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.
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.
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
"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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