“Uncle Billy can do anything! He can sing and dance and climb trees, and do everything in the world — I know he can bring Daddy back!”
When a Confederate officer (John Boles) sneaks back to his plantation to visit his daughter (Shirley Temple) and dying wife (Karen Morley), he’s arrested by a Yankee colonel (John Holt), who — thanks to Temple’s charm — takes pity on him and helps him try to escape.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Civil War
- Historical Drama
- Karen Morley Films
- Shirley Temple Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that Depression-era child star Shirley Temple is “in peak form as a charming little Southern girl” in this “enjoyable film” (directed by David Butler), “with the very self-assured, likable Temple displaying amazing acting and dancing talents”. He points out that “her cheerful tap routines with [Bill ‘Bojangles’] Robinson” — a.k.a. “Uncle Billy” — are “classics”, and that Temple’s “love and respect for her black ‘uncle’ are touching”. He acknowledges, however, that it would be “hard to accept” that the slaves on Temple’s plantation “seem so happy” if “Boles and Morley weren’t so nice”; indeed, modern viewers will likely be greatly disturbed by the film’s decidedly patronizing attitude towards slavery, one which portrays loyal Robinson as an endless source of avuncular kindness rather than someone who might be interested in escaping to his freedom. Regardless, The Littlest Rebel remains a classic Temple vehicle, not least because of the undeniable chemistry she and Robinson possess together; it thus earns my vote as the movie film fanatics should consider watching if they want to get a taste of what Temple’s phenomenal fame was all about. Watch for the “delightful” (if utterly unrealistic) “scene in which Temple asks President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr., in a fine bit)” for a special favor.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Shirley Temple as Virgie
- Temple and Robinson’s magnificent dancing sequences
Yes, as a representative Temple flick, and to see Robinson at his dancing finest.