CAPTAIN JANUARY, one of a quartet of Shirley Temple movies from 1936, still carries a considerable charm factor an eon down the road, thanks to a cinch-the-sympathy story and the talents of its 7-year-old star and her supporting players. Stow your grumpiness, ‘cuz “I can do everything. I can sing and I can dance and I can read a ship’s compass!”
‘Star’ (Temple), an orphan rescued at sea by lighthouse keeper ‘Captain January’ (Guy Kibbee) is perfectly happy staying with him at his lighthouse, and being the pet of his friends like ‘Capt. Nazro’ (Slim Summerville) and ‘fisherman ‘Paul Roberts’ (Buddy Ebsen). But ‘Agatha Morgan’ (Sara Haden), a mean-spirited truant officer looks to have the law on her side to take the little girl away to “a proper home”.
Laura E. Richard’s children’s book written in 1890, previously filmed as a silent in 1924, was given the screenplay treatment by Sam Helman, Gladys Lehman and Harry Tugend. David Butler directed–he held the reins on five Temple pix. Just the right blend of humor and pathos for fans of the moppet, with expected singing and dancing tossed in to showcase her repertoire of skills. Kibbee and Summerville spar with one another over who likes Star best, all in good fun. Haden makes a properly hissable villain. Highlights include “At The Codfish Ball”, a dandy sing & dance number Shirley shares with the rubber-jointed Ebsen, and a scene where she dances down a 45-foot long spiral staircase, reciting the multiplication tables on the way. From “Child Star”, her autobio: “There were three things to do at once: the taps, move down the spiral staircase a step at a time, and synchronize the multiplication tables with both taps and movements.”
With June Lang and Jane Darwell. Running 77 Temple’d minutes that grossed $4,300,000, 26th place for the year. *
* Notably un-charmed, British novelist/critic Graham Greene called it “a little depraved, with an appeal interestingly decadent…some of her popularity seems to rest on a coquetry quite as mature as Miss Colbert’s, and on an oddly precocious body, as voluptuous in grey flannel trousers as Miss Dietrich’s.” Must have been a shortage of psychiatrists in London in 1936. A year later, Greene’s review of Temple’s Wee Willie Winkie took his deranged “it really means this” goop even farther, provoking her parents and 20th Century Fox to sue for libel. The bestirred Mr. Greene manfully fled to Mexico. They won the suit. Presumably, Greene didn’t see (or maybe he couldn’t resist?) Temples other entries from ’36— Dimples, Stowaway, and Poor Little Rich Girl.
“…and I can read a ship’s compass!”