Little Princess, The (1939)

“Sara has no mother, and we’ve never been separated for more than a few days.”

Little Princess Poster

Synopsis:
When her father (Ian Hunter) leaves to fight in the Boer War, Sara Crewe (Shirley Temple) is sent to a boarding school run by snooty Miss Minchin (Mary Nash). When notice arrives that Captain Crewe (Hunter) has died a penniless man, Sara becomes a servant at the school — but she refuses to believe her father is really dead.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Despite its generally acknowledged status as “one of Temple’s best films”, Peary isn’t a big fan of this Technicolor adaptation of Frances Hodges Burnett’s Victorian children’s novel. He argues that “while it is lavishly produced and features what was [Temple’s] last impressive performance as a child actor, the story is flimsy and predictable”, and notes that by 1939, “it was getting tiresome watching Temple’s little girls suffer.” Modern viewers, however, won’t have to experience the same sense of fatigue, given that we can pick and choose which of Temple’s many childhood films — Peary lists just five of her earlier hits in his book — we want to see. Diehard fans of Burnett’s book may be disturbed by the many changes made in the screenplay, but the spirit of the novel remains intact, and Temple (who looks nothing like Burnett’s description of the protagonist) brings a much-needed air of optimism and spunk to the role of poor Sara Crewe. Equally impressive is Temple’s co-star, Sybil Jason, who plays a young Cockney maid. [It’s interesting to note that Temple was, in fact, jealous of Jason’s performance, given the adulation heaped upon her by the film’s crew.]

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Shirley Temple as Sarah
    Little Princess Temple
  • Sybil Jason as Becky
    Little Princess Becky

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as one of Temple’s most famous films. Available to view online here.

Links:

2 Responses to “Little Princess, The (1939)”

  1. Not a must.

    Temple’s popularity notwithstanding, this is a rather dull film. This is the kind of film in which nice people are thwarted at every turn. Very Dickensian but without depth. Its standard sentiment is forced and hard to swallow. Allegedly a British character, Temple smacks of America. Methinks she may have been better elsewhere; here she tends to say most of her lines like they’re learned instead of felt (until the latter part of the film). It’s probably no surprise she was jealous of Jason; Jason has the better role (and, for the most part, gives the better performance). This film came out in ’39 – the same year as ‘The Wizard of Oz’…and Temple lost Dorothy to Judy Garland, after all. (I might’ve been out-of-sorts myself, settling for this.)

    The Richard Greene/Anita Louise love interest is convincing. Arthur Treacher and Cesar Romero are pleasant in their supporting roles. Nash is appropriately stern in her character’s one-note way. (Tho she does get to act a bit like Margaret Hamilton in ‘WOO’ in the surprisingly lilting fantasy sequence near the end; a nice reprieve.)

    Fave line is Greene’s: “How would you like to have me eating out of *your* hand?” Yum. 😉

  2. The Mary Pickford version made in 1917 by Marshall Neilan is a much superior film.

    Peary doesn’t seem to have discovered Pickford when he put his book together. I must admit that she was probably the last “great” silent film star that I was converted to. A grown woman still playing girls seemed faintly creepy and the piled-up curls seemed to promise maudlin sentimentality. However modern film scholarship has uncovered the many aspects of Pickford and she now gets the respect she deserves.

    If you fancy an unusual Shirley Temple film, try ‘To the Last Man’ (1933) where notoriously hard-nosed director Henry Hathaway has the baddie shoot her Teddy Bear!

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