Monday, August 27, 2012

Dimples (1936)

Ever eager to pump out yet another inexpensive, uncomplicated motion picture with a diligent adoring audience who would supply a meager profit, 20th Century Fox releases their third feature of the year starring their little curly-hair girl, Shirley Temple. Like Curly Top, this film is named after one of Ms. Temple’s cute features, Dimples, and continues to bank on the endearing signature look of the studio’s favorite child actor. Once again the charm of the singing and dancing little girl is set on another course to change the lives of the more troubled adults that surround her. The twist on this film is there appears to be no villain, just adults changing for the better.

Dimples is a musical comedy of a poor little girl with her pick pocketing guardian grandfather and his struggles keeping her through their severely underprivileged situation, set to the backdrop of pre-Civil War New York. A tiny street performer going by the nickname of Dimples (Shirley Temple) slowly learns that her only caretaker, her Grandfather who goes by the self appropriated title as “The Professor” (Frank Morgan), is not all he seems to be. Despite the downtrodden ways they live, The Professor makes Dimples believe they are both better off with his ever positive and well educated gentleman false front he puts on. However Dimples discovers the only reason they get by is from The Professor’s skill of pick pocketing and exaggerating the truth.

After already getting himself into deep woes with the law and his employer, the Professor manipulates a sweet old lady and friend of Dimples, Mrs. Drew (Helen Westley) in order to help pay his debts and right wrongs he had set in motion with intention of repaying her. When Mrs. Drew discovers the scam that was played on her she plans on having The Professor arrested. Only with the charm of Dimples, and her performance starring in a play of the, according to the story line, newly penned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”  helps to turn the hearts around on Mrs. Drew, keeping everything together for Dimples and those that love her.

With a script clearly written to simply manifest the cuteness and performance skills of Shirley Temple, the picture itself has little to no meat on its bones. Audiences with a soft spot for little Temple and her smile, singing, and dancing skill will find joy in this picture, as it showcases those attributes precisely. For those looking for a motion picture with meaning, a tale that will tug on your emotions, or a piece of cinematic art, look elsewhere. It is not the best film she would be seen in, but Dimples in unequivocally a Shirley Temple film in every sense of the term. It does nothing more than to display that which people would have wanted when they would enter a theater featuring a movie starring Shirley Temple.

Director William A. Seiter, whose works include comedies Sons of the Desert and Roberta, leaves us with an uninspiring film, with equally uninspiring filmmaking. It is not as if one would have gone to the movies looking for a Seiter directed feature, as Temple’s name dominated the marquee and the name of the director is an afterthought, but his work leaves us with an overly simple film. With artless cinematography, primarily produced in medium or wide shots, and basic editing, this feature smacks of assembly line production of get the script, shoot the lines, paste it together, and release it so the studio can get the money quick. Technically nothing is lacking. It is just you would hope to have more from a major studio picture starring a larger matinee name, even if it is an eight year old girl.

Alongside of the very busy Shirley Temple is the cast that must actually accentuated and support the girl through the plot. Frank Morgan, who in later years would be best known for his role as the title character in The Wizard of Oz, plays the ignorant, and ever trying to be positive character of the Professor. Despite Morgan making the character into this interesting person that attempts to put forth a front of higher class and chivalry to cover his obvious crookedness and lack of wealth, Morgan, or perhaps rather his character, can get rather annoying at times as an overactor at points. This unfortunate observation could be a result of a mix from both acting and writing. Helen Westley, another long time acting veteran from days on the stage, plays the motherly (or grandmotherly) character of Mrs. Drew, who tries to help Dimples, but threatens to have Dimples’ beloved Professor arrested and taken away from her. With both these actors and their characters creating the actual heart of the story, you may be left feeling unfulfilled as they do not make for gripping individuals in a weak plot centered on a little girl as the object, while you wait for her next “cute” moment.

Aside from the cinematic qualities of the feature itself, the film makes for some interesting moments that are interesting for sociological observation. The film was created to parallel the time the feature was released with the time when the film takes place. In a caption the picture even explains the “depression” of the time the story happens, the 1850s, which intentionally attempts to put the story on the same plain with the Depression the country was going through in the 1930s. Of course these two depressions were very little alike, just a way to try to connect the audience to the film.

Temple performing with two African Americans in blackface.
Looking back at the picture from more contemporary eyes we see the racial issues still taking place in the mid 1930s. Unlike in The Littlest Rebel, here in Dimples Temple plays side by side with black children, instead of being part of a family that owns them. The picture draws from the child’s point of view that all are equal when you are of a simpler mindset. Of course this notion is reinforced here with the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin also seen in the feature. Yet at the same time there are several African American stereotypes in the film, none more glaring than Cicero, the Professor’s servant, played by a somewhat well used actor by the name of Stepin Fetchit (a stage name spelt intentionally phonetically incorrect). His lazy, uneducated black character leaves contemporary Americans placing their heads in their palms in embarrassment. At the same time during the Uncle Tom’s Cabin play many people are played in blackface, which would have a norm for 1850s, but there is Fetchit, an African American playing blackface, with an exaggerated lip and eyes with the help of crude makeup. It is as if the film has the right message, but embarrasses itself at the same time. Aside from these unfortunate moments, the dance numbers were choreographed by Bill Robinson, the famed black performer that even has shared the light with Temple in a number of memorable moments on film together.

Dimples is a film that a person would enjoy if only intended to relish a Shirley Temple movie. If one was not planning of seeing a movie with the short, lovable girl you will not be won over by this picture. For those that adore the little Ms. Temple, it will be considered a run of the mill production. After all, 20th Century Fox was printing her movies off like money, desperately trying to make as much cash as possible off her meager draw before she grows up. Here in a time before major restrictions on child actors, Fox was making five pictures a year with Temple, perhaps the busiest actress in the studio.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The (1947)

20 th Century-Fox Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Starring: Gene Tierney , Rex Harrison , George Sanders Honors: #73 on A...