Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bright Eyes - 1934 - The Good Ship Lollipop

One may be charmed, certainly bemused, at the idea of two important fledgling industries – American Airlines and the Douglas Aircraft Company (future McDonnell-Douglas) – pinning their hopes on a six-year-old girl to lend them credibility. Shirley Temple and her “good ship lollipop” did the job and launched passenger air travel on a Depression-era United States.

Well, she didn’t do it all by herself, but Fox’s golden-haired moppet was the hope of American Airlines—in an era where most people did not have the price of a plane ticket – and to Douglas Aircraft and its brand-new DC-2, an all-metal plane to answer the reluctance of travelers too leery of flying in one of the, then, wooden airships. The DC-2 was introduced May 1934. This movie premiered in December of that year. The aircraft industry, and Depression-era America, had nowhere to go but up.

This is our entry in the: Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Have a look here for more excellent posts.

Bright Eyes is probably one of Shirley’s best – memorable most especially for Jane Withers’ devastatingly funny portrayal of a privileged little girl with the personality of an assault weapon. Indeed, she wants a machine gun as a present, as well as a wheelchair – perhaps to compete with her wheelchair-bound grand uncle- enemy, Charles Sellon. When Shirley rescues an old rag doll from Jane, Jane tells Shirley, “You can’t have her, know why? ‘Cause I’m gonna kill her.” And she proceeds to rip off the arms and legs and head of the unfortunate invalid doll.

As a child, I must say that Jane’s character intimidated me. I was more fascinated by Shirley hitchhiking a ride to the airfield to hang out with her flyer buddies. Today, that scene of hitchhiking gives me the creeps, and Jane Withers is my favorite part of the movie.  Another fascination for me as a child was a glimpse at what a Southern California Christmas must be like – with no snow and people walking about with no boots on, in what looked like to be an early fall day in New England—except for those marvelous palm trees.

It is Christmas in the hangar/pilots’ clubhouse where the boys plan a special treat for young Shirley. Her late father was a fellow pilot, and her mother now works as a maid in the nouveau riche Smythe residence, whose only daughter, Joy – the name is a delightful irony – is played with vaudevillian panache by Jane Withers.

Shirley’s mother, played briefly by Lois Wilson, gets killed by a car, so Shirley is an orphan and much of the film is a custody battle between rich Uncle Ned (Sellon) and James Dunn, the swell regular-guy pilot who is Shirley’s best pal.  Dunn takes Shirley up for her first plane ride after he learns of the death of her mother, so that he may break the news to Shirley.  She wants to know what heaven is like, and when they are up with the clouds a magnificent carpet below them, he tells her, "It's all around us now."  Though Shirley admirably turns on the tears on cue, understanding she has lost her mother, it is Mr. Dunn's thoughtful, awkward, agonized way of sharing the bad news, and sharing his idea of heaven with her that is most moving.

So contentious is the custody battle that Dunn takes on a risky mission – flying to New York in a blizzard to deliver a letter – for which he will be paid $1,000.

Shirley stows away on board, and they fly through the terrible weather. They don’t make it to New York (which at that time would not have been a nonstop trip anyway, and would have taken at least 15 hours, likely more) but must bail out and parachute to the ground. The wind drags their shoot, nearly pulling them over a cliff.

It’s exciting stuff, but little Shirley is unruffled. It was her moxie, after all, that saved Fox Studios and got us through the Depression.  Bailing out of a plane during a blizzard?  Big deal.  Child’s play.

But it is the Good Ship Lollipop, which was the DC-2, that is the heart and soul of the movie—and is the song Shirley sings on the plane taxiing around the field in a Christmas party. No danger, just a few verses (backed up by what appeared to be extras from the University of Southern California football team) where the trip is about a visit to Candyland and there are never any worries. Happy landings on a chocolate bar.

The DC-2 was a 14-seater twin-prop engine all-metal plane, with a 66-inch wide cabin, and brand-new. Shirley is dancing down the aisle. Of course flying is safe, silly.  See?

Especially when we are only taxiing around the field on a sunny Southern California Christmas afternoon.

Now fly on over to the CMBA site to navigate the rest of the blogs in this swell blogathon.

And come back next week for our entry in the Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by the Metzinger sisters over at Silver Scenes. My pick for the party -- Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).


"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

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John/24Frames said...

I have not seen a Shirley Temple film since I was kid, too many years ago to even mention, that is, except for a couple of later films like The Bachelor and Bobby-Soxer and Fort Apache. Honestly, I can't even say why other than she always appears to be way too precocious. Your breezy review though does makes want to take a look at this.

Anonymous said...

I need to watch this movie again! Thank you for a great review!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

John, Shirley's "way too precocious" screen persona probably keeps a lot of even the most die-hard classic film fans from watching these outings -- and I confess, the way-too-short dress (which was not the norm for little girls in the 1930s) does seem odd. However, it's a movie with a lot going for it, especially for anyone who is interested in Depression-era pop culture.

Blonde, thanks so much. I'd love to read your take on the movie.

Amanda Garrett said...

Great review. I have a soft spot for Shirley Temple. One of my elderly neighbors used to have scrap books filled with Shirley Temple memorabilia and it made me appreciate what joy and happiness she brought to millions of people.

BTW, thanks for the quote in the Ann Blyth section

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Amanda, I think the scrapbooks people kept on Shirley and other stars is very telling of their lasting appeal to their fans. I love your remark, " it made me appreciate what joy and happiness she brought to millions of people."

And thanks for the Ann Blyth review. I'll always appreciate it.

Caftan Woman said...

Janet and I watched this a while back and roared at Jane Withers performance. I hope she had as much fun being the "villainous" as we had watching her.

PS: I'm with you on the hitchhiking bit. Only in the movies!

Citizen Screen said...

What fun, Jacqueline! I especially enjoy your description of Jane Withers' character, which is the main reason I've watched this film a few times. The plane's importance never even occurred to me so I particularly love that history. Terrific entry to the blogathon.


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Ladies, I hope Jane Withers knows how many fans she's gotten just from this one role -- it might take off any concern she might have had about being mean to Shirley Temple.

grandoldmovies said...

I agree with you on the great Shirley/Jane Duel - It's Jane all the way. I think it's that it's rather refreshing to see Jane behaving like a naturally bratty kid, while Shirley has always seemed too good to be true--more of an adult fantasy of the perfect child than a real little girl. Still, I'm always astonished to watch how Shirley can put over a number. She had natural star power and an amazingly confident onscreen presence. And how old was she in this film, all of 6 years? A true prodigy.

FlickChick said...

I like Shirley now more than I used to, but it is Jane and James Dunn that win my heart in this film. Great review and great choice for the blogathon!

Silver Screenings said...

I'm another one who has a soft spot for Shirley Temple. But Jane Withers is my fave in this film. (She's SO over the top!)

I agree that the scene where Dunn breaks the news to Shirley is quite moving.

You've made me want to see this film again!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

It seems the Jane vs Shirley scenes are everybody's favorites. GOM, I like your comment here: "She had natural star power and an amazingly confident onscreen presence. And how old was she in this film, all of 6 years? A true prodigy."

That about sums it up. Both kids stole the show. I wonder how the grownups in the cast felt about that?

Laura said...

The intersection of this film with So. CA history is intriguing! My husband worked at a later incarnation of Douglas Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas (which was bought by Boeing). And my daughter went to USC! Must pull this one out of the stack. Thanks, as always, for adding to my "to see" list!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Laura, truly Hollywood of the 20th century reflects the history of the US in the 20th century, consciously or unconsciously. Actually, I think I read somewhere the airfield where the fun takes place is in Glendale, but I may be wrong. Perhaps when you see the film (drawn from your legendary stack of to-be-watched), you'll recognize more.

Laura said...

That would make sense as many films of the era were filmed at the Glendale airport - the main building is recognizable as it has arches as part of the design. I'll be looking for it!

Best wishes,

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