“There ain’t no Santa Claus!”
“Don’t say ain’t! Say isn’t.”
Okay, this is more like it. I was surprised as I checked about 10 minutes into this that it, too, like the three Shirley Temple movies I watched at the end of last week, was released in 1934. She looks a year or two older to me as she appears at the start here, marching down the road in flying leathers hitching a ride to the airport, and she looks a lot more comfortable too.
But just 15 minutes later, I discover, yet again there’s something in this Shirley Temple movie that overshadows pretty much all her contribution. It’s Jane Withers, a screen brat who certainly predated but possibly also exceeds the likes of Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed. It’s astonishing given the clear value Temple held for Hollywood at the time that nobody seems ever to have stepped in and put a damper on Withers’ performance – if it can be called that even. Where Temple is as controlled and directed as ever, Withers seems simply to have been placed on the set with her full knowing that if anyone’s going to notice her over her co-star, then dangit she’s gonna have to scream, lol.
Anyway, the story worked for me and even moved me, despite Shirley’s complete inability to stir empathy in me. James Dunn as the godfather Loop is fantastic, particularly when explaining to Shirley about her mother – and the ending is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve seen in a movie so old … early in the movie, Loop asks Shirley “how much do you love me?” and she gives him the tightest of hugs, and this he repeats in order to make her hold on as they bail out of a storm-wracked plane with one parachute. There’s some funny business with the Uncle in the wheelchair too. Well worth the watch, and I’ll likely bring it out at Christmas some time as that’s where the movie begins.