15 March 2002 | lugonian
Our Little Girl is Growing Up
YOUNG PEOPLE (20th Century-Fox, 1940), directed by Allan Dwan, not only became Shirley Temple's final "little girl" performance, but marked an end of an era to a legendary child star who entertained and delighted movie audiences during the Depression era 1930s, with box office hits that began in 1934. But by 1940, with the changing of times that would soon lead the country into World War II, and the new likes in movie entertainment, Temple's once popular box-office appeal was now fading, and fading fast.
The storyline opens with Joe and Kitty Ballantine (Jack Oakie and Charlotte Greenwood), a couple of vaudeville headliners, after finishing their performance, being given a basket, finding a baby in it. At first they think it's some sort of a gag to add amusement to the audience until Joe finds a note written by their closest friend, the widowed Barney O'Hara, who hasn't long to live, explaining that the infant is being placed in their care. So the natural thing for Joe and Kitty to do is to keep the baby and raise it up themselves. Over the years the infant girl grows into a talented trooper like her "parents," and after some ten years, the Ballantines decide that it's now time to retire, and to give their young "daughter," Wendy (Shirley Temple) the kind of upbringing she very well deserves. So after their farewell performance, they move to a New England farm in Stonefield where they can live the simple life, and have Wendy educated in a local town school with other children her age. But while it all sounds well and good, they find that they are being snubbed by the resident well-to-dos, and learn that the common folks are nothing but phonies who look down on show people.
YOUNG PEOPLE is a worthy conclusion to Temple's childhood years at 20th Century-Fox mainly because it includes film clips from her past movies, inter-cutting her scenes with her on-screen father, Jack Oakie, including her "Baby, Take a Bow" number from STAND UP AND CHEER (1934), where Oakie fills in for James Dunn; and the Hawaiian dance number from CURLY TOP (1935). After these stardust memory moments are presented, comes Shirley, now age 12, taller, prettier with darker hair, doing her song and dance with top hat, white tie and tales in a very energetic manner, showing that even though she's maturing into a young lady, she still has that gifted talent. Sadly, her subsequent films she starred in during the later 1940s, such as KATHLEEN (MGM, 1941) and MISS ANNIE ROONEY (UA, 1942), failed to recapture the magic she once had, mainly due to mediocre scripts that kept Temple from being the super star teenager she could have been like Deanna Durbin, Jane Powell and/or Elizabeth Taylor. And while Temple had been the center of attention through most all her previous movies, for the first time in her successful career, Temple here is overshadowed by her co-stars, mainly by the unlikely likable pair of Oakie and Greenwood.
Good tunes by Mack Gordon, Harry Revel and Harry Warren include: "The Mason-Dixon Live" (sung by Oakie and Greenwood); "The Beaches of Waikiki" (danced by Temple, from the clip from CURLY TOP); "Baby, Take a Bow" (by Jay Gorney and Lew Brown/sung by Oakie and Temple /Temple scenes lifted from STAND UP AND CHEER); "Fifth Avenue" (sung by Temple, Oakie and Greenwood); "I Wouldn't Take a Million" (sung by Oakie); "Flocently Sweet Afton" (sung by children); "Young People" (Sung by Temple and children); "I Wouldn't Take a Million" (sung by Temple); and "Tra-La-La-La" (sung by cast/finale).
Also seen in the supporting cast are George Montgomery as Mike Shea, the town reporter, editor, typesetter and everything else rolled into one; Arleen Whelan as Mike's girl, Judith; Kathleen Howard as Hester Appleby, the town snob; Minor Watson, Darryl Hickman, Irving Bacon, Olin Howland, Mae Marsh, and among other character actors who fill in the New England town. And that's Mary Gordon as the old lady who brings in the basket into the theater in the opening portion of the story.
Reportedly a bigger box-office failure than Temple's earlier 1940 release, THE BLUE BIRD, YOUNG PEOPLE isn't really all that bad. It just returns Temple to the simple plot formula she's been doing most of the 1930s, featuring songs, comedy, little drama and moments of tears, but by this time, these familiar plots were becoming all too predictable and old-fashioned. Critics were probably saying to themselves that this is now 1940, not 1935! 20th Century-Fox did make an attempt or two to modernize YOUNG PEOPLE, especially during the closing credit cast listing with the underscoring being jazzed up a bit to fit the big band era. Otherwise, its a cute and enjoyable little comedy-drama about adjustment and acceptance with a moral lesson intact without becoming too preachy.
Oddly, YOUNG PEOPLE never became part of the Shirley Temple video package from CBS/FOX VIDEO back in the latter part of the l980s. This oversight was finally corrected in the mid 1990s when YOUNG PEOPLE was distributed to home video, but unlike the earlier packages, it's available only in colorization. While YOUNG PEOPLE had been presented in recent years on several cable TV stations colorized, such as the Disney Channel in the early 1990s, American Movie Classics, which premiered this overlooked Temple feature back in 1996, wisely presents this in its original black and white format, the way it should be presented for that's the way it was distributed in theaters.
YOUNG PEOPLE may not be top Temple material, but it is a fond farewell to a little girl who has now grown up. (***)