Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Little Miss Broadway (1938)

Director: Irving Cummings

It is another Shirley Temple picture where the little orphan girl does it again; she changes the hearts of even the most stanch, crotchety old lady with her cuteness and charm. A tried and true formula for 20th Century-Fox during the 1930s of producing as many Shirley Temple vehicles as possible helped make the child actress the top grossing star in Hollywood, and this picture would fall directly in line with the similar plot blueprint that kept audiences coming back.

Little Miss Broadway is a musical of an orphan girl living in a hotel of struggling theatrical performs who must find a way to help the save the hotel from going under leaving its inhabitants without a home. Shirley Temple plays Betsy, an ever cheerful orphan who is taken in by her parents’ old friend, Pop (Edward Ellis). Pop operates a hotel full of theatrical performers, but the hotel’s neighbor and landlord, Sarah Wendling (Edna May Oliver), despises the noise and the people that live in the hotel and demands the hotel’s back rent or else she will kick them out. This leaves Betsy, with the help of Mrs. Wendling’s kind hearted nephew Roger (George Murphy) who also takes a liking to Pop’s daughter Barbara (Phyllis Brooks), to gather the many performers together and present the idea to perform a show that will bring in the money to cover the hotel’s expenses. Roger takes his aunt to court where the show idea is presented to the judge. It proves to be a lavish production that wins the hearts of the people and even Mrs. Wendling, saving the hotel, its inhabitants, and even leads to Betsy being adopted by Roger and Barbara.

As before mentioned the film is a usual vehicle for Shirley Temple, playing the standard poor orphan girl with a heart of gold that saves the day by moving the hearts of the most stone cold individuals. To add to this picture is the sense of it being a bit of a variety picture with the many side performers, including the likes of Jimmy Durante, a pair of performing little people, with more musicians. The side acts allow there to be a little more to the movie other than the customary cutesy plot based around Temple, although it does not resemble a variety picture in the likes of a Paramount Pictures film, such as the Big Broadcast series. All in all the movie plays as what one would expect from a Temple feature, with some laughs, the usual admiration of young Temple’s talents, and in the end you know everything will come out as happy as it could be.

Director Irving Cummings returns to produce yet another Shirley Temple picture. A filmmaker form way back in the silent era, Cummings does bring a respectfully good quality to the picture, adapting style of the times to this feature. With Temple growing up she was able to do more that she could just a year ago, most notably dance with a bit more flare. She performs with George Murphy al la Astaire and Rogers, hoping on and off pieces of furniture, filming full body actions, while maintaining longer takes. Temple was still a cute, little ten year old, but she was growing up, especially compared to her days as a six year old when she was more baby-like in style and cuteness.

The cast surrounding Temple would make for an interesting mix of individuals with their own achievements.

Edna May Oliver would serve as the antagonist. With her long glaring facial features, which would be seen caricatured in many cartoons and drawings for its distinctive shape, she was a very well traveled veteran of the screen, playing the usual strict, villainous woman. She would provide that veteran, recognizable actor presence that provides respectability to the feature.

The primary good guy characterthat aid our little hero would be played by George Murphy as the nephew of Wendling and in the end adopts Betsy. Murphy was a performer on the rise as he started to be noticed in other musical productions, especially at MGM with their more lavish budgets. In the coming years he would rise to be a star of many grander musicals, even becomes president of the actor’s guild, followed by a career in politics, including as a US Senator.

Making a supporting appearance in the picture is the talented vaudevillian and radio star Jimmy Durante. His raspy voice, comedic look and timing makes him a perfect tenant of the hotel of down on their luck performers. Primarily serving as comic relief, his colorful acting really sells his role in the film, making him rather memorable in this forgettable movie.

Though not the greatest of Shirley Temple films, Little Miss Broadway would be a standard Temple money maker for Fox. Critics, however, would appear to grow a little closer to being tired of the Shirley Temple formula. Many younger audience members would continue to look fondly at this picture with its delightful cast of colorful characters, providing great admiration in the library of Shirley Temple pictures, but not be as well remembered as many other films she had done. At a tender age of only ten Temple was still very much a star, even receiving an honorary Academy Award for her works. She still was a cash cow for Fox during the period and one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood.

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