Passport Video // 1939 // 330 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // December 3rd, 2004
Easily the most famous child star of all time.
When I was a young boy, I found myself mesmerized by Shirley Temple's work. There is something about a child performing on screen that can attract a young mind. Watching some of Temple's work almost twenty years later, however, I came to the realization that while Temple is still cute, she no longer captivates me as she once did. I think a great deal of that has to do with the fact that most of the films featured in this collection aren't well made. Many of them were slapdash productions that were thrown together for the sake of making money, and Temple's natural charisma and charm aren't enough to carry these dreadful films. It would take a genius such as Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck to tap into Temple's genuine screen presence and talent by surrounding her with topnotch production values and personnel.
It is with a heavy heart that I announce that Passport Video's The Shirley Temple Collection is heavy on the slapdash and light on the topnotch material. There is some material worth seeing, but overall this set will be a disappointment to all but the most devoted Temple fans.
This five-disc retrospective boxed set The Shirley Temple Collection showcases eleven short subjects Temple made early in her career as well as one of her feature films, The Little Princess. I have rated them on a scale of zero to four stars.
* Glad Rags to Riches (1932)
Diaperina (Shirley Temple) must decide who to marry: country hick Elmer or the rich nightclub owner.
* War Babies (1932)
Two soldiers compete for the heart of French diva Shirley.
Rating: Zero stars
* Pie-Covered Wagon (1932)
Shirley finds herself in the middle of an epic battle between the cavalry and a group of hostile Indians.
* Dora's Dunking Doughnuts (1933)
A meek schoolteacher cooks up a perfect scheme to promote his sweetheart's doughnuts: His music class will perform on the local radio show!
* Polly Tix in Washington (1932)
Shirley is the title character, a prostitute (!) hired to sway an earnest politician to vote for a bill favored by corrupt fat cats.
Rating: Half a star
* Kiddin' Hollywood (1932)
Shirley becomes a movie star after the leading lady quits.
* Kid in Africa (1932)
Tarzan must save Shirley from becoming dinner for a group of African savages.
* Managed Money (1934)
Mary Lou (who else?) tags along with her brother Sonny (Frank Coghlan, Jr., The Adventures of Captain Marvel) as he prospects for gold in the desert.
* Pardon My Pups (1934)
Sonny cares for a ragged-looking expectant dog over the objections of his cantankerous father.
* Merrily Yours (1932)
Sonny falls for the new girl next door and decides to take her to a party -- if he ever can get Mary Lou to sleep, that is.
* What's to Do? (1932)
Sonny becomes class president, only to discover that the family has to move to Seattle.
* The Little Princess (1939)
This 1939 Walter Lang production is the first film adaptation of the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. Sara Crewe (Shirley Temple), daughter of a military captain, is sent to live at a lavish boarding school when the Captain is sent to battle in West Africa. When word of his death comes, the vile headmistress forces Sara into a life of cruel slavery. Sara is convinced that her father is still alive and remains determined to find him at all costs.
For casual fans of Shirley Temple, Passport Video's five-disc set will be a sore disappointment. Those expecting an entire set of feature films will be crushed to discover that only The Little Princess made the cut. Of course, that is the sole Fox-made Temple film that is in the public domain. Instead, this set is devoted mainly to a series of shorts Temple made in the years 1932 to 1934 for Educational Pictures, a small independent studio (which was sold to the Fox Film Corporation in 1934). Temple made her start in a series of short subjects titled Baby Burlesque. Intended as a ripoff of the Our Gang series, these zero-budget shorts featured toddlers clad in diapers performing actions that adults would find embarrassing. After the Baby Burlesque series ran its course, Temple began a series of shorts titled The Mary Lou Shorts. These two-reelers featured Temple as a precocious toddler named Mary Lou who was always driving older brother Sonny crazy. During the middle of the Mary Lou run, Educational Pictures was bought out by the fledgling Fox Film Corporation. Shortly after, the studio would merge with 20th Century Studios to form 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. It was at Fox that Temple would become the next big child superstar with a series of feature films.
Now that we have concluded the history lesson, let us discuss Passport Video's release. This was a set that had me salivating with the prospect of viewing vintage classic Temple. While this set did resurrect some of my childhood joys, the bad taste of Temple's pre-Fox films lingered like bad lasagna. For starters, those Baby Burlesque shorts gave me the creeps. Seeing those toddlers wearing diapers and nothing else gave me that uneasy feeling that I was watching home movies from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. They lack the heart and innocence that made the Our Gang shorts so memorable and funny. The direction and writing are so incompetent that they defeat any chance of these shorts had in the first place. It is disarming to see Temple reciting dialogue that she was far too young to understand, particularly the line in which she says that as a Washington prostitute she isn't "cheap" but an expensive girl! What were her parents thinking when they signed the contract? Watching these shorts made me feel so dirty that I took a shower immediately afterward.
With the later Mary Lou Rogers shorts, things improved considerably. Temple was surrounded with first-rate talent for the first time in her then fledgling career. The shorts allowed her to be her cute little self rather than planting her in roles she didn't comprehend. They also allowed the comedy to flow from the situations and characters rather than employing forced, cheesy dialogue and staging. The production values are much improved, with good direction, scriptwriting, and acting all the way.
The Little Princess was a defining moment in Temple's career. For the first time, she was given a meatier, more serious role. After she was prevented from even auditioning for MGM's big Technicolor musical extravaganza The Wizard of Oz, Fox commissioned this splashy Technicolor musical drama. While it is not the timeless classic Oz is, this film is plenty good on its own terms. Temple is luminous and heartbreaking as Sara Crewe -- one of her finest performances at this point in her career. Studio veteran Walter Lang directed the film, and his gift for eliciting solid performances from a game cast is in full evidence here.
As is to be expected with a public-domain release, the quality of the individual prints featured in The Shirley Temple Collection is a mixed bag. The Baby Burlesque shorts look horrible, with tons of imperfections such as scratches and specks. Grain is also as thick as fog in these shorts. Pie-Covered Wagon in particular suffers from poor contrast between whites, resulting in a ghostly image. The best-looking of the transfers belongs to The Little Princess, which has a clean, vibrant-looking transfer. The lush Technicolor hues are retained quite wonderfully. Imperfections appear, but other than some scratches and specks, they aren't much of a bother. I am being fairly lenient because this set is a public domain release, but I fear many will be disgusted with the overall poor quality.
Audio is this set's Achilles' heel. The sound is absolutely atrocious, with imperfections and damage that will make even the most forgiving viewers blanch with terror. In addition to the pops, hiss, and crackling sounds that mar most of the earliest shorts, there are missing music and dialogue cues, incessant buzzing on the soundtrack, and even echoing such as that heard throughout The Little Princess. It's enough to make anyone cringe or pray that these films were silent.
Although not listed as such, there is a fifth disc with features that should be considered as bonus material.
* "Shirley Temple Rarities" -- This is a half-hour compilation of various footage from different points of Shirley's career. There are vintage theatrical trailers for most of her adult acting career, exclusive footage of her wedding to B-movie legend John Agar, scenes from her early-'60s variety program, and other unique snippets. This is definitely worth watching.
* Kid Stuff: Inside Hollywood's Child Stars -- This is the same awful pastiche that was included in Passport's sister release, The Little Rascals Collection. This pathetic excuse for a documentary lacks the depth and clarity that are necessary for such a program. It also rushes actors through as if they were stray cattle. Temple's story barely occupies three minutes of screen time. Skip this worthless documentary at all costs.
Shirley Temple fans will definitely pick this set up, despite my serious reservations. However, even die-hard fans will find it difficult to sit through all of the material offered in this set. Much of this material is offered cheaper and in better condition elsewhere. My advice to the potential viewer is to shop around and find one of those other collections. Passport's is not the one to purchase.
A pox on anyone who finds it cute to see children too old for diapers forced to wear them.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #33
Studio: Passport Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 330 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Shirley Temple Rarities" Featurette
* Kid Stuff: Inside Hollywood's Child Stars
* IMDb: Glad Rags to Riches
* IMDb: War Babies
* IMDb: Pie-Covered Wagon
* IMDb: Dora's Dunking Doughnuts
* IMDb: Polly Tix in Washington
* IMDb: Kid in Hollywood
* IMDb: Kid in Africa
* IMDb: Managed Money
* IMDb: Pardon My Pups
* IMDb: Merrily Yours
* IMDb: What's to Do?
* IMDb: The Little Princess