Cast & Crew
During his six-year-old daughter Virgie's birthday party, Captain Herbert Cary of the Confederate Army gets word that Fort Sumter has been fired upon and that war has been declared. The men in attendance get ready to report to their Richmond regiment, and the children are sent home. Virgie asks the black house slave Uncle Billy about the war, and he tells her that he has heard that a man up North wants to free the slaves, although he admits he does not know what that means. After the men parade off to war, the Union troops arrive at the Cary plantation, and Virgie hits the commander, Colonel Morrison, with a rock shot from her slingshot. Although he admires her spunk, he warns her not to use the slingshot again. As he leaves, she tauntingly sings "Dixie." With the plantation in enemy controlled territory, Cary, now a scout for General Lee, has to sneak through enemy lines to visit his family. At the end of one short visit, a Yankee troop led by the gruff Sergeant Dudley arrives looking for him. After the soldiers find the family's hidden food and valuables, and Dudley chases Virgie upon discovering that she has covered her face with boot polish out of fear for what the soldiers would do to whites, Dudley struggles with Mrs. Cary, who is trying to protect her daughter, and he shoves her down some stairs. Morrison arrives, and after ordering the men to return the loot, he sends Dudley to get twenty-five lashes and apologizes to Virgie and her mother. When three gunshots are fired to signal that Cary has safely gotten through lines, Morrison leaves, but not before Virgie hits him with another rock shot from her slingshot. Later, as the battle rages in front of the Cary house, Mrs. Cary and Uncle Billy take Virgie into the woods, where, during a violent rainstorm, Mrs. Cary covers Virgie in her cloak. A month later, Uncle Billy arrives at Cary's camp to tell him that his wife is extremely ill. They return to the plantation where Mrs. Cary, now in Uncle Billy's cabin because the house has been burned down, dies after seeing that her husband will take care of Virgie. After the funeral, the Union troops arrive, and Cary hides in a garret attic. Morrison discovers him, but when he learns that Cary was not on a scouting trip and that he was planning to take Virgie to his sister in Richmond, Morrison, who has a daughter the same age as Virgie, tells Cary where he has left a Yankee uniform at a nearby plantation to be mended and writes him a pass to allow him and Virgie to travel to Richmond. Cary, dressed in the Yankee uniform, and Virgie are questioned as they pass through a Union camp, and Dudley overhears Virgie's voice. Cary whips him, and he and Virgie try to escape in their carriage, but the soldiers surround them. Both Cary and Morrison are court-martialed and sentenced to be hanged. A major, sympathetic to their plight, gives Uncle Billy a letter to take to a judge in Washington, D.C. To procure funds for the train trip, Uncle Billy and Virgie dance in the public square. Uncle Billy and Virgie see President Abraham Lincoln, after the judge writes him about the case, and as the president shares an apple with Virgie, she tells him the story. After she relates that her father instructed her that she was "honor-bound" not to tell anyone in Richmond about what she saw while they were traveling, because of a promise he made to Morrison, the president is convinced that the men are not spies and instructs his secretary, John Hay, to rush a pardon for them to General Grant. Virgie hugs the president. Later, back at the Union barracks, Virgie sings "Polly Wolly Doodle" with the Union soldiers and hugs her two "fathers," Cary and Morrison.
Frank Mcglynn Sr.
S. C. Chapman
B. G. Desylva
Dan D. Emmett
Thomas K. Little
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Littlest Rebel
Sheer, dopey entertainment for those who can enjoy a film while refusing to seriously think about it.
This is a Shirley Temple vehicle, the story of a pint-sized Southern belle during the days of the Civil War. When Shirley's father (a Confederate officer) is captured and taken to a Yankee prison camp and her mother dies, little Miss Mop Top finds herself adrift on the family's big plantation. Of course, who comes to her rescue but the faithful servant, Uncle Bill, played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He's around to comfort little Shirley, to play and dance with her. And during one sequence when Yankees show up at the Temple mansion, Uncle Bill and the corps of slaves help hide the girl, who goes in blackface, hoping to pass for one of the darkies. The scene has to be seen to be believed. The film reaches a heady climax when Robinson and Temple work their way up North where Shirley eventually meets President Lincoln. He's so charmed by the girl that he pardons her father - and the audience can breathe a sign of relief, knowning that Shirley and Uncle Billy are now free to go off into the sunset together.
This is ersatz Americana steeped in the romantic mythology of the Old South then (and perhaps even now) so popular with audiences. You never know there is really a Civil War going on. And as the critic for Variety wrote: "All bitterness and cruelty has been righteously cut out and the Civil War emerges as a misunderstanding among kindly gentlemen with eminently happy slaves and a cute little girl who sings and dances through the story."
Strangely enough, Temple and Robinson are an ideal couple: her grit and spunk are well matched by his high spirits, his calm, and common sense. One knows, however, that no matter how convincingly Robinson plays his role, his character couldn't possibly have but so much common sense because, after all, he remains on the plantation once the Yankees have come presumably to free him. When the two dance together, they are a (psychologically dislocating) marvel: it's all still corny but retains a zip and an effervescent breeziness. In The New York Herald Tribune, Richard Watts, Jr., wrote: "The child star is as good a partner for the great Bill Robinson as Miss Rogers is for Mr. Astaire."
Also appearing in the cast is Willie Best as a lazy, dim-witted coon servant, who oddly enough, to contemporary audiences, is a welcome contrast to Robinson's perpetual sobriety.
Producer: Buddy DeSylva
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Edwin J. Burke, Harry Tugend, Edward Peple (play)
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Art Direction: William S. Darling
Music: Sidney Clare, Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: Shirley Temple (Virginia Cary), John Boles (Capt. Herbert Cary), Jack Holt (Col. Morrison), Karen Morley (Mrs. Cary), Bill Robinson (Uncle Billy), Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams (Sgt. Dudley).
The Littlest Rebel
Variety noted that there is "no trace of the Edward Peple play in the [Edwin] Burke film version" and that the play introduced Mary Miles Minter to the stage. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, two actors in the cast were replacements. Stepin Fetchit was originally cast in the role of "James Henry," but he was replaced by Willie Best after he claimed that the set lights were affecting his eyes; one hour's shooting on opening day apparently was lost because of this. Also, Charles Bickford was originally cast for the role of "Colonel Morrison," but he was replaced by Jack Holt because he was mauled by a lion during the filming of East of Java. According to another Hollywood Reporter news item, special effects technician James Donlan rescued Bill Robinson after Robinson was knocked unconscious during a scene with John Boles in which they crossed a stream on a log. The log unexpectedly turned on them, and as they went under, Robinson struck his head on the log. Jule Styne, in his autobiography, states that he was Shirley Temple's vocal coach for this film. In 1914, Photoplay Productions Co. produced a film based on the same source which was directed by Edgar Lewis and starred E. K. Lincoln, William J. Sorelle and Mimi Yvonne.