Shirley Temple and Lionel Barrymore in The Little Colonel (1935)


(director: David Butler; screenwriters: from the book The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston/William Conselman; cinematographer: Arthur C. Miller; editor: Irene Morra; music: Thomas Moore; cast: Shirley Temple (Lloyd Sherman, the Little Colonel), Evelyn Venable (Elizabeth Lloyd Sherman), Lionel Barrymore (Colonel Lloyd), Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (Walker the butler), John Lodge (Jack Sherman), Sidney Blackmer (Swazey), Hattie McDaniel (Mom Beck), Alden Chase (Hull); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Buddy G. DeSylva; 20th Century Fox; 1935)
“Who could forget “Bojangles” step dance on the stairs with Shirley?”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shirley Temple, America’s favorite sweetheart, plays The Little Colonel in her first big-budget costume picture. It is based on the book by Annie Fellows Johnston and directed by David Butler. The family drama is about healing old wounds, as a precocious little girl struggles with her temper and manages to reunite her feuding mother and her grandfather.

The story begins in Kentucky in 1870, when dye-in-the-wool Southerner Colonel Lloyd (Lionel Barrymore), a former Confederate colonel during the Civil War, disowns his daughter Elizabeth (Evelyn Venable) for marrying Yankee Jack Sherman (John Lodge). After several years pass Elizabeth returns to her hometown with her husband and young daughter Lloyd Sherman (Shirley Temple), who was nicknamed “the little colonel” at a Western outpost when she was six. The couple have fallen on hard times and have moved into a cottage near grandfather’ place that Elizabeth owns. When grandpa visits to see who is living in the cottage Lloyd gives him flowers she picked, but he discards them out of anger and she reacts angrily by throwing mud at him.

Temple befriends her crusty grandpa and proves that she’s a chip off the old block, as she mirrors the old codger’s belligerent and stubborn nature. At first her efforts to gain his trust seem futile but when Jack is swindled out of his property by the sleazy villains Swazey (Sidney Blackmer) and Hull (Alden Chase), the Colonel races to the rescue with the “little colonel” leading the charge.

The b/w film was restored in the mid-1980s and added a brief Technicolor finale which was previously missing.

Who could forget “Bojangles” step dance on the stairs with Shirley? It was an unforgettable moment in cinema. The highly entertaining film is perhaps Shirley’s best and remains an American classic. It should also be noted that there was racism in the film, a product of the times and a reminder of how far we have come in trying to heal those old wounds.