Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Ian Hunter, Anita Louise, Beryl Mercer, and Arthur Treacher in The Little Princess (1939)


(director: Walter Lang; screenwriters: Ethel Hill/Walter Ferris/based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett; cinematographers: Arthur Miller/William Skall; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Walter Bullock/Samuel Pokrass; cast: Shirley Temple (Sara Crewe), Richard Greene (Geoffrey Hamilton), Anita Louise (Miss Rose), Ian Hunter (Captain Crewe), Cesar Romero (Ram Dass), Arthur Treacher (Bertie Minchin), Mary Nash (Amanda Minchin), Sybil Jason (Becky), Marcia Mae Jones (Lavinia), Beryl Mercer (Queen Victoria), Miles Mander (Lord Wickham); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; 20th Century Fox; 1939)

“Irresistible Shirley Temple showcase vehicle.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irresistible Shirley Temple showcase vehicle directed by Walter Lang (“The Blue Bird”/DeskSet”/”The King and I”). It was Shirley’s first Technicolor picture. Writers Ethel Hill and Walter Ferris base it on the 1888 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It offers the usual Shirley dream sequence (The Stolen Kiss) and the formulaic heartbreaking Shirley story with a happy ending, for cinema’s most popular female star of the 1930s. This turns out to be Shirley Temple’s last successful feature as a child star, as her natural sunny disposition was beginning to change and the public begin to react less positively to her fading charm school act.

In 1899, in London, the widower Captain Crewe (Ian Hunter) is called to service during the Boer War and mistakenly enrolls his little daughter Sara (Shirley Temple, 11 at the time) in a boarding school run by the heartless headmistress Amanda Minchin (Mary Nash). Because of her regal bearing and the way her loving father pampers her, the students dub her “The Little Princess.”

At the Victorian girls’ school Sara is befriended by Becky (Sybil Jason), the little skullery maid; her kindly teacher Miss Rose (Anita Louise); the riding instructor Geoffrey (Richard Greene), Miss Rose’s boyfriend; Ram Dass (Cesar Romero), the servant of Lord Wickham whose window faces Sara’s dorm room; and Amanda’s brother, a former showbiz performer, the acting teacher Bertie (Arthur Treacher).

On the day of Sara’s birthday party for the school, Captain Crewe has been reported killed in action and his diamond mine assets confiscated by the enemy in South Africa. Since this leaves him penniless and Amanda without payment, the meanie headmistress makes Sara pay off her father’s debt by servitude in the kitchen. Sara believes her father is still alive, and this belief pays off as she searches on her own the hospitals where the wounded soldiers are treated and with the aid of Queen Victoria discovers her wounded dad is alive.