Fox // 1934 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // February 7th, 2006
"Some day I'm going to fly.
I'll be a pilot too.
And when I do, how would you
Like to be my crew..."
-- Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple) from "On the Good Ship Lollipop"
Bright Eyes is one of the ten feature films in which Shirley Temple appeared in 1934. It is also one of four appearances with actor James Dunn. What it is remembered for, though, is being the film that introduced Temple's signature number, "On the Good Ship Lollipop." Despite limited displays of her endearing singing and dancing, it's classic Shirley Temple fare. Everyone should see it at least once.
Young Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple, Baby Take a Bow) lives with her mother Mary (Lois Wilson, The Deluge), the widow of a pilot, who works as a maid in the mansion of a wealthy, white-collar family. Shirley splits her time between the servants' portions of the mansion and the nearby airfield, where she visits her late father's friends. When Shirley's mother dies suddenly, a fight for custody ensues between her dad's best friend, James "Loop" Merritt (James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), and crotchety but well-meaning Ned Smith (Charles Sellon, It's a Gift), the wealthy, neglected uncle of her mom's former employers. Of course, there's also a song and a dance.
The other day, I was in a local retailer looking through used DVDs. From across the room I heard a young girl shout "Look, mom! Shirley Temple!" For some reason, it surprised me. Some small part of me thought that Shirley Temple had been lost to the annals of history; that children no longer watched her films. Apparently, there are parents and grandparents out there who still introduce their children to these films, as my grandmother did.
I didn't stop to speak to the little lady in the movie store, but I would guess that one of the first Shirley Temple films she saw was Bright Eyes. This film is one of the reasons that Shirley Temple is still emblazoned in the minds of Americans today. Most Americans of a certain age would immediately think of her rendition of the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop" at the mere mention of her name. This is the film that first brought that song to audiences across the country.
Bright Eyes is a bit of a departure for Temple, because "On the Good Ship Lollipop" is the only song in the film. Fortunately, there's a lot more to this movie than the song. First, there are a number of good supporting performances. The most entertaining comes from Charles Sellon. His performance as the invalid Uncle Ned is a riot. He's grumpy, gravelly, and he has fallen for Shirley. He is constantly defending her from another star of the show, his great-niece Joy (Jane Withers, Giant). Joy is mean, annoying, and destructive. She also has it in for little Shirley. The performance is over the top, but effective. In fact, after this film Fox put Withers under contract, too. Rumor has it that Shirley was actually quite afraid of her, both on and off the set.
Also adding to the appeal of Bright Eyes is the broad range of emotions explored in its brief ninety-minute running time. In addition to the usual happy-go-lucky Shirley Temple, the film contains a number of more saddening scenes. Shirley's father is already dead, and we nearly see the car accident that kills her mother. It happens just off screen. Shirley's reaction when she hears the news some time later, while typically melodramatic, is touching. For these two scenes alone, I would suggest that any worrisome parent preview the film before showing it to young children. The emotion is overwrought, but still affecting.
The only place that Bright Eyes suffers a little is in its DVD presentation. The video shows some of its age, though it is better than Fox's recent release of Baby Take a Bow, which is also from 1934. There is some apparent film damage, and in some places the picture is too soft. Still, when I stopped looking for damage, I ceased to notice it. The image is an improvement over the VHS copy I remember from my grandmother's.
The colorized version is a different story. It is the creation of a company called Legend Films. Why Fox paid somebody to do this, I don't know. I won't ever give it more than the hurried, shameful glance I gave it for this review. Like the other recent Shirley Temple films release by Fox, the only extras on the disc are trailers for Fox's other Temple properties.
Of the three Shirley Temple films that I've recently reviewed for DVD Verdict, Bright Eyes is the film that brought back the most memories of prior viewings. I was a kid the last time I saw the film, but the characters are memorable, as is, of course, Shirley's signature song and dance. If you are looking for a place to dive into the Shirley Temple oeuvre, this isn't a bad place to start. For fans of Temple, however, this disc may be worth a purchase only if your VCR is stashed in a closet somewhere, or if my childhood memories are sufficient proof that the audio and video here, though not perfect, are a noticeable improvement. The bonus features which are often the added value of DVDs are, sadly, absent.
Shirley Temple...Blake...Ellison...whatever your name, you've made me smile. Just be aware that if too many more of your parents die, the court might begin to get suspicious. Until then, you are free to go. Fox is to be held for further questioning for failing to include any meaningful supplements.
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Solon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (original B&W)
* Full Frame (colorized)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* The Official Shirley Temple Site