The Little Princess (1939) starring Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher, Mary Nash, Sybil Jason directed by Walter Lang Movie Review

The Little Princess (1939)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe in The Little Princess

A Princess in the Temple

Watching Shirley Temple in "The Little Princess" some 70+ years since it was released it feels wrong to criticise it but by today's standard "The Little Princess" feels all a bit cheesy and sugar coated. But even if it does feel a little bit too saccharine filled it is also surprisingly charming as well as entertaining much of which is to do with Shirley Temple not only being as cute as a button but delivering a thoroughly decent performance. Sadly the decent performances don't include some of the supporting cast and the storyline ends up feeling a little too absurd but it does what it intends to do and that is entertain in a whimsical sort of way.

Having only just returned to Britain from India, Captain Crewe (Ian Hunter) is sent to fight in the Boer War and places his young daughter Sara (Shirley Temple - Fort Apache) in a Seminary run by Miss Minchin (Mary Nash). Thanks to her father's wealth young Sara gets preferential treatment and makes all sorts of friends at her new home that is until reports that her father has died return and what's worse he died penniless. With no more money, Miss Minchin allows Sara to stay at the school but only as a cleaner. Despite the hardship Sara never gives up on the hope that her father is still alive and will return so she visits the hospital everyday in the hope he will have come home with the wounded.

Anita Louise and Shirley Temple in The Little Princess

"The Little Princess" is one of many movies which have been adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett novel and whilst I have seen the 1995 version of "The Little Princess" I haven't seen them all. Despite this I have a feeling that this 1939 version is one of the better ones or at least one of the more entertaining versions. The actual storyline is not that complex and basically takes us on a journey from rich to being poor as we watch young Sara Crewe deal with being put into a Seminary whilst her father goes off to war. The story takes in an almost social element as we watch how Sara gets privileged treatment as her father is rich but when reports come back of his death leaving Sara penniless she is treated like dirt or at least sort of in a nice-ish way. But in reality that is a small part as we basically watch Sara make friends, help romance to blossom and never giving up on her father returning even though she has been told he is dead.

It is a rather sweet storyline with plenty of fun scenes where we watch Sara basically have a good time at the Seminary. And to be honest whilst all very sweet is also rather charming but unfortunately as "The Little Princess" reaches it's expected happy ever after ending it all feels a bit absurd. I won't go into detail but let's just say a royal intervention as well as an over the top dream sequence just ends up making "The Little Princess" too corny. It probably was quite enjoyable back in the late 30s when "The Little Princess" was released but watching it now it almost borders on the painful and laughable.

As for the acting well the various supporting performances from the likes of Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher and Mary Nash are all solid and entertaining although Sybil Jason as Becky the poor cleaner with her "cor blimey governor" accent would make Dick Van Dyke sound like a cockney. But "The Little Princess" is very much about Shirley Temple and she does a very good job. I'm no expert on the young career of Shirley Temple but watching her deliver various emotions, reciting passages of dialogue or sing and dance is wonderful to watch. There is a naturalness to her performance and it almost feels adult like in the control she exhibits especially in the touching scene where she has to say goodbye to her father before he heads off to war.

What this all boils down to is that although at times "The Little Princess" ends up feeling a little too sweet and veers towards the corny it is also charming and entertaining. The reason why it ends up so entertaining is down to Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe and whilst she delivers the childlike cuteness you would expect she also delivers a performance of an adult, exhibiting stunning control of emotion to make for some heart breaking scenes whilst also showing what a great performer she was.