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Movie Review

The Littlest Rebel

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and racial stereotyping.

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Family
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
1935
USA Release:
_____
Relevant Issues
Cover art for “The Littlest Rebel”
Featuring: Shirley Temple, John Boles, Bill Robinson, Karen Morley, Willie Best, Jack Holt, Frank McGlynn Sr.
Director: David Butler
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck, B.G. DeSylva
Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

This historical piece features Shirley Temple as a six-year-old Virginia plantation belle, the daughter of a Confederate officer. There’s meticulous attention to detail, not only in the uniforms and flags but also in a measured and fair treatment of all sides. In the song and dance department, there are some tap numbers by Shirley and “Bojangles” Robinson, and Shirley sings several obscure verses of “Polly Wolly Doodle.”

The news of war arrives at the Cary plantation during Virgie’s (Temple) birthday party. All her young guests are sent home early, since by nightfall the roads will be clogged with soldiers. Virgie’s father (John Boles), a scout, comes home whenever he can. But the ravages of war prevail; the plantation is looted, the house is burned, and Mrs. Cary (Karen Morley) becomes deathly sick after giving up her coat to Virgie in a storm. I don’t want to give away everything for first-time viewers; the plot is more complex than we might expect. Eventually, Virgie has to go have a talk with President Lincoln.

Strictly speaking, the original versions of this and all other early Temple movies have no MPAA ratings; but the Colorized versions in “The Shirley Temple Collection” were submitted for ratings in 1994. Most were rated G, but this one is rated PG “For thematic elements and racial stereotyping.”

My take on Content: There’s of course no profanity or sexuality. There are brief intercuts of battle scenes, but no one is shown being killed. The burning of the Cary house during a battle, and the death of Mrs. Cary, are both handled offscreen. Some of Col. Morrison’s (Jack Holt) Federal troops are shown acting as common thieves, but Morrison deals harshly with any that he catches. There are several conversations on the order of “what’s war all about, and why do we have to do these terrible things?” Col. Morrison and Capt. Cary, although on opposing sides, display honor in their dealings with each other.

I believe the “racial stereotyping” portion of the rating is a Politically Correct overreaction. Stereotyping means that you characterize a group by having them all act in the same (inaccurate) way. that’s not the case here. No one in the film speaks of blacks as “inferiors.” Willie Best plays a slow-witted character for comic relief, but this is offset by Bill Robinson’s character. When given the chance, some slaves run away; but others voluntarily stay with the Carys, distrust the Yankee troops and help Capt. Cary evade capture. All of that is historically accurate. As a matter of fact, many thousands of free blacks served willingly in the Confederate army.

“Thematic elements” could mean almost anything. Based on the ratings of Temple’s other films, it seems that a PG rating is more likely if one of Shirley’s parents dies during the film rather than being already deceased at the outset. I do advise some caution in letting young children see this one. But I’d love to hear a credible explanation of why this film or anything else in The Shirley Temple Collection should be rated PG when “Gone With the Wind” is rated G.


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