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CAPTAIN JANUARY (director: David Butler; screenwriters: novel by Laura Richards/Sam Hellman/Gladys Lehman; cinematographer: John Seitz; editor: Irene Morra; music: Cyril J. Mockridge; cast: Shirley Temple (Star), Guy Kibbee (Captain January), Slim Summerville (Captain Nazro), Buddy Ebsen (Paul Roberts), Sara Haden (Agatha Morgan, Truant Officer), June Lang (Mary Marshall, Teacher), George Irving (John Mason), Jerry Tucker (Mr. Cyril Morgan), Nella Walker (Mrs. Morgan), Jane Darwell (Eliza Croft), James Farley (Deputy Sheriff); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: B.G. De Sylva; 20th Century Fox; 1936)
A feel-good hokum musical-comedy cashing in on the popularity of cinema’s wonder-child, Miss Curly Top, Shirley Temple.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A feel-good hokum musical-comedy cashing in on the popularity of cinema’s wonder-child, Miss Curly Top, Shirley Temple. It’s based on the 1890 novel by Laura Elizabeth Richards, and is slightly updated by writers Sam Hellman and Gladys Lehman. David Butler (“The Story of Seabiscuit”/”Calamity Jane”/”Where’s Charley?”) is workmanlike in his directing. It was filmed before as a vehicle for Baby Peggy Montgomery in 1922,

An unnamed cheerful six-year-old who passes for an eight-year-old orphan (Shirley Temple) of divorced parents (both drowned in the voyage) is rescued as a baby from a shipwreck by the lovable but crusty Captain January (Guy Kibbee), keeper of the Cape Tempest, Maine, lighthouse, and he names her Star and plans on raising her. When truant officer Agatha Morgan (Sara Haden) finds that the Captain is not providing Star with suitable surroundings or a proper education, she orders the sobbing Star to a state-run boarding school. Distant relatives from Boston, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan (George Irving and Nella Walker), emerge when school teacher Mary Marshall (June Lang) sends them a telegram about the plight of their niece on the urgings of the Captain’s pal Nazro (Slim Summerville). He fears the lighthouse will be modernized and the Captain fired, so he tells the caring teacher the names of Star’s relatives–which was found in a scrapbook when the child was rescued. Mr. Morgan, the American consul of Morocco, generously offers the little girl a proper home. But Star, though happy with all her toys and comforts, still yearns for the lively company of Captain January and his colorful sailor friends, the unemployed dance happy Paul Roberts (Buddy Ebsen) and the tattooed cribbage-playing government inspector Captain Nazro.

The good-natured Masons take Star on a trip on their boat, where she joyously finds that they have hired Captain January as the captain, Nazro as first mate and Paul as a crew member. Now that he has a job, Paul plans on marrying his sweetheart Mary. But Cap is a bit put off to learn that the Widow Croft (Jane Darwell), the one he has avoided marrying all these years, is the ship’s cook. It ends on a cornball note, with everyone singing happily along with Star–with the implication all Star’s loved ones will be with her forever, as if frozen in time.

It’s a standard Shirley Temple big box office vehicle with a special appeal to those who cherish formulaic sentimental films with requisite happy endings and lighthearted breezy musical numbers (the talented Shirley dances and sings such tunes as “The Right Somebody to Love” and “Early Bird”).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”