Friday, November 2, 2012

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for November on TCM

In November, TCM is featuring many of the movies based on popular literary classics under the heading of "Great Adaptations". Tucked away in the schedule is The Little Princess starring Shirley Temple.

My girlhood copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess or Sara Crewe was from the Scholastic Book Club. I can't decide if the most exciting day at school was the day the teacher handed out the flyers or the day the box arrived with our orders. I do recall reading my copy of Sara Crewe sitting on the stairway in my Nana Nolan's house.

Halfway down the stairs is the stair where I sit.
There isn't any other stair quite like it.
I'm not at the bottom, I'm not at the top;
So this is the stair where I always stop.

- A.A. Milne

A Little Princess is the Upstairs, Downstairs-like travails of Sara Crewe, the cherished and well-cared for daughter of a wealthy businessman who leaves her at a boarding school in London while he pursues a business venture. Sara's father dies unexpectedly leaving her a pauper at the mercy of the school's bitter headmistress and forced to work as a scullery maid. It is Sara's kind and positive personality that gives her strength until, through a fortunate happenstance, her life is turned around by her late father's business partner.

20th Century Fox's 1939 Technicolor feature The Little Princess makes some changes to the story in fashioning it as a vehicle for star Shirley Temple. Instead of a businessman, Sara's father is a British Army Captain played by Ian Hunter (The Adventures of Robin Hood) who must leave her to fight in the Boer War. We are given a romantic subplot featuring Richard Greene (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Anita Louise (A Midsummer Night's Dream) which is easy to take because the couple is so appealing.

Shirley's spunky, never-say-die personality is well suited to the character of Sara and she is more than ably abetted by Sybil Jason (Little Big Shot) as scullery maid Becky and Marcia Mae Jones (These Three) as the snobby Lavinia.

Sara finds a friend in Bertie Minchin played by Arthur Treacher (Mary Poppins). Bertie is a former music hall performer and this gives Treacher and Shirley a chance to sing and dance. Shirley enjoyed tap and in her autobiography Child Star published in 1988, writes she felt somewhat out of her depth in a dream ballet sequence included in this film.

Bertie is the sister of the school's headmistress and Miss Minchin is played with hissable relish by Mary Nash (Easy Living). Caesar Romero (Wee Willie Winkie) is a mysterious and helpful stranger.

Does your PBS station still have movie marathons?  My cross-border PBS station is Buffalo's WNED and years ago they showed A Little Princess as part of a marathon. The pledge break came at the part of the movie where Sara has learned that her father has died and Miss Minchin cruelly takes back birthday gifts and banishes Sara to below stairs. Programmer Goldie Gardner and her cohort were in tears and could barely go on with their spiel. Of course, I was bawling my eyes out in my living room, just as I sniffled on my Nana's staircase reading the book.

The Little Princess is a satisfying Cinderella story given top-flight attention by the studio with talented character actors backing up the enduring star power of Shirley Temple. Gather the kiddies and keep a box of tissues handy. Also, refresh your knowledge of Queen Victoria and the Boer War in case they ask questions.  

TCM is screening The Little Princess on Saturday, November 17th at 9:00 am.


  1. Just love the little song-and-dance bit Shirley does with Treacher. I also like how the ending builds up suspense, as to whether Shirley will find her father - plus there's Beryl Mercer as Queen Victoria- she plays it so well!

  2. Oh I love this movie! When Sarah meets Queen Victoria, and her father is right there but she doesn't see him -- I burst out bawling every time. I haven't gotten to see this for a while -- now I have to! Of course, Arthur Treacher is always marvelous, and Richard Greene was at his prettiest, wasn't he? One of Shirley's best! Nice post!

  3. This is such a fabulous film (and well written post, of course)! Shirley and the cast are wonderful, but I tend to think of it as an Ian "I love no man better" Hunter film.

  4. A LITTLE PRINCESS was one of my most favorite books growing up -- read it countless times. I admit I've always resisted the film because I knew it made changes to the story. Your post has convinced me I really need to check out the movie and judge it on its own merits. :) Enjoyed your thoughts very much -- so cute about the TV marathon!

    Best wishes,

  5. I loved both the book and the movie. Thanks for a great post!

  6. It seems "The Little Princess" is a movie for everyone - Shirley fans, Ian "I love no man better" Hunter fans, Sara Crewe fans, Richard Greene fans, Arthur Treacher fans and Queen Victoria fans!

    We'll all have a good time and a good cry. Plus, there's something so Christmassy about Victorian England.

  7. My favorite Shirley movie! Sometimes she get under my skin a bit, but not here. This is a great adaptation and a wonderful, touching film.

  8. I'm with ClassicBecky, the part with Queen Victoria brings tears. For me it's when she finds her Dad and proudly points him out to Her Majesty at the very end.

  9. If TCM could see all the love for this movie, they'd put it on in prime time. Maybe next year's Essentials Jr.

  10. I'll be sure to check it out, especially since TCM will likely have a better copy than the eyesore public domain copy I saw of it. Odd what films fall through the cracks when the studios forget to renew the copyright.

    Love the story of the reaction of the PBS marathon host.

  11. Lovely selection for the month! This and WEE WILLIE WINKIE are tied for my favorite Shirley Temple movie.

  12. Kevin, it's such a disappointment to find a cherished title to watch and then have a crumby copy.

    I miss my PBS movie marathons.

    Rick, the best of Shirley's movies are really tops. "Wee Willie Winkie" has that scene (you know the one) where the tears will not be denied.

  13. I do remember seeing this movie many years ago, C.W. And yes, I cried. I always remember movies that make me cry.

    Shirley Temple was such a cutie pie and talented too. That scene when she meets the queen....And I love that her father turns out to be alive.

    A box of tissues is right. :)

  14. Even the hubby got slightly verklempt when he caught bits of the movie this morning!

  15. Caftan Woman, it's no secret that I tend to prefer suspense and film noir to sentimental kind of flicks - but I happened to come across A LITTLE PRINCESS on TCM last week while doing chores and goshdarnit, I was drawn in and teary-eyed in spite of myself! Ooh, how I wished I could hurl myself into the movie and repeatedly kick Miss Minchin where the sun don't shine! Shirley Temple and Company were terrific, and so is your wonderful post, C.W.! Here's to a truly Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ

  16. Dorian, that movie works its spell like a witch!

    I hope you and yours had a marvelous Thanksgiving. Around these parts it's time to start counting down to the Doctor Who Christmas Special!

  17. Same to you, C.W.! As Vinnie and I have surely mentioned elsewhere, DOCTOR WHO and the DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL are always welcomed warmly here at Team Bartilucci HQ :-) Hugs and glad tidings to you and yours from all of us here at Team B. HQ!



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