Bright Eyes (1934 film)

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Bright Eyes
Brighteyes.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by David Butler
Produced by Sol M. Wurtzel
Written by David Butler
Edwin Burke
Screenplay by William Conselman
Henry Johnson
Starring Shirley Temple
James Dunn
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Samuel Kaylin
Cinematography Arthur Miller
Distributed by Fox Film
Release dates
  • December 28, 1934 (1934-12-28)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$190,000[1]

Bright Eyes is a 1934 American comedy drama film directed by David Butler. The screenplay by William Conselman is based on a story by David Butler and Edwin Burke, and focuses on the relationship between bachelor aviator James "Loop" Merritt (James Dunn) and his orphaned godchild, Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple). Merritt becomes involved in a custody battle for her with a rich, elderly gentleman. The film featured one musical number, "On the Good Ship Lollipop".

Bright Eyes was the first film to be written and developed specifically for Temple,[2] and the first in which her name was raised above the title.[1] In February 1935, she received a special Academy Award for her 1934 contributions to film, particularly Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes. In 2009, the film was available on VHS and DVD in both black and white and colorized versions.

Plot[edit]

Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple) and her mother, Mary (Lois Wilson), a maid, live in the home of her employers, the rich and mean-spirited Smythe family, Anita (Dorothy Christy), J. Wellington (Theodore von Eltz), and Joy (Jane Withers). Shirley's aviator father died in an airplane crash before the film opens, and she now spends most of her time at the Glendale, California airport with her godfather, bachelor pilot James "Loop" Merritt (James Dunn), and his dog, Rags.[note 1] After Christmas morning she gets taken to the airport which she goes in a plane. It leaves and then she sings the musical number On the Good Ship Lollipop

When Mary is killed in a traffic accident, the Smythes make plans to send Shirley to an orphanage. When Loop hears about this he takes her up to Heaven for a short amount of time. She learns that her mother died, despite hearing this she starts crying and they go back down to earth. However, Uncle Ned (Charles Sellon), the cranky, wheelchair-bound patriarch of the Smythes, is fond of little "Bright Eyes" (as he calls her) and insists that she remain in the house. His relatives grudgingly comply with his wishes, although they make her feel unwelcome. A custody battle for her ensues between Loop and Uncle Ned. The impasse is resolved when Loop, his fiancée, Adele (Judith Allen), Uncle Ned, and Shirley all decide to live together.

Cast[edit]

  • Shirley Temple as Shirley Blake, the five-year-old daughter of Mary Blake
  • James Dunn as James "Loop" Merritt, a bachelor pilot and Shirley’s godfather
  • Lois Wilson as Mary Blake, a widow, Shirley’s mother, and a maid in the Smythe family's home
  • Judith Allen as Adele Martin, a socialite, Loop’s estranged sweetheart, and eventually his fiancée and Shirley's godmother
  • Charles Sellon as Uncle Ned Smith, the Smythes' cranky patriarch
  • Theodor von Eltz as J. Wellington Smythe, a haughty nouveau-riche
  • Dorothy Christy as Anita Smythe, J. Wellington Smythe’s wife
  • Jane Withers as Joy Smythe, J. Wellington and Anita Smythe's spoiled and obnoxious daughter
  • Brandon Hurst as Higgins, the Smythes' butler
  • Jane Darwell as Elizabeth Higgins, the Smythes' cook
  • Walter Johnson as Thomas, the Smythes' chauffeur
  • George Irving as Judge Thompson
  • Terry the dog as Rags, Loop's dog

Production[edit]

American Airlines and the Douglas Aircraft Company, recognizing the potential of the film in advertising air travel, cooperated in the production and distribution. They provided a DC-2 aircraft for the exterior shots while a true to scale mock up was provided for the interior scenes. In the famous Good Ship Lollipop scene, members of the University of Southern California football team served as extras. In the second flying scene where Temple's character sneaks aboard the plane and they were forced to bail out of it, both Temple and Dunn were strapped into a harness hoisted up into the studio rafters. They were supposed to drift down with the aid of a wind machine. In the first take, someone inadvertently opened an airproof door just as they landed, creating a vacuum that sucked out the parachute and dragged them both across the studio floor. This movie would also be the first movie in which Mary Lou Isleib would serve as a stand-in for Temple. She would remain as Temple's stand-in for the rest of her tenure at 20th Century Fox.[3]

When Temple’s mother, Gertrude, read the script, she tried to persuade Fox Film production head Winfield Sheehan to trim the role of Joy Smythe, a rich, mean, snobbish child and the complete opposite of Shirley’s winsome, lovable character. He, however, would not do so, believing the contrast between the two girls would enhance audience sympathy for Temple’s character.[4]

Thirty girls auditioned for the role of Joy with the part being given to eight-year-old Jane Withers, an experienced stage performer but a relative newcomer to films. Gertrude Temple hovered ever closer to Shirley as filming began and ordered Withers to wash her hands before performing in any scene with her daughter. Director Butler later told Withers, "You stole the picture".[4] In a 2006 interview on TCM's Private Screenings, Withers recalled that she was hesitant to take the role because she had to be so "mean" to Temple and the public would hate her for it.

Release[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Andre Sennwald in his December 21, 1934 New York Times review praised Dunn, Wilson, and Withers. Sellon was singled out for his "great humorous skill" in portraying crotchety Uncle Ned. Sennwald thought the film was at its best during Temple’s delivery of the Lollipop song and at its worst in the scenes involving the villainous Smythes, who, for him, were so over-the-top as to be unrecognizable as human beings. He decided the film was composed of "old standbys of the hearts-and-flowers drama", and noted that, “Shirley romps through all her assignments with such persuasive charm and enkindling naturalness that she succeeds in being refreshing even in her most painfully arranged scenes."[5]

Film commentator Hal Erickson writes the film is "arguably the best of Shirley Temple's 1930s vehicles", and thinks Jane Withers "terrific" as the film’s villainess. He notes that some critics believed Withers stole the show, and it was this "as much as anything else, that earned Withers her own starring series at 20th Century-Fox".[6]

Awards[edit]

Temple received a miniature Oscar on February 27, 1935 for her contributions to film entertainment in 1934, chiefly for Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes. She was the first child actor to receive an Academy Award.[7][8]

Home media[edit]

The original black and white film and a colorized version were available on both videocassette and DVD in 2008.[9] Some versions included theatrical trailers and other special features.

Soundtrack[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Rags is played by Terry, a female Cairn Terrier, who, in 1939, would portray Toto in MGM's The Wizard of Oz.
Footnotes
  1. ^ a b Windeler 1992, p. 26
  2. ^ Edwards 1988, p. 67
  3. ^ Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 66-71.
  4. ^ a b Edwards 1988, p. 68
  5. ^ The Radio City Music Hall Presents Its Christmas Show, 'Bright Eyes,' with Shirley Temple, The New York Times, 1934-12-21, retrieved 2009-10-08 [dead link]
  6. ^ Sennwald, Andre. "Bright Eyes (1934): Review Summary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  7. ^ Edwards 1988, p. 80
  8. ^ Windeler 1992, p. 27
  9. ^ Maltin 2008, p. 180
Works cited
  • Edwards, Anne (1988), Shirley Temple: American Princess, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 
  • Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2007), Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide, New York: Signet, ISBN 978-0-451-22186-5 
  • Windeler, Robert (1992), The Films of Shirley Temple, New York: Carol Publishing Group, ISBN 0-8065-0725-X 
Bibliography
  • Basinger, Jeanine (1993), A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, pp. 262ff  The author expounds upon father figures in Temple films.
  • Thomson, Rosemarie Garland (ed.) (1996), Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, New York: New York University Press, pp. 185–203, ISBN 0-8147-8217-5  In the essay, "Cuteness and Commodity Aesthetics: Tom Thumb and Shirley Temple", author Lori Merish examines the cult of cuteness in America.
  • Wojcik-Andrews, Ian (2000), Children's films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 134–141, ISBN 0-8153-3074-X  The author presents an examination of social class in Bright Eyes.

External links[edit]