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Shirley Temple

 

THE BLUE BIRD

                       
 

20th Century Fox, 1940.  Directed by Walter Lang.  Camera:  Arthur Miller.  With Shirley Temple, Spring Byington, Nigel Bruce, Gale Sondergaard, Eddie Collins, Johnny Russell, Russell Hicks, Al Shean, Sterling Holloway, Thurston Hall, Brandon Hurst, Scotty Beckett.

This bizarre, creepy gothic fantasy stars Shirley Temple, in a borderline child/adolescent role, as a spoiled brat who searches for the bird of happiness in a most nasty world of doom and gloom.

For a light-hearted fantasy, this is awfully depressing, full of moaning and weeping, especially in a hellish future purgatory where half-naked pre-adolescent spirits fret and moan over when they will be born.

Also harrowing is a truly inferno-like forest fire.  Fox's attempt to cash in on the success of the previous year's The Wizard of Oz is, unlike its predecessor, a stage-bound downer, yet parallels abound, including a black and white opening that switches to color, and a remarkably similar moral: "There's no place like home!"

But this plays more like kiddy horror than fantasy. Gale Sondergaard, famous for her Spiderwoman roles, is great as a conniving, evil cat. (Sondergaard was, at this time, a member of the Anti-Nazi League Hollywood chapter, considered by some to be allied with the Communist Party, and she received some blacklisting due to this unfortunate misinformation.)

Shirley Temple's tutor, Francis Klamt, fought with the producers over a scene in which lightning strikes a tree and a piece of bark comes off.  As it was originally planned, the bark could have flown in the wrong direction and injured Temple.  Due to Klamt's complaint, carpenters built a safety ledge to protect Temple from flying props.

Although Temple had almost single-handedly saved Fox studios from bankruptcy during the depression, after this and a few other bombs, she was shown the door, and had the typical difficulty of child actors in adolescence.

Kiddiematinee.com

More detailed information about this film is available from
the AFI Catalog of Feature Films at
AFI.com, or by clicking here.