(director: John Ford; screenwriter: from a story by Rudyard Kipling/Julien Josephson; cinematographer: Arthur C. Miller; editor: Walter Thompson; music: Alfred Newman/Louis Silvers; cast: Shirley Temple (Priscilla Williams/Wee Willie Winkie), Victor McLaglen (Sergeant MacDuff), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel Williams), June Lang (Joyce Williams), Michael Whalen (Coppy, Lieut. Brandes), Cesar Romero (Khoda Khan), Douglas Scott (Mott), Lauri Beatty (Miss Elsie Allardyce), Constance Collier (Mrs. Allardyce); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gene Markey/Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox ; 1937)

“First-rate family adventure tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Ford (“The Informer”/”The Lost Patrol”/”The Hurricane”) helms this first-rate family adventure tale loosely based on a story by Rudyard Kipling and written by Julien Josephson. It’s a typical Shirley Temple vehicle, that follows the winning Shirley formula for the 1930’s biggest female box office draw.

In 1897, in Northern India, the impoverished American widow Joyce Williams (June Lang) and her precocious little daughter Priscilla (Shirley Temple) seek shelter with her husband’s father, the gruff British Colonel Williams (C. Aubrey Smith), who commands a Scottish Highland regiment in a volatile fort in the frontier that is threatened by insurrection by Muslim leader Khoda Khan (Cesar Romero). Joyce and her daughter have never met the colonel before, but Priscilla acts sweet as she tries to melt the colonel’s heart. The old man, nicknamed Old Boots, is all soldier and feels awkward around women and children.

When Khoda Khan is imprisoned, Priscilla brings him his lucky talisman he lost at the train station when arrested and becomes his friend for life. Priscilla aims to further please gramps by training as a soldier under the kindly Sergeant MacDuff (Victor McLaglen). The little girl also befriends Lt. Branders (Michael Whalen), whom she nicknames Coppy because of his shiny black hair. Coppy soon nicknames her Wee Willie Winkie, as she becomes the mascot of the post.

Coppy deserts his post to take Joyce to a dance, and Khoda Khan’s men raid the fort and free their leader. There’s further bloodshed, until Priscilla runs off to meet with Khoda Khan at the Khyber Pass and bring about a peace treaty preventing a full-scale war. It optimistically puts a lot of faith that both sides are men of good will who want peace, as the climax is unrealistic. It marks the beginning of Temple’s shift towards more substantial material and a steady downward spiral in popularity.

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