15 September 2008 | lugonian
40 Pounds of Trouble
LITTLE MISS MARKER (Paramount, 1934), directed by Alexander Hall, from the story by Damon Runyon, became the studio's answer to Columbia's successful Runyon tale, LADY FOR A DAY (1933). In true Runyon tradition, it consists of many character types with odd-ball names, including wrestlers Sore Toe (Warren Hymer) and Canvas Back (John Kelly); dishonest Bennie the Gouge (Sam Hardy), drunken Regret (Lynne Overman), good-natured Doc Chesley (Frank McGlynn Sr.), and the title character of "Little Miss Marker" going to 6-year-old Shirley Temple, on a loan-out assignment from Fox Studios, ranking one of the finer films she made during her busiest year (1934)in the movies.
Plot summary: Big Steve Halloway (Charles Bickford), gambler, gang leader and proprietor of New York's Horseshoe Cabaret, where his girl, Bangles Carson (Dorothy Dell) sings, is in desperate need of money. He arranges for his fellow bookies, especially Sorrowful Jones (Adolphe Menjou), to each pay him $1,000 each for his racehorse, Dream Prince, to lose. With all bets being placed at the window, Sorrowful encounters a gambler (Edward Earle), having lost $500, wanting to place his bet but is unable to come up with $20. Instead, he places his daughter, Marthy Jane (Shirley Temple), as security, or in bookie's terms, a "marker." While Sorrowful refuses to accept 'markers," he does so with this one, having the child to wait outside his office until Daddy returns. Having lost his bet, he commits suicide, leaving "little Miss Marker" under the care of Sorrowful Jones. As Steve hides out in Chicago to avoid investigation for his crooked bets, he entrusts Sorrowful to watch over Bangles during his absence, at which time the "gold digger" helps "tight-wod" with his "40 pounds of trouble." When Big Steve learns Bangles is involved with Sorrowful, he takes his "rod," returns to New York to do something about it.
The supporting players: Adolphe Menjou is perfectly cast as Sorrowful Jones, resembling that of a cartoon character down to his sad-eyed face and droopy mustache. He and Temple work remarkably well together, sharing great scenes, especially the highlight where Sorrowful teaches "Markey" how to pray. It is Menjou, not Temple, who closes this with a comedy line. Unlike her future film assignments, LITTLE MISS MARKER offers Temple a rare opportunity to play a fresh kid later on in the story, thanks to the bad influence of Sorrowful's friends. Dorothy Dell's Bangles is the one who makes every effort to restore Markey's child-like innocence by having the gang gather together in Steve's night club to re-enact her favorite bedtime story of "King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table" with Sorrowful playing Sir Galahad, and Bangles as Lady Guinevere, along with the opportunity to ride her horse known as "The Charger." Charles Bickford, a fine actor with a rough exterior, plays a tough mug whose very presence and gruff sounding voice causes the Charger to jump about in fear, an idea duplicated in the Marx Brothers comedy, A DAY AT THE RACES (MGM, 1937), with Douglass Dumbrille as the villain whose harsh voice causes the star racehorse to run amok.
While many will comment on Shirley Temple's performance, one cannot help but notice the unfamiliar name of Dorothy Dell in the cast. Who is Dorothy Dell? It's surprising to learn that during the making of LITTLE MISS MARKER, she was a 19-year-old newcomer (who looked older than 25) with only two other 1934 releases to her credit: THE WHARF ANGEL and SHOOT THE WORKS. By the time LITTLE MISS MARKER was released, Dorothy Dell was dead, a victim of an serious automobile crash. Looking over her style, she had the mannerisms of a young 20th-Fox's own Alice Faye, blonde, deep-throat singer, tough exterior but soft in heart. Due to the availability of LITTLE MISS MARKER will Dorothy Dell's name be virtually a curiosity today. Dell takes part in much of the song numbers composed by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin including: "I'm a Black Sheep Who is Blue" where she vocalizes in the night club, and "Low-Down Lullaby" singing Markie to sleep. She and Temple team up with on the piano with "Laugh, You Son-of-a-Gun," the latter obviously a hit tune since it's instrumentally used for opening or closing to other Paramount films, namely Temple's upcoming Paramount project NOW AND FOREVER.
Aside from frequent commercial television revivals prior to 1989, LITTLE MISS MARKER surfaced on numerous cable stations in later years, including the Disney Channel (1990s); American Movie Classics (1991-92) and Turner Classic Movies (2003-04). Unlike its presentations on either AMC and TCM, LITTLE MISS MARKER's availability on both VHS (1996) and DVD formats are colorized. LITTLE MISS MARKER consists of such notable remakes as SORROWFUL JONES (Paramount, 1949) with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Mary Jane Saunders; FORTY POUNDS OF TROUBLE (Universal, 1963) with Tony Curtis; and 1980 under the original title starring Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews, but very few child actresses could compare to the likes of the original Little Miss Marker herself. (****)