Shirley Temple in The Littlest Rebel (1935)




(director: David Butler; screenwriters: from the play by Edward Peple/Edwin J. Burke/Harry Tugend; cinematographer: John F. Seitz; editor: Irene Morra; music: Sidney Clare/Cyril J. Mockridge; cast: Shirley Temple (Virginia Cary), John Boles (Capt. Herbert Cary), Jack Holt (Col. Morrison, Yankee), Karen Morley (Mrs. Cary), Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (Uncle Billy), Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Sgt. Dudley), Willie Best (James Henry), Frank McGlynn Sr. (President Abraham Lincoln); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Buddy G. DeSylva; Fox Video; 1935)

“An unenlightened Civil War pic that is all charm and winsome despite its patronizing racial attitudes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unenlightened Civil War pic that is all charm and winsome despite its patronizing racial attitudes. It’s based on the archaic play by Edward Peple and directed by David Butler. It makes for goofy entertainment as the precocious Shirley Temple, never cuter or more marketable, partners with the elderly slave played by Bill Robinson in a sentimental look at life on the plantation for the nice white folk masters and the happy-go-lucky Negro slaves. When Shirley sings such songs as “Polly-wolly Doodle All the Day” and Bojangles tap dances, the film comes to life and you can forget for a moment how ridiculous is its story.

It opens at a children’s birthday party for the six-year-old Virgie Cary (Shirley Temple) on her family’s Virginia plantation that’s disrupted by the start of the Civil War. Her father Herbert Cary (John Boles) goes to war as a Confederate captain. Virgie asks her house slave, Uncle Billy (Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson), about the meaning of the war and he gives an Uncle Tom response that he doesn’t know what it means but he heard it said by white folks that a man up North wants to free the slaves.

The war finds the South losing and their land captured by the Yankees. Virgie’s mom (Karen Morley) takes sick and Captain Boles visits at great personal risk. Mrs. Boles dies and Captain Boles gets captured, but a sympathetic Colonel Morrison (Jack Holt) lets him escape back to his unit if he promises not to tell about the Union positions. But Captain Boles is captured when a Union soldier recognizes Virgie and he’s taken to a prison-of-war camp and set to be executed, but Virgie and Uncle Billy visit the White House and have an audience with President Lincoln. Virgie shares an apple with President Lincoln and tugs on the Prez’s beard when sitting on his lap, and he cancels the execution order and everything is again as white as rice.

Still worth seeing for the wonderful chemistry between Shirley and Bojangles as an ideal couple (almost as endearing as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), with the black man as protector of the spunky little white rebel.