Widowed army Captain Reginald Crewe (Ian Hunter) is left with no choice but to leave his daughter Sara (Shirley Temple) in the care of Amanda Minchin (Mary Nash) at the Minchin Seminary for Girls. Sara is just coming to terms with being away from her father whom she loves dearly, when news of his death reaches the shrewd Amanda. Realizing that Sara is now a liability, Amanda puts her to work as a maid. Convinced that her father is alive, Sara visits the Army Hospital frequently in the hope that she would meet her father. Will her prayers for her father’s safe return be answered or will her hopes of seeing him again never be realized?
Running Time: 72 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: G
"The Little Princess" was Shirley Temple's first technicolor production, and was her last successful film as a child actress. It is probably her best film, edging "Wee Willie Winkie" for the honor. The enduring quality of the story is evident by a recent version, "A Little Princess" from 1995, which is even better than this 1939 version.
"The Little Princess" is based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Set in Victorian England during the Boer war, Temple is placed in a luxurious girl's boarding school by her doting father (Ian Hunter), who is to serve in the war. Temple, aided by her charm and father's wealth, soon becomes the most popular girl in the school, earning the enmity of classmate Marcia Mae Jones. Temple aids a romance between implausibly idealized teachers Richard Greene and Anita Louise.
But after her father is reported killed, and his wealth confiscated, Temple can no longer pay for her schooling. Harsh headmistress Mary Nash turns Temple into a servant, and her only friends are an Indian servant neighbor (Cesar Romero), comic relief and dance partner Arthur Treacher, and fellow servant Sybil Jason.
Although the film clocks in at only 91 minutes, there is room for three short Temple dance numbers. Temple's character is a supposedly a British-born girl raised in India, but in fact she is again playing herself. Which she does well: Temple has a winning positive attitude, and she is eager to please.
Unlike most child actors, she is completely natural in front of the camera. It can be argued that Temple was the most successful of all child actors, although Ron Howard and Macauley Caulkin had their day. Temple was credited with saving Twentieth Century Fox from bankruptcy, which didn't prevent the studio from dumping her after "The Blue Bird" laid an egg.
Romero's ingratiating Indian servant lacks the magical powers of his counterpart in the 1995 film. But Romero still gives a fine performance, as he did in the 1937 Shirley Temple vehicle "Wee Willie Winkie." Romero is probably best known today for playing the Joker character in the 1960s Batman TV series.
Even Temple's best films are not taken seriously today, probably because their target audience was little girls (of all ages), rather than men. Still, "The Little Princess" is better than most if not all of the James Bond films, demonstrating that warmth and charm compete well with dramatic tension and action. (BrianKoller's Full Review: Little Princess)
"What a lovely movie. ‘The Little Princess’ is a delightful story, and Shirley Temple is completely adorable. Sort of a David Copperfield for girls, and I mean that in a positive sense. I do wish that Hollywood would reinvent the innocent little musical."
Edna O’Connor (Essex, VERMONT)
"Having actually met Shirley Temple about two years after the release of ‘The Little Princess’, this movie will never grow stale for me. The innocence she portrayed on screen is proof of the formidable talent she displayed in later years. Does A2ZCDS have a complete collection of her feature films?"
Buford Emerson (Dearborn, MICHIGAN)
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