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Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes(1934)

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20th Century Fox, financially beleaguered (along with everyone else) by the Great Depression, would find their savior in the form of a pint-sized, sausage-curled sprite who would win the hearts of the American public and almost single-handedly lift the national spirit. Shirley Temple was already a seasoned veteran at the tender age of six, with over a dozen films under her belt, when she signed her contract with Fox in 1934. That same year she would achieve stardom with her first leading role in the tailor-made vehicle Baby Take a Bow, which followed very closely on the heels of the release of her popular co-starring turn in Paramount's Little Miss Marker. The second volume of Fox's Shirley Temple Collection includes a trio of her most-loved films, including her first starring turn, along with Bright Eyes and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Baby Take a Bow (1934) is an anomaly in the Temple canon, as one of the few films in which everyone's favorite orphan is actually allowed to have parents. Eddie Ellison (James Dunn) is a convict who is released into the loving arms of his fiancee Kay (Claire Trevor) after an eighteen month stretch in the slammer. Determined to go straight, Eddie marries Kay and the two settle down to domestic life. Six years later, after the addition of adored daughter Shirley, the family is still remains blissfully happy despite the hardships of the Depression, and Eddie's difficulty in retaining a job when his employers learn that he is an ex-con: although Eddie and his best friend Larry Scott (Ray Walker), another ex-con, have lived exemplary lives since their release, they are hounded by insurance investigator Welch (Alan Dinhart), who keeps constant watch on the pair, his credo being "once a criminal, always a criminal."

Eddie and Larry secure jobs with wealthy industrialist Stuart Carson (Richard Tucker), who is very pleased with their on-the-job performance. But when a valuable string of pearls is stolen, Welch informs Carson that Eddie and Larry are felons, and they are immediately (albeit reluctantly) discharged. Knowing that they are innocent, the boys think nothing of thumbing their noses at Welch as he makes a search of Eddie's apartment. But they are forced into a tense game of hide and seek when the shocked pair discover that the real thief has delivered the stolen pearls into the hands of little Shirley. The panic to keep the loot hidden leads to a truly harrowing climax when the thief returns to retrieve the purloined pearls, and uses Shirley as a human shield when the shooting starts!

It was less that six months after Baby Take a Bow that Fox hit real pay dirt with the release of Bright Eyes (1934), the film that introduced the tot's signature tune "On the Good Ship Lollipop," as well as the device of Shirley as an orphan (which would prove so popular it would play out in most of the rest of her films). Temple plays Shirley Blake, whose aviator father died in a plane crash, and whose mother works for the Smythes, a pair of rich snobs whose household is dominated by their bad-seed daughter, ironically named Joy (Jane Withers, who would also prove so popular she would become Shirley's favorite nemesis). The one bright spot in the household is the Smythe's Uncle Ned, who holds the purse-strings. When Shirley's mother is struck down by a car, a battle for custody ensues between Uncle Ned, for whom Shirley is the only source of happiness, and the poor-but-kindly "Loop" (James Dunn), her adoring godfather, who wants nothing more than to adopt her for his own.

Despite Temple's trademark glimmer and the sprightly songs, Bright Eyes is surprisingly unsentimental in its depiction of the hardships of the poor during the Depression. Loop is honest and hard-working, but hasn't the money to fight one of the few remaining wealthy families, and his attempt to earn the money to mount a custody battle puts his life in jeopardy. The scene in which Shirley's mother is killed is truly shocking, and the scene that follows, in which Dunn explains to Shirley what has happened, is absolutely heartbreaking. It's a testament to the talents of all involved, particularly director David Butler and the two stars, that the film is moving rather than mawkish.

All that remains of Kate Douglas Wiggin's popular novel is the title in this screen version of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). Temple stars as Rebecca Winstead, who longs for a career singing on the radio. When her step-father Harry Kipper (William Demarest) tires of bearing the brunt of Rebecca's upkeep, he deposits her with her crusty Aunt Miranda (Helen Westley), who agrees to take over the girl's upbringing in an attempt to keep her free from the influence of "show people." But the talented Rebecca comes to the notice of radio producer Tony Kent (Randolph Scott), who owns the neighboring farm. Kent's chief sponsor is desperate for an appropriate child star to feature on his show. With Aunt Miranda dead-set against the idea, Kent plots to broadcast the show from his farm, and with the help of Miranda's niece Gwen Warren (Gloria Stuart), spirits Rebecca to the make-shift studio for the broadcast. The requisite battle for the tiny tot's custody ensues when Rebecca becomes a star, and her step-father reappears to claim Rebecca and take her back to the city, where he hopes to cash in on the child's new-found stardom.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is not the strongest of Temple's features, but it provides her with a few nice musical numbers (as well as a chance to do a medley of her previous hits), and it culminates with a production number in which Shirley performs with the legendary Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, in one of their most famous pairings.

Coupled with The Shirley Temple Collection Volume 1, which included Curly Top, Heidi, and Little Miss Broadway, Volume 2 offers some of the best work of one of the little girl who was not only one of the greatest child stars of all time, but a national phenomenon.

The sources for the collection have been restored, but naturally still show signs of general wear, with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm faring the best both in terms of picture and audio quality. Each disc includes the restored original black and white version of the films, along with a computer colorized edition. The set also includes an exclusive Shirley Temple charm bracelet!

For more information about Shirley Temple Collection, Vol. 2, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Shirley Temple Collection, Vol. 2, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter