley's mother. As Loop absorbs the tragic news he turns to look up to the plane and there is Shirley, waving to him with a wide grin on her face. He's going to have to shatter her heart on Christmas day and we feel as terrible for him as we do for Shirley.
Despite the somewhat large collection of characters, also including Lois Wilson as Shirley’s mother and Jane Darwell and Brandon Hurst as the Smythe’s cook and butler, Bright Eyes is completely Shirley Temple’s film. The obnoxious stunts of young Withers and old Sellon are fun and add extra color, but Bright Eyes is all about Shirley captivating the other characters in the movie and the audience watching.
Shirley Temple’s success in Bright Eyes paved the way to even greater success with Fox over the next several years. Tracing Shirley’s rise through her five major features of 1934 shows a steady progression towards stardom. Limiting the examination to just her three major Fox features, Stand Up and Cheer!, Baby Take a Bow and Bright Eyes, each pairing Shirley with James Dunn, provides an even clearer path from featured player to supporting player to star, each phase shared cheek to cheek with Dunn, who would not appear alongside Shirley again.
TCM Remembers Shirley Temple
Turner Classic Movies will be playing eight movies featuring Shirley Temple on Sunday, March 9, 2014 beginning at 4:30 pm EST with 1937's Heidi. Only Bright Eyes will be playing from among the movies mentioned on this page (at 8 pm EST). The entire schedule for TCM's Shirley Temple tribute follows:
- 4:30 pm EST – Heidi (1937)
- 6:15 pm – Stowaway (1936)
- 8:00 pm – Bright Eyes (1934)
- 9:30 pm – The Little Princess (1939)
- 11:15 pm – I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
- 12:45 am – The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947)
- 2:30 am – A Kiss For Corliss (1949)
- 4:15 am – That Hagen Girl (1947)