A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1935 – The Little Colonel
Now, I had some doubts about actually going through with this, since this is also the year of Becky Sharp, the first full, three-strip Technicolor feature, but since I already talked about color with Toll of the Sea, I felt better about sticking with this.
Becky Sharp is important for talking about color, and important for cinema because of that, but this film is also just as important, because of how it speaks to a larger trend and a general sense of what was going on in Hollywood at this time. And since, like I said, I already talked about Technicolor, I wanted to talk about something different.
I actually originally had another film penciled in for 1935, but I’ll explain that when I get to 1936. But even so, I ended on this, and felt it was eventually the right choice, given what the list has become and what my original plans were for it. And now I feel a lot better about it, now that we’re here.
And I have an intro for this article because of it. So there’s that.
After some last minute switching happened, I had a spot for 1935 open. And I did have a chance to go with Becky Sharp, and talk about three-strip Technicolor and the advent of movie color as we know it. But I decided against it. I talked about tinting and toning, and I talked about two-strip Technicolor. I didn’t need the third one. It’s cool. We got it on this list. So instead, I went to the second biggest thing to happen in movies in 1935 – Shirley Temple.
Shirley Temple was, no joke, the biggest thing in the country for a couple of years. This is in the height of the Depression. And even the president said, “It’s nice that we can all go to the movies and watch a little girl and become happy for a little while.” She was a big deal. So, when I was looking with what to fill in for this year, she became the easy choice. Because she was actually the biggest thing in Hollywood for a few years. And this film is really memorable for a lot of reasons.
The plot is barely even a plot: Lionel Barrymore is a former southern colonel. His daughter falls in love with a former union officer, and he disowns her. Because he’s stubborn. So the daughter goes off with the husband and they have Shirley Temple. And we see early on his regiment falls in love with her and appoints her an honorary colonel. Hence the title. And then he goes off prospecting or whatever. And then they don’t have much money, so the daughter goes back to live near her father, and then Shirley meets Barrymore, her grandfather, and she warms his heart and all that. Barely a plot. Mostly a vehicle for Shirley Temple to be charming. This is when she’s 6, 7 years old. So she’s not acting as much as she is saying lines. But she’s a charming little girl, so people at it up. The writers made her look really good.
The two most memorable moments of the film are a scene where Shirley dances with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on the stairs, which I almost put as the Pic of the Day, since it broke color barriers and was more about dancing than anything. It was the first time a white person danced with a black person on film, and was even banned in the south.
Here’s a nice quote from wikipedia about Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson:
Robinson walked a step ahead of us, but when he noticed me hurrying to catch up, he shortened his stride to accommodate mine. I kept reaching up for his hand, but he hadn’t looked down and seemed unaware. Fannie called his attention to what I was doing, so he stopped short, bent low over me, his eyes wide and rows of brilliant teeth showing in a wide smile. When he took my hand in his, it felt large and cool. For a few moments, we continued walking silence. “Can I call you Uncle Billy?” I asked. “Why sure you can,” he replied… “But then I get to call you darlin.'” It was a deal. From then on, whenever we walked together it was hand in hand, and I was always his “darlin.'”
I almost chose that as the Pic of the Day, but instead went with the other memorable part of the film, which is its final scene, which is a “pink party” the characters have, where just about everything is colored pink. And it’s the only sequence in the film shot in Technicolor (if you’ve seen a copy of the film in color it’s because they colorized it after the fact. A lot of films of this era were colorized). So, since this was also the year of the first fully-Technicolor film, and that shot is a great example of Shirley Temple (and one of her only ones in color), I went with that. But the staircase dance is really the highlight of the film. It should be remembered for that more than anything. But this article and this film choice is more about Shirley Temple, since it’s her that’s why I chose this as the film that best represents 1935, so the Pic of the Day was tailored to that.
It’s also a real shame we lost her this year. She was actually an American treasure.