When I came across the Made in 1938 blogathon last November, it sounded like something I would want to participate in. As I was searching the internet for films with 1938 release dates, I discovered that Shirley Temple starred in three movies within that year: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner. Because a goal of mine is to watch every single Shirley Temple film ever made, I figured that talking about these three films for this blogathon would be a good way to take one step closer to my goal. Prior to seeing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner, I had seen some of Shirley’s other films. This means that I had an idea of the components that would make up these three films. So, in this post, I will be exploring and analyzing these six components that are usually found in a “Shirley Temple movie”. Now, when I say “Shirley Temple movie”, I mean the films where Shirley starred in the movie as a child actress. However, when it comes to Shirley’s movies, I will only be discussing the three films that were released in 1938. So, now that I’ve finished these necessary introductions, let’s answer this question of what makes these films a “Shirley Temple movie”.
Shirley Temple’s involvement in the film
When I watched Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner, I wanted to see whether Shirley was given legitimate roles to portray or if the film was treated as a way to, simply, include Shirley in the movie just for the sake of having Shirley star in the film. In these three films, Shirley’s roles seemed like they were well-written characters, each given their own characteristics. There are some similarities that these characters had, such as being, to a certain extent, independent. Each character; Rebecca, Penny, and Betsy, were either an orphan or had at least one parental figure in her life. Because of the specific conflict each of these characters face, they all find a way to solve their particular problem. One example of this is in Little Miss Broadway. When her family’s hotel is in danger of closing for good, Betsy becomes friends with the nephew of the hotel’s landlord and helps him put on a show in order to save the hotel and help the residents keep their home. These characters also have their differences as well, such as how they solve their problems. In Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Rebecca is forced to perform in a radio commercial for her greedy and selfish step-father. In order to get out of her living and working situation, Rebecca pretends to lose her voice, tricking her step-father into thinking that she is no longer employable for radio entertainment. Rebecca came up with this plan all by herself compared to how Betsy from Little Miss Broadway and Penny from Just Around the Corner resolve their conflicts.
After watching these films, I think the best role that Shirley portrayed was Betsy in Little Miss Broadway. Because the film centered around performers living in a hotel, this role highlighted both the acting and performing talents that Shirley had to offer within the movie. It made it feel like this role was created just for Shirley, while also complimenting the talents of the other actors and performers in the film. While I liked Shirley’s portrayal of Rebecca in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, I felt like the creative team behind this movie put a little too much emphasis that Shirley was cast in their film. At one point in the film, Shirley says that she used to have curls all over her head, possibly referencing her earlier roles, such as her role in Curly Top. Shirley also mentions the songs “Animals Crackers in My Soup” and “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, not only referencing Shirley’s previous movies, but making it feel like the movie’s creative team assumed that the audience had seen Shirley’s other movies prior to watching Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I also liked Shirley’s portrayal of Penny from Just Around the Corner. But, as I’ll explain later in this post, she wasn’t given many opportunities to perform as a singer and dancer within the context of the film.
The Cast Surrounding Shirley
For this component, I wanted to see if the cast surrounding Shirley were also given legitimate roles to portray or if these actors’ involvement in the film were just seen as everyone being Shirley Temple’s extras. When I reflect on Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner, I can honestly say that the cast surrounding Shirley were also given characters that were well-written. What I liked about these three movies is that the characters seemed so unique and interesting from one another. One of these characters is Samuel Henshaw from Just Around the Corner. While Samuel, at times, comes across as a grumpy individual, it seems like he has a sense of goodness to him, caring equally about his career and his family. This character is very different from Pop Shea from Little Miss Broadway, for example. While both characters appear to be around the same age, their personalities are very different, helping to give a sense of variety among the characters within these three films. Another thing I liked seeing was the variety of talents that was shown within each film. Bill Robinson’s involvement in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Just Around the Corner is a good example of this. Not only is Bill a good actor, but he’s also a good dancer. When it comes to the acting within each film, I think that everyone did a good job with the acting material they were given.
While looking at each story from each film, I wanted to find out how much they relied on Shirley’s involvement in the film. Before I reveal my assessment, let me share a brief synopsis for each film. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is about a radio executive and his assistant searching for the perfect candidate to perform in their radio commercial. Just Around the Corner is about a young girl who tries to help her father find employment and Little Miss Broadway is about a hotel owner trying to save his hotel as well as the home of several performers. While all of these stories do, to a certain extent, depend on Shirley’s involvement, these stories can stand on their own. If you take away the fact that this is a “Shirley Temple movie”, these stories could work with other actors and different characters. An example of this is Just Around the Corner. If this movie were not a musical, I could see almost any child actor being cast in the role of Penny. Other than the musical numbers, it doesn’t really seem like Shirley’s involvement is essential to the story overall. This is the same for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. You could either have almost any child actor or any singer in the lead role and it really wouldn’t make much of a difference.
Out of these three stories, I liked the plot from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm the most. Not only was the conflict within the plot interesting, but the “behind-the-scenes” aspect of radio entertainment was, to me, fascinating. This part of the film reminded me of two Hallmark movies that I really like: This Magic Moment and Cooking with Love. Because of this, it made me enjoy Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm even more. I liked the story from Little Miss Broadway. But, after the primary conflict is resolved, it feels like other conflicts were invented in the story just to keep the movie going. This made the movie feel a little bit tedious. The story for Just Around the Corner was fine. But, because of the limited amount of musical numbers, it made the story feel drawn out and a little bit longer than intended. Despite the flaws that these stories may have, all of these stories were well-written.
The Messages and Themes
Like most family-friendly films, Shirley Temple’s movies have no shortage of messages and themes that can be found within the film’s narrative. For the most part, these messages and themes are relatable and can be shared with audiences of all ages. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner contain more than one message/theme. In Just Around the Corner, the story is very reflective of the time period that the film was released in. Because the movie premiered in 1938, messages and themes relating to The Great Depression can be found within the film’s plot. Financial prejudice, social class, and maintaining a positive attitude no matter what the circumstance is are themes that I found within the movie. Even though Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Little Miss Broadway were also released in 1938, the messages and themes in these movies are relevant for both the late ‘30s and the late 2010s, focusing less on direct references to The Great Depression. In Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the two biggest messages that I could find was how success can be found almost anywhere and how important it is to surround yourself with people that truly have your best interests in mind. As a movie blogger, I can relate to the first aforementioned message. Movie bloggers come from all over the world, with several movie bloggers finding huge success. This particular message has definitely stood the test of time. Little Miss Broadway’s two biggest themes in its story were how far kindness can go and getting to know someone before you judge them.
When I watched Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner, I also noticed that some of the songs within these movies contained important messages and themes. The song, “I Love to Walk in the Rain” from Just Around the Corner re-emphasizes the theme of having a positive attitude in almost any situation. Other examples include “How Can I Thank You?” from Little Miss Broadway promoting the idea of taking time to express gratitude to those around you and “Come and Get Your Happiness” from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm stressing the idea of trying to find happiness wherever you are. Sometimes, these songs were sung more than once, as if the creative team behind these movies wanted to remind their audience of the importance of these messages and themes. For example, in Little Miss Broadway, the song “How Can I Thank You” is sung by Shirley more than once. As I’ve already mentioned, this song focused on promoting sharing gratitude with the people around you. Overall, the messages and themes that are found within these three films add a layer of depth to each story and make the movies feel like time was well spent.
The Musical Numbers
No Shirley Temple movie would be complete without at least one musical number. All three of these movies had their fair share of singing and dancing. However, it’s important to compare the big musical number from each film to see if they effectively represent their respective film. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Miss Broadway, and Just Around the Corner each had a large musical number that was featured toward the end of their film. These musical numbers equally incorporated singing and dancing into the production. Since I’ve already talked about the song “I Love to Walk in the Rain”, I’ll talk about the musical number from Just Around the Corner first. Toward the end of Just Around the Corner, Penny performs a musical number that reminds the movie’s audience about keeping a positive attitude in almost any situation. The way this theme is presented in this musical number is by showing how happy Penny is to be outside while it is raining. Out of these three films, “I Love to Walk in the Rain” is my favorite musical number. Not only does it stress a major theme from the movie in a creative and memorable way, but the actual musical number itself is very entertaining. All of the dancing is choreographed in such a way that it gives the audience the illusion that Shirley and Bill are actually talking a walk. The special effects that are showcased within this musical number are also very impressive. From the rain effect through the number to the props of moving birds, all of it came together to create a musical number that, I think, represents the film as a whole.
The other two musical numbers I will be talking about are “Little Miss Broadway” from Little Miss Broadway and “The Toy Trumpet” from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. In Little Miss Broadway, Betsy and Roger, the nephew of the hotel’s landlord, perform “Little Miss Broadway” in an attempt to prove to the judge that all of the performers residing in the hotel are worthy of hosting their own show on a regular basis. I liked this musical number quite of bit. The choreography was really good and the special effects of the New York City skyline made this musical number such a spectacle to watch. However, I felt that this musical number was only representative of its respective film to a certain extent. Yes, the musical number is reflective of how far optimism and kindness can go, as well as how happy and exciting Betsy’s new environment is to her. But, Broadway itself is never mentioned in the movie until that very musical number. Plus, the majority of the story takes place either in the hotel or in the landlord’s apartment. I also liked “The Toy Trumpet” from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. The choreography and the number itself reminded me of the toy soldier dance that the Rockettes perform during Christmas-time. But, when it comes to representing the movie as a whole, this musical number doesn’t really do that. If anything, “The Toy Trumpet” feels random when it’s placed within the context of the story. Toy soldiers are never mentioned in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the musical number does not incorporate any of the film’s themes or messages into the performance. Because Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm focuses a lot on radio entertainment, there is a greater number of performances that only involve singing. However, I just think that the big musical number within this film should have either been farm themed or showcased at least one of the film’s themes or messages.
The Overall Film
For this final category, I was curious as to how well these films held up 81 years later. Did any of these movies stand the test of time or are they just products of their time? I can only speak for myself, but I think Just Around the Corner, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Little Miss Broadway stood the test of time just fine. Because each film has a certain amount of simplicity to them and are relatable to a certain extent, these three movies can be enjoyed by many people. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is the film that I liked the most because of its interesting plot and creativity. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, the “behind-the-scenes” look at radio entertainment was something that added interest to the story for me. Also, I was glad to see the creativity that can be found within this film. A perfect example of this was the scene where Rebecca sings “An Old Straw Hat” on the farm. During this scene, Rebecca and Aloysius, the family’s farm hand, not only perform a short dance on the pathway, but they also pick berries to the tune of the song. I thought Little Miss Broadway was a decent film. However, as I’ve also mentioned, the story felt, at times, tedious because the conflict was resolved a little too early. To me, Just Around the Corner was just ok. The biggest issue that I had with this film was that it wasn’t as much of a musical as I had expected. Just Around the Corner only had three musical scenes, one toward the beginning of the film and two toward the end of the film. For the rest of the movie, this limited number of musical scenes/numbers causes the story to feel drawn out and longer than intended. If these movies had received a traditional review on my blog, the scores they would receive are a 7.7 (for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), a 7.1 (for Little Miss Broadway), and a 6.2 (for Just Around the Corner).
Have fun at the movies!