Wee Willie Winkie (1937)

“Fear God, honor the queen, shoot straight, and keep clean!”

Synopsis:
A young girl (Shirley Temple) and her widowed mother (June Lang) go to British-controlled India in the early 1900s to live with Lang’s crusty father-in-law, Colonel Williams (C. Aubrey Smith), at a military outpost. Once there, Temple befriends both a kilt-wearing sergeant (Victor McLaglen) and an imprisoned rebel (Cesar Romero), eventually helping to bring peace to her region.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while this “enjoyable period piece” was “not a pivotal work in John Ford’s illustrious career”, it was “one of Shirley Temple’s finest films.” He argues that “if you ever wondered what qualified the adult Shirley Temple to be an ambassador,” you should “just take a look at her films in which the little girl repeatedly pacified gruff adults” — including this one, in which she “tames two indomitable warriors and brings about peace between their warring nations” while forming “what is essentially a comedy team with rough but sentimental Sergeant Victor McLaglen.” He notes that the “film has visual beauty, exciting action scenes, humor, [and] strong characterizations”, and asserts that it “has warmth rather than the sentimentality one usually associates with both Ford and Temple”. Peary’s uniformly positive review reveals his own partiality for both Ford and Temple — and while I appreciate that these figures are each undeniably essential components of cinematic history, this film (which, I’m afraid, is overly sentimental) isn’t a collective must-see. Ford made many other must-watch classics viewers should turn to first — and those hoping to see Temple at her most charming can seek out The Littlest Rebel (1935) instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by Temple and her supporting cast

  • Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Shirley Temple fans will want to see it.

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One Response to “Wee Willie Winkie (1937)”

  1. A once-must – since any Ford film that’s a good one is worth a film fanatic’s time.

    I’d seen this once before, many moons ago. Watching it again… early on, it crossed my mind that this might be a minor Ford film. But, as it continued, I changed my mind – because it had started to pull me in and continued to keep me there until the end.

    ~which is a little odd, mainly since I’m not particularly a fan of Shirley Temple films – or, rather, her standard ones. But I don’t think this is a standard one – even though it may almost seem like one. The difference is that Ford was directing her – and it shows, in a positive way. This time out, I didn’t mind at all watching her charm the likes of McLaglen, Romero and C. Aubrey Smith. ~perhaps because the three of them are such macho types – and charming them seemed a more difficult thing to do.

    As for the film itself – most Ford films are good ones (esp. when the script is as good as his direction). When he’s on, he’s on. So why not take advantage of that? In the case of this particular film, I agree with Peary that it “has warmth rather than… sentimentality.” (It could have been more on the syrupy side than it actually is.)

    It’s odd that I don’t think of Ford as one of my favorite directors – but maybe I should start realizing that he is. There’s something about the satisfying way in which he tells a story – and when he’s telling it well, and all of the aspects of the story fit just right… well – few things make a film fanatic more content.

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