In the post Civil War South, an embittered old southern gent (Lionel Barrymore) turns his back on his daughter (Evelyn Venable, voice of the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio) when she marries the "wrong man." Years later, the daughter returns with her husband and young daughter (Shirley Temple), the latter of whom manages to mend the broken family ties. She does this by charming him with several charming song and dance numbers, as well as her irresistible personality.
Title: The Little Colonel
Release: February 22, 1935
Genre: Family- Drama/ Comedy
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston
Writer: William M. Conselman
Director: David Butler
Music By: Cyril J. Mockridge
Produced By: Buddy G. DeSylva
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 80 minutes
An idealized version of antebellum days, “The Little Colonel is an amalgam of southern plantations, pinafores, Spanish moss, and banjos plinking away with Civil War songs.” This film was based on a semi-biographical book by Annie Fellows Johnston published in 1895 which then became a popular series of books. Being a Shirley Temple film, The Little Colonel was republished to help market the movie (several of the dresses little Miss Lloyd Sherman wears in the film were sold too) as well.
Bill ‘Bojangles‘ Robinson; then a vaudeville performer, had appeared in a few film roles such as his cameo shot in Dixiana and a small role in Harlem is Heaven but it was The Little Colonel that helped make him just as recognizable on screen as he was on stage. This film was his first of many appearances with Shirley Temple whom she called Uncle Billy according to her autobiography (“From then on whenever we walked together it was hand in hand, and I was always his “darlin’.”) and Mr. Robinson added to Shirley’s dancing repertoire that she had learned early on in life by teaching her to tap-dance like him. Their famous staircase dance is in this film and they were the first interracial dancing couple in film history, unfortunately, the scene was cut for Southern theaters “to avoid social offense and assure wide distribution.”
Mr. Robinson isn’t the only famous African American in this film either, Hattie McDaniels, pre-Oscar; which she won for her portrayal somewhat similar to the one she plays here in Gone With the Wind, also has an important role as Mom Beck. McDaniel had joined the Screen Actor’s Guild the previous year and was coming under fire in the black community for her portrayal of these racial stereotypes. Speaking of racial stereotypes, quite a few pop up in the course of the film but that’s not surprising considering the time period its set in and filmed as well. There’s nothing overtly malicious, yet it’s doubtful you’d find things like it in films today. The other Academy Award winning actor in this film Lionel Barrymore (Best Actor for A Free Soul in 1931) plays his part well as the stereotypical crotchety, old colonel who has finally met his match in his little granddaughter: “I don't need to have whiskers. I've got temper. That's all you need to be a colonel.” Their interactions and blowups are some of the best parts of The Little Colonel but Barrymore also adds depth to a character that could have easily been trite.
Despite the fact that The Little Colonel had some amazing actors, it was also cleverly written, had a beautiful setting (I loved Col. Lloyd’s home), and Shirley Temple had a gorgeous wardrobe too. There are a few subplots scattered throughout the film but they aren’t very memorable (except for the baptism scene, southern revival style). I thoroughly enjoyed this film but even I have to admit that Bojangles helped steal the show.
Love's Young Dream performed by Shirley Temple
My Old Kentucky Home performed by Bill Robinson
About the Book
Temple’s Baby Burlesk Shorts, Stand Up and Cheer, Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, & Bright Eyes