26 April 2010 | marcslope
Where's the adventure?
Mild sitcom, from a story by Christopher Isherwood of all people, about a pastor's rebellious daughter in the stuffy upper-middle-class Baltimore of 1905. Though it's handsomely photographed, there's no Baltimore atmosphere here; it could as easily be Milwaukee or St. Louis, and in fact, the strong-family-ties theme, aggressive nostalgia, boy-next-door puppy love, and sleeve-tugging sentimentality play like a less well-written "Meet Me in St. Louis." Robert Young, top-billed and with a mustache and silly hair, does a tolerable warmup for "Father Knows Best"; he furrows his brow a lot and makes pronouncements. (But the height of the plot arc, in which he delivers a give-'em-hell sermon to his hypocritical congregation, is unaccountably omitted from the script.) The only real surprise of the movie is how amazingly uninteresting a 21-year-old Shirley Temple is. She simpers, she searches for her key light to be never anything but as attractive as possible, she tries to convey adolescent feistiness, but her line readings are monotonously alike, and she has no inner life. Nor is it wise to pair her with then-husband John Agar, in what's essentially the Tom Drake role; he's as dull as Tom Drake. The script puts the two through some very contrived roadblocks on the road to love, including a hard-to-believe episode of her unintentionally instigating a riot, a harder-to-believe one of him reading a speech of hers out loud and forgetting to change the pronouns, and an unpalatable one of her lying to him about painting his portrait. I wouldn't even root for such a selfish young miss. RKO must have figured, well, she's Shirley Temple, the audience will be on her side no matter what. I wasn't, and while the denouement is rushed to the point of incoherence, I wasn't sorry to see this one end.