HEIDI wasn’t a huge hit for Shirley Temple in 1937–44th place, with her other drama that year, Wee Willie Winkie, placing 13th. But a $4,000,000 gross was still a good run for the pint-sized heroine, battling the Depression one smile, skip and song at a time. Years of TV showings later locked it in as essential kiddie time, a sentimental memory maker prefigured since Johanna Spyri’s classic 1880 book racked at least 50,000,000 copies.
Cheerful Swiss orphan ‘Adelheid’, nicked ‘Heidi’ (Temple, 9) has a mean aunt who crassly dumps her in the care of the child’s hermit grandpa ‘Adolph’ (Jean Hersholt), living in an Alpine cabin, isolated from the townfolk he rejected. Hearts melt, but then Heidi’s idyllic mountainside life gets topsy-turned again, when the aunt steals her back, selling her to a well-off family in the city of Frankfurt. Heidi’s meant to be a companion to the family’s invalid daughter, but another witch of a grownup has her own scheme and kindness isn’t part of it. Grandpa!
Directed by Allan Dwan, the adaptation by Julien Josephson and Walter Ferris rearranges Spyri’s stories to streamline them into 88 minutes of running time and form-fit for Temple’s talents. Jean Hersholt makes a suitably intimidating grump—his wild mane of hair looks like an Old Testament loon—with a heart of mush, and Shirley has to suffer two venomous fakes in ‘Aunt Dete’ (Mady Christians) and the perfectly named ‘Fräulein Rottenmeier’ (Mary Nash), both of whom would be more at home in the Germany of the 1930s rather the storybook version.
Marcia Mae Jones as ‘Klara’ is a weak link; so sweet/pitiful she could gag a fawn, but Arthur Treacher has some pronunciation fun as a imperious butler. The high-speed (and fast film) sleigh chase is pretty daffy. Dorky music is kept to a minimum (a dream sequence number with wooden shoes is added for the heck of it), and the pathos element mixed with humor—a sweet kid vs. rotten adults, fear of separation, cute livestock, slapstick pratfalls—captivates children, as intended.
With Sidney Blackmer, Thomas Beck, Demar Eatson (“Peter the goat general’), Sig Rumann.
FDR’s secret weapon