Shirley Temple, then eh? Child star of the thirties, she makes Macaulay Culkin seem shy and retired. Voted the 38th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly, Shirley Temple made a name for herself playing syrupy sweet roles in largely inoffensive scenarios. This box set brings together some of the best, making Shirley Temple: The Collection a nostalgic look back at how things used to be, movie wise.
In Heidi, Shirley plays the eponymous Heidi, an orphan who is taken in by a disgruntled grandfather. When Heidi is taken away, it is up to her to figure out a way of returning to a loving household. Stowaway sees Temple play Chin-Ching, an orphan in China. She is befriended by a smooth talking character called Tommy Randall (Robert Young) who takes her under his wing. Somehow Tommy looses Chin-Ching only for her to turn up as a stowaway on his cruise back to America. Does Tommy adopt Chin-Ching and take her to America, or allow here to be taken back to China? Captain January has Shirley playing an orphaned (ever feel typecast?) girl who lives in a lighthouse with its keeper, Captain January (Guy Kibbee). Can she remain there or will she be whisked off against her will? Poor Little Rich Girl does NOT have Temple playing an orphan! Rather a lost daughter who is taken in by a radio performance group after hearing her sing. Can the performance group keep her identity secret, or will her overly protective parents find their daughter? Our Little Girl, possibly the most well rounded of the movies revolves around a dysfunctional family in which the husband, Don Middleton (Joel McCrea) pays too little attention to his wife, Elsa (Rosemary Ames). As time passes, Elsa spends more time with Don's best friend, some one who seemingly has more feelings for her than her husband. Elsa decides to have a divorce, not thinking of the effect this will have on their child, played by Shirley Temple.
I found it interesting watching these movies, though I can't in all conscience say I enjoyed them. Shirley Temple herself exudes an air of confidence some adults don't have. She can dance, sing and act, and in Poor Little Rich Girl, all at the same time! . The Shirley Temple Collection is a bit like Last of the Summer Wine (except with more humour): There isn't going to be any deaths, no one is going to get shot or murdered and everything will turn out okay. These movies are truly Christmas season matinee material and there is nothing wrong with that, if that's your “thing”. Except there is never any tension, never any sense of reality or meaningful relationships, here. These movies are content-lite and never anything more than a casual nod towards anything confrontational.
It is strange that with most of this collection, Shirley Temple is playing an orphan, or is orphaned from her parents. Only in Our Little Girl does a true family surround Shirley's character, yet the movie concentrates on divorce and how the process effects children. What's wrong, here? Was unity of the family seen as so bad in the '30's, or mundane perhaps, that stories cannot be told from within that framework?
Whatever the framework of these movies, there is an air of fun and jollity that is hard to find in these times. That I think is probably because times have moved on and children now demand a more adult, for want of a better description, theme than these movies. I think it ironic that, despite these movies being aimed at children, they are the least likely to gain any enjoyment from them. Instead, those adults of an age where “Good Ship Lollipop” brings nostalgic reminiscences will, more than likely, love these movies to bits.