Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1937. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Ernest Pascal, Julien Josephson, based on the story by Rudyard Kipling. Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by William S. Darling, David S. Hall. Costume Design by Gwen Wakeling. Film Editing by Walter Thompson. Academy Awards 1937.
Shirley Temple and her mother show up in late nineteenth-century India to live with her grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith) who is colonel of the British army there. Immediately upon arrival she charms the entire regiment, making an especially good friend of a tough ox of a sergeant (Victor McLaglen ) who trains her in soldiery. Unable to pick political sides, Temple is also fond of a rebel Indian ruler (Cesar Romero, giving a classy performance) with whom her grandfather is constantly poised on waging war. This endless delight shows Miss Temple at her best, easily demonstrating why this adorable child was the top box-office draw of the Great Depression. She’s painfully cute, threateningly annoying at it actually, but she’s also curious, responsible and respectful, and you can’t help but love her for it. Her eventual ability to bring peace to a nation torn apart by war may be fanciful, but by the time you get there you’ll be grateful to have such unabashed optimism served to you. Credit John Ford, whose incredible direction makes something weighty out of a film that could merely have been children’s entertainment. Available in a colour-tinted version that isn’t queasy to look at (but you should still stick to the black and white version if you can find it).