The Littlest Rebel
|The Littlest Rebel|
|Directed by||David Butler|
|Produced by||Darryl Zanuck (producer)
Buddy G. DeSylva (associate producer)
Edwin J. Burke
|Cinematography||John F. Seitz|
|Editing by||Irene Morra|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release dates||November 22, 1935|
|Running time||70 minutes|
The Littlest Rebel is a 1935 American dramatic film directed by David Butler. The screenplay by Edwin J. Burke was adapted from a play of the same name by Edward Peple and focuses on the tribulations of a plantation-owning family during the American Civil War. The film stars John Boles, Karen Morley, and Shirley Temple as the plantation family and Bill Robinson as their slave with Jack Holt as a Union officer.
The film was well received, and, in tandem with the Temple vehicle Curly Top, was listed as one of the top box office draws of 1935 by Variety. The film was the second of four cinematic pairings of Temple and Robinson. In 2009, the film was available on videocassette and DVD in both black-and-white and computer-colorized versions.
The film opens in the ballroom of the Cary plantation on Virgie’s sixth birthday. Her slave Uncle Billy dances for her party guests, but the celebration is brought abruptly to an end when a messenger arrives with news of the assault on Fort Sumter and a declaration of war. Virgie’s father is ordered to the Armory with horse and side-arms. He becomes a scout for the Confederate Army, crossing enemy lines to gather information. On these expeditions, he sometimes briefly visits his family at their plantation behind Union lines.
One day, Colonel Morrison, a Union officer, arrives at the Cary plantation looking for Virgie‘s father. Virgie defies him, hitting him with a pebble from her slingshot and singing “Dixie”. After Morrison leaves, Cary arrives to visit his family but quickly departs when slaves warn of approaching Union troops. Led by the brutal Sgt. Dudley, the Union troops begin to loot the house. Colonel Morrison returns, puts an end to the plundering, and orders Dudley lashed. With this act, Morrison rises in Virgie’s esteem.
One stormy night, battle rages near the plantation. Virgie and her mother are forced to flee with Uncle Billy when their house is burned to the ground. Mrs. Cary falls gravely ill but finds refuge in a slave cabin. Her husband crosses enemy lines to be with his wife during her last moments. After his wife’s death, Cary makes plans to take Virgie to his sister in Richmond. When Colonel Morrison learns of the plan, he aids Cary by providing him with a Yankee uniform and a pass. The plan is foiled, and Cary and Morrison are sentenced to death.
The two are confined to a makeshift prison where Virgie and Uncle Billy visit them daily. A kindly Union officer urges Uncle Billy to appeal to President Lincoln for a pardon. Short on funds, Uncle Billy and Virgie sing and dance in public spaces and ‘pass the cap’. Once in Washington, they are ushered into Lincoln’s office where the President pardons Cary and Morrison after hearing Virgie’s story. The film ends with Virgie happily singing “Polly Wolly Doodle” to her father, Colonel Morrison and a group of soldiers.
- Shirley Temple as Virgie Cary, the six-year-old daughter of plantation owner Herbert Cary
- John Boles as Herbert Cary, a plantation owner, a Confederate officer, and Virgie’s father
- Jack Holt as Colonel Morrison, a Union officer
- Karen Morley as Mrs. Cary, Herbert’s wife and Virgie’s mother
- Guinn Williams as Sergeant Dudley, a brutal Union officer
- Frank McGlynn, Sr. as President Abraham Lincoln
- Bill Robinson as Uncle Billy, a Cary slave
- Willie Best as James Henry, a Cary slave
- Bessie Lyle as Mammy Rosabelle, a Cary slave
- Hannah Washington as Sally Ann, a Cary slave
Off-camera, Temple told associate producer Buddy DeSylva, “Of course the pardon has to be granted. We can’t make a heavy out of Lincoln.”
Both Boles and Robinson nearly drowned in an escape scene when a log they were riding down a river overturned under their combined weight. Boles swam to safety but Robinson was rendered unconscious in the accident and was rescued by a crew member.
Virgie’s party scene, its sudden end with the announcement of the assault on Fort Sumter, and her boredom with war possibly influenced Margaret Mitchell’s barbecue scene in Gone With the Wind. Although the main body of Mitchell’s novel was finished by early 1935, the opening was not completed until late in the year. Mitchell was a filmgoer, and Temple films were among her favorites.
Andre Sennwald in his New York Times review of December 20, 1935 wrote, “The film is shrewdly spiced with humor and there is a winning quality in the utter shamelessness of its sentimental phases.” He praised the performances of the principals, the dance routines, and the film‘s production values. He thought Temple “the most improbable child in the world” and that the film is “an eventful slice of meringue and quite the most palatable item in which the baby has appeared recently”.
Film commentator Hal Erickson of Allmovie wrote, "The stereotypical treatment of black characters in The Littlest Rebel is more offensive than usual, with 'happy darkies' nervously pondering the prospect of being freed from slavery and shivering in their boots when the Yankees arrive."
Bill Gibron, of the Online Film Critics Society, wrote: "The racism present in The Littlest Rebel, The Little Colonel and Dimples is enough to warrant a clear critical caveat." However Gibron, echoing most film critics who continue to see value in Temple's work despite the racism that is present in some of it, also wrote: "Thankfully, the talent at the center of these troubling takes is still worthwhile for some, anyway."
In 2009, the film as available on both videocassette and DVD in the original black-and-white version and a computer-colorized version of the original. Some versions included theatrical trailers and other special features.
- Windeler 1992, p. 161
- Edwards 1988, p. 85
- Edwards 1988, p. 86
- “Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson in 'The Littlest Rebel,' the Christmas Film at the Music Hall”
- Scott, A. O. "The Littlest Rebel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- "Little Girl Lost". PopMatters.com. 2006-05-19. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- Works cited
- Edwards, Anne (1988), Shirley Temple: American Princess, New York: William Morrow and Company
- Windeler, Robert (1992) , The Films of Shirley Temple, New York: A Citadel Press Book/Carol Publishing Group, ISBN 0-8065-0725-X
- 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.
- The Littlest Rebel at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Littlest Rebel at the TCM Movie Database