Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher, Mary Nash, Sybil Jason, Miles Mander, Marcia Mae Jones, Beryl Mercer|
|Producer:||Darryl F. Zanuck, Gene Markey|
|Distributor:||20th Century Fox|
There are several potshots at class snobbishness and a lot of tear-jerking in this Shirley Temple formula film, but still room for a few song and dance numbers (including some in a dream sequence).
Temple repeaters Mary Nash and Arthur Treacher play the bad lady and the comic relief, respectively (no surprise there). There are also good performances by Richard Greene (later the star of the 1950s “Robin Hood” TV series) and young Cesar Romero. Most of Temple’s early films were B&W and were computer colorized by Fox in 1993, but this one was shot in Technicolor originally.
Young, motherless Sara (Temple) is left at an exclusive British girls’ school by her father, Capt. Crewe (Ian Hunter) when his regiment is posted to the Transvaal during the Boer War (1899). The proprietress, Miss Minchin (Nash), is a stickler for proper behavior and although she feigns loving care for her students, her real concern is money. As long as Sara is rich, Miss Minchin favors her. But when it’s reported that Capt. Crewe is dead and that his wealth (including holdings in South African diamond mines) has been confiscated by the enemy, Sara is demoted to servant status to pay off her debt. Sara keeps a positive attitude and continues to believe that it’s a mistake, that her father is really still alive. Eventually, she receives unexpected help from Queen Victoria.
The plot is predictable but somewhat thought-provoking. There’s nothing objectionable in the film beyond the general meanness of some of the characters. The view of classic British society and wartime mentality raises the question of the extent to which a small child should be forced to be a “good soldier.” But on the whole, it has the same outline as Temple’s other childhood films, showing her character suffering loss of parents and other hardships yet refusing to be changed by her circumstances.