When Judge Neal Solon becomes a child star, he's going to make sure that all of his characters are named Neal—just so he doesn't get confused.
"Come on, baby, take a bow."
The 1930s were the time of the Great Depression. Things were bleak. It makes sense that there was a market for escapist films. Shirley Temple's body of work is the embodiment of these escapist films. She was a cute kid with a cute smile and perfectly curled hair. More importantly, with a few melodramatic exceptions, Shirley was constantly smiling, or in the middle of a lighthearted song and dance. Baby Take a Bow provided Shirley with her first starring role at Fox, where she was under contract for most of the 1930s.
Facts of the Case
Eddie Ellison (James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) is a fully rehabilitated convict just out of Sing Sing. He lives with his wife Kay (Claire Trevor, Key Largo), and his daughter Shirley (Shirley Temple, Since You Went Away). He has a respectable job as a chauffeur for a local socialite. He's even gotten a job for an ex-con friend of his at the same mansion. All is going well until an unrepentant thief who met the boys in Sing Sing shows up, and a lavish pearl necklace goes missing from the boss' house.
Many people have early memories of movie-watching experiences. Shirley Temple happens to dominate mine. I did not seek out Shirley Temple films; rather, my grandmother was and is a Shirley Temple fanatic. I have memories of lying on my grandparents' living room floor, my grandfather's rough hands rubbing my back, watching Shirley dance her way across the screen. Shirley Temple was my introduction to John Wayne, John Ford, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Regardless of the artistic merit of her films, Shirley Temple holds a great place in my cinematic history, and in Hollywood history in general.
My suspicion is that most people who revisit Baby Take a Bow, or Shirley's other films on DVD, will be coming at it from a similar perspective. Most will have some sort of nostalgia or pre-established feelings toward the child star and her films. For those who don't, Baby Take a Bow may not be the best place to start. As I've said, this was Shirley's first starring role for Fox, and it is apparent that Fox wasn't quite ready to build a film around her or her talents. The plot centers on James Dunn's character; Shirley is just there to add a bit of comic relief when she discovers the stolen pearls and cutely and unknowingly puts her dad's life in jeopardy. So as much as it is billed as Shirley Temple's first "starring vehicle," Baby Take a Bow doesn't quite put Temple front and center.
Still, Baby Take a Bow has its Shirley Temple moments. Shirley and her father do an entertaining little song and dance at a birthday party, and young Shirley is quite amusing when wielding a large knife for the purpose of freeing a man her father has tied up in their living room. She doesn't realize that he's a thief, or that he has no qualms about hurting her or her father. She thinks he's a part of the elaborate games that she and her dad often play.
Were this not Shirley Temple's first major project, one imagines that the film would be largely forgotten. Certainly, James Dunn, Claire Trevor, and the rest of the adult cast deliver fine performances, but the script is unremarkable. Baby Take a Bow feels like it was put together solely as a test to see whether Shirley Temple could really be the box office draw that Fox hoped she could be. This makes it hard to evaluate objectively. Your interest in the film will hinge on how much you are interested in Shirley Temple. Outside of its history in her canon, the film is far from compelling.
Baby Take a Bow is one of three films released in Fox's most recent wave of Shirley Temple films. Each is released with its original, full-frame black-and-white transfer, as well as a colorized version. I see no use for glorified color-by-number versions of black-and-white films, so I will not mention it further, other than to say that the colors, not surprisingly, look unrealistic. For the restoration company's "colorization philosophy," you can visit the Legend Films website linked in the sidebar of this review.
As for the black-and-white version, it suffers from a significant amount of damage, like its colorized counterpart. So much so that I'd hate to see what this film looked like before the "restoration." Luckily, anyone old enough or young enough to care about Shirley Temple's child films will either be used to prints that look like this, or be too naive to care. Though disappointing, the print isn't enough of a distraction to warrant a fan's passing over this disc.
The audio on the disc fares a bit better. It also shows its age, but it delivers the dialogue, the singing, and the noises of New York City well. Rounding out Fox's presentation of this film is…well, nothing. Fox has chosen to include no special features, other than trailers for a handful of their other Shirley Temple films.
Shirley Temple is, arguably, Hollywood's most famous child star, at least to the generations that remember life before Macaulay Culkin. As her first starring role under contract with Fox, Baby Take a Bow is important in the history of Temple's career, and is interesting as a remnant of Great Depression-era Hollywood. As a film outside of this context, Baby Take a Bow is less interesting, though it's worth checking out for Shirley Temple devotees.
If nothing else, this film introduced the world at large to a little star. The court has no choice but to drop all charges. Shirley Temple, you are free to go.
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