Friday, December 9, 2011

Little Miss Marker (1934)

As 1934 moved through the months Americans were slowly falling love with a petite, curly haired six year-old named Shirley Temple. Here on loan from Fox Films to Paramount we get the sweet story of a tiny girl spreading her heart to hardnosed criminals in Little Miss Marker. By this point Temple was somewhat a mini star, featured in goofy shorts that utilized tiny children as stars to hook audiences, but this year was the year for her to breakthrough into feature films. Temple steals your hearts as the every cheery little girl who melts the hearts of the gruffest men, changing their lives for the better and producing family friendly entertainment for all. Here in Little Miss Marker we get more than what would be just another Shirley Temple movie, but a story that would be well loved and retold over and over again in years to come.

Little Miss Marker is a comedy/drama about an innocent, little girl left behind with some gangsters as collateral for a horse race wager, and how her cheerfulness aids these tough, no good people to grow hearts for her and the cheerful innocence of her youth. Shirley Temple stars as Marthy as she is left behind by her desperate, and soon discovered suicidal, father as collateral for a hoarse bet he would fail to win. Unwillingly she is taken in and cared for by the gambling gangster that was holding that took her for her father’s wager, Sorrowful Jones (Adolphe Menjou), who in time would come to care for her in a fatherly manner.  Bangles Carson (Dorothy Dell), the wife of a mob boss and patron around workings of Jones, grows to become a motherly figure in the now nicknamed “Marky,” a play on the term marker or “I.O.U.” in the betting game. Marky begins to be influences by the gangster surrounds, becoming jaded at the innocent things of a child, calling them sissy. Meanwhile the fellow gangsters take a strong liking to this little girl. With the help of little Marky the tough gangster learn new dimensions to their hearts while caring for this cheery, helpless princess of a girl, them too opening up their hearts to caring for her childhood.

Here we get a film that has tons of heart. That is the primary purpose of the story, to show what it is to have good hearts. Despite the overall unbelievable story idea, Shirley Temple affects you as she does the character Sorrowful Jones, winning you over and looking out for the innocence that you do not want to be lost in this tiny girl. Adolphe Menjou as a seasoned actor comes off as the tough man that has inside of him the heart that can be won over by this bundle of joy that is little Marky. It is a beautiful tale that touches on the innocence of us all that as we grow up is lost, and though we must change to live in the world, within us we still have a little child that yearns to live the simple lives of children.

Shirley Temple was the rising star of this picture playing the role of the title character for the film. Temple was encouraged and enrolled into acting, dancing, and singing classes at the very young age of three and it would pay off handsomely. With deep dimensionality in her face and actions, and the mature control of both her body and her voice would become a darling of the movie screen. First she would start in shorts, as very young children of her age were yet to be considered “star quality,” but rather good sides acts to motion picture line ups at the movie houses of the time. When she signed with Fox Films in 1934 she would start to appear in bit rolls in major films. Many times she would be lent out to other studios in need of a child actor, but here with Paramount’s Little Miss Marker she was the main character serving as the principal drive of the story. This was just the beginning of her winning over the hearts of all American moviegoers and becoming the darling princess of the silver screen, which would be benchmarked later in 1934 with her starring role in Bright Eyes a few months after the release of Little Miss Marker.

Adolphe Menjou would be the veteran acting talent of the picture. Though not necessarily a major star in his own right, he was much respected, including his Academy Award nomination for his 1931 film The Front Page. He would serve as the senior man in the cast, giving the film a sense of legitimacy.

As Menjou’s counterpart the film would have the nineteen year old Dorothy Dell to play the role of the mob boss’ wife who comes to care for Marky. Dell was very new to Hollywood, moving west just the year before, in 1933, she would be signed by Paramount Studios for her acting talents she showcased well on stage in New York. Sadly Dell’s career would be cut tragically short with her sudden death in a tragic car accident just a week after Little Miss Marker’s premiere. Not as if her work in the film was anything of noteworthiness, it is sad Dell not would not have the time to mature her craft on the screen. It would never be known if she would have made anything of herself in Hollywood. Her relationship with Temple on set became a tight one, and when word of her death was spread it was keep from Temple’s knowledge for the longest time as to not greatly sadden the tiny, impressionable star.

To direct the picture was novice director, Alexander Hall, having only been doing so since 1932. We can see how Hall kept the film simple, but was able to portray the deep heart the story had to offer. Hall experience in Hollywood goes back to 1914 with silent pictures. After severing in World War I Hall worked as an editor and assistant director until Paramount gave him his break at directing where he would primarily serve as a stock director on small pictures.

Little Miss Marker would be, if anything, a stepping stone to the fabulous career of the tiny redheaded star Shirley Temple. The story itself would be remade several time; first as 1949’s Sorrowful Jones with Hobe Hope and Lucille Ball, then 1962’s 40 Pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis, and once again as 1980’s Little Miss Marker with Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews. This goes to show you that this movie and its star both had a lasting impact on Hollywood and the movie going public.

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