Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wee Willie Winkie (1937)


The first thing to know about Wee Willie Winkie is that it isn’t a Shirley Temple movie that happened to be directed by John Ford; it’s a John Ford movie that happened to star Shirley Temple. What makes it such a good film is that Ford doesn’t condescend to the material or the star. He shot it with the same loving attention to detail and deep, beautiful precision that would characterize Stagecoach two years later. And the themes that Ford, via Kipling, brings to bear-–the civilizing influence of women and children, sacrifice, courage, respect between enemies—-are also familiar from countless other Ford films.

To the uninitiated the name Shirley Temple tends to evoke one of two things: a ringleted, short-skirted, tap-dancing relic, or Graham Greene’s celebrated charge that there was something less than wholesome in her audience’s adoration. More on the latter in the sidebar below; here we will deal with the first. Temple was, in fact, a phenomenally gifted child performer, with charisma that leaps at you even today. She wasn’t the kind of transparently emotional actress that Judy Garland was, for example, and the Siren’s as grateful as everyone else that 20th Century Fox wouldn’t lend Temple for The Wizard of Oz. But Temple was frequently excellent and surprisingly subtle.

Temple has always said Winkie is her favorite of her films, and she got along well with Ford, who seems to have brought out the very best in her acting. You can see a few things that slipped through, though. Here’s a tip from the Siren, a Shirley Temple fan since early childhood: No good ever comes of a Temple line that begins with “why?”, and there's a "why?" line in every movie. “Why is Mommy crying?” “Why does Daddy have to go away?” “Why can’t the President stop people fighting?” “Why does this stage have a treadmill and state-of-the-art thunderstorm effects?”

Once you get around the “why?” questions Temple’s good films shine and even the lesser ones are often enjoyable. Her saccharine image belies her actual characters in the movies, usually spirited, naughty girls who only have to be told “stay right there” in order to go off exploring dangerous places, and who never, but never wait to speak until spoke to. (Why else do you think the Siren grew to love this child? That, and the tap-dancing.)

The Siren hadn’t seen this movie since childhood and viewing it again gave her a chance to enjoy all the cinematic things that flew over her head in elementary school. The opening, for example, on a train rattling through Northern India, and the way it echoed so much else in Ford with low-angle shots and dreamy close-ups of Priscilla (Temple) and her mother (June Lang) talking about the military outpost where they are headed. (The cinematographer was Arthur C. Miller, the genius who worked with Ford later on How Green Was My Valley, and also did a number of other Temple films.) They alight into the hurly-burly of an Indian marketplace, where they’re greeted by Sergeant McDuff (Victor McLaglen), who clearly hasn’t been around a gently bred Englishwoman in many a day, let alone one with a small girl, and at first the sergeant treats them rather like officers in skirts. Priscilla is told to stay put and of course, she doesn’t. Instead she climbs out of the carriage and runs smack into the arrest of Cesare Romero, a fairly credible-looking Indian revolutionary named Khoda Khan, who at first isn’t so much charmed as he is nonplussed by this moppet’s intrusion. Temple is at her best when she's allowed to play the normal inconvenient behavior of children, picking up an amulet and attempting to give it back to Khan even as he's being marched away at gunpoint.

Then it’s off to the outpost, to meet Mother’s handsome-but-dull love interest. The treatment of this romance reminded the Siren a bit of the lovers in The Informer; their presence kept at a minimum, the surroundings and shots particularly gorgeous, as though to distract from their lack of fire. The lovers become interesting only in a party scene. Dances are frequently a wistful affair in a Ford movie, some old tune (in this movie, “Comin’ Through the Rye”) sounding plaintively on a fiddle while the couple seem set apart from the revels even if they’re waltzing. The mother and her lover tryst in the garden and the partygoers are glimpsed as a swirl of skirts through a terrace door; the version the Siren saw also had the blue tint restored from the first release, and it adds to the melancholy. But parties, too, are almost always interrupted in Ford, and this one eventually is, by a native attack aimed at releasing Khan from the stockade.

Priscilla and her mother are on this army base to live with the requisite Formidably Stuffy Old Grandpa, played by C. Aubrey Smith, one of the most dependable stuffy old coots in the business. Temple-film protocol requires that this coot must be charmed by Priscilla and, to a lesser extent, her mother, but Smith is far from the primary focus of Wee Willie Winkie.



The strongest argument against Greene's interpretation of Winkie is the very thing he uses to back it up: Priscilla's relationship with Sergeant McDuff. From the start you see him trying to tone down his roughness when confronted with Temple and her mother, and gradually the mere attempt to behave like a gentleman becomes a visible sense of what he has missed all these years in the British Army--love, home, tenderness. It's in keeping with characters throughout Ford, from Wyatt Earp to Ethan Edwards, moving through the cavalry trilogy as well. There really isn't anything sexual about it. McLaglen's character no more leers at or simpers over Temple than does Ford's camera. Priscilla becomes determined to train like a soldier, and McDuff goes along with the game, barking at her with only the merest shade less of a voice than he might use with a recruit. It makes his love for the child more apparent, because he respects her fire and sincerity; if he fawned over her the whole thing would seem false. There's no one scene where Priscilla suddenly plays to McDuff as a father figure. It's just a growing sense of affection from them both, building to his inevitable death.

Ford complained to Peter Bogdanovich that it was bad drama to have a highly sympathetic character die halfway through a movie. The compensation is that the Sergeant's death is one of the most poignant scenes in all of Ford. McDuff has been severely wounded in a skirmish and the doctors have allowed Priscilla to visit, for what she doesn't realize will be the last time. McDuff knows he's dying, but in one last protective gesture he doesn't want her to know. Instead he lies and listens to her chatter, delivered with unaffected simplicity and innocence by Temple, until finally she starts to sing "Auld Lang Syne" for him, while (as filmmaker Michael G. Smith put it at Glenn's place) "an exquisite camera movement slowly eliminates him from the frame."

McDuff's death is more like two-thirds of the way through Wee Willie Winkie, but Ford was right that some of the drama that follows seems wan without him. But the immediate aftermath is almost as stunning as McDuff's deathbed. The Siren was thunderstruck by one shot of the Union Jack being lowered to half-mast against a heavy sky. Now why, she asked herself, should this touch her so intensely? The Siren is, as was Ford, an American of Irish descent, not a background to make one get all misty over the trappings of the British Empire. It's partly the sheer symmetrical perfection of the shot. But it's also drawing on what Ford has established before: the things large and small that are sacrficed by soldiers, the end of a surrogate father's presence, the intrusion of war into a child's life. When you hear the bagpipes and see the flag go down, it's an act curtain drawn across the stage, and it foreshadows the closing door in The Searchers, and it is, in short, Ford's genius. In this Shirley Temple movie, John Ford makes the flag as purely and wholely fitting as the final chord in a symphony. The flag's lowering is followed by a funeral procession of soldiers, often discussed in Ford literature for its elegance. But the Siren was even more enamored with the sight of Priscilla entering the men's barracks while they're marching, the empty cots with their rolled-up mattresses a spooky vision of coffins that echo the child's grief.


Later scenes involve Priscilla mediating Khan's uprising, complete with faux-Raj dialogue that has an admittedly high cringe factor, as with Smith: "Up in those hills are thousands of savages, waiting to sweep down and ravage India." Those nasty natives and their harebrained pursuit of self-rule, egad. Smith delivers the line with brio, as it was the sort of thing he said in every movie. Temple does her best to carry her own political freight, as when she tells Khan with shining conviction that "Queen Victoria wants to protect all her people and make them happy and rich." Khan's response, a guffaw, may have played as sinister during the movie's first run (or was it Ford's little Irish dig?), but these days he's just echoing the audience.

Still, Ford's camera treats Smith, Temple and Romero with sensitivity and respect as they hold hands and advance up the long steps to Khan's mountain lair, and the Siren saw an echo of Temple holding Bill Robinson's hand in The Littlest Rebel, a moment that put some Southern censors in traction just two years before. And there is a beautiful shot of Priscilla asleep on a pile of cushions, net curtains drawn around her and the mountains visible in the distance. Smith and Romero, British and Indian, Christian and Muslim, work out a peace agreement during the child's nap. It may be Ford's Kipling fantasy--there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth--but it is possibly even more appealing in 2010 than it was in 1937.

52 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

Although I haven't seen Wee Willie Winkie in a very long time, what Andrew Sarris wrote about how Ford filmed Shirley Temple struck me. During the times I have done still photography of children, I have always shot from their level, rather than looking down on them.

pvitari said...

Thanks for the wonderful write-up on Wee Willie Winkie. I watched this a couple of weeks ago and was blown away (again) by the sheer beauty of the film, especially some of the scenes where the light is coming in from that big front door. Like the Indians in so many of Ford's western films, Khoda Khan and his band are actually quite sympathetic (when you've got Cesar Romero playing Khoda Khan, how could he be anything else?). Question: I thought June Lang and Shirley Temple's characters were supposed to be American....? I'm pretty sure I remember a reference to that.

Arthur S. said...

The song "Coming through the Rye?" comes up again in John Ford's MOGAMBO.

The ironic thing about classical cinema's attitude towards the Indian independence movement is that while 30s Hollywood was fairly pro-imperialist(although I find the Ford movie less offensive than GUNGA DIN), the first criticism of imperialism came from British cinema, in Powell-Pressburger's A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH where you see so many pathan soldiers in the afterlife, unprecedentedly highlighting their presence in the British armed forces who fought the fascists and of course you have Raymond Massey's Jury handpicked from a portion of England's colonial glories.

By the way, that line about Queen Victoria wanting to protect her subjects has basis in fact in so far that the Queen and most of the educated liberal class of England were highly critical of British excesses in India. John Huston hit the nail on this two-faced attitude in his Kipling adaptation "The Man Who Would Be King" where a sergeant dresses down the mercenaries played by Michael Caine and Connery by saying that they were "tarnishing the izzat of the British Empire" with Caine unforgettably replying that their kind built the British Empire.

The Siren said...

Peter, what a wonderful observation, and it's really true of WWW--Temple often is shot from her level, and it adds to the way the film takes her and her point of view seriously.

Paula, I confess, Lang bored me so I was concentrating more on how Ford shot her--she was very pretty--than on anything coming out of her mouth. When I could be bothered listening to what she was saying, I thought I understood that they were English but considering moving to America, but maybe the mother was American and had been married to an Englishman. If that turns out to be the case I'll correct.

You & Arthur are right that the Indians are portrayed quite sympathetically, in fact it's a bit of a jolt to see a Muslim revolutionary portrayed with such dignity and makes for interesting hindsight. I find that when Islam crops up in old movies, it's usually just a colorful detail for the detail, like pirate talk.

Arthur, it's been a while since I read up on the Widow of Windsor so I will take your word for her being critical of Indian policy, although it does seem to me it was being carried out in her name. There's little doubt whose side the script is on, but the Indian characters come off well for the most part, save for a manservant named Mohammed-din and played by Asian actor Willie Fung. This character's portrayal is so ghastly I just didn't even touch it. Thanks for the reminder about those aspects of A Matter of Life and Death--I think that one is being screened again at the NYFF this year, and if so I will pay particular attention to the pathan soldiers--and also about The Man Who Would Be King, a childhood favorite that I would defend to the death. (I believe Caine still cites it as his personal favorite.)

Vanwall said...

I suppose I saw as many Shirley Temple films as anyone - they were the regular chaff thrown in the wind from cheap indy TV station programmers back in the day, and hardly a day went by without one showing it seemed - and I never could get into her films, as I thought she was TOO good: the artifice was always there for me. She had it all though, too, more so than any other kid actress ever - and I do mean "kid", there's a level somewhere of "child" actress like Liz Taylor that is too formal for her - and "Wee Willie Winkie" pulled all the stops out of that little Wurlitzer of a star. Or maybe grind-organ, I can't tell which sometimes.


The whole Raj aspect was a little creepy to me even then, and this could be transposed or mashed-up with any of the Indjah pics with no interruption of look or feel, right up to Bhowani Junction, as far as I'm concerned. The whole "sun never sets" aspect to the Indian subcontinent films could've been better served by a Calcutta Light Horse trophy race - lots of drinking, lots of gambling, and "I wouldn't bet on the sunrise at one of those, mate!" - the Reserves were always the best indicator of the real intentions there.

This really is of the Ford Cavalry oeuvre, horsey and all, without McDuff dying senselessly in the Greasy Grass or dry-gulched in soon-to-be-"Tom Mix Wash", and with good li'l Shirl meeting and slaying, metaphorically, the Khan instead of Crazy Horse or Geronimo.

It is interesting that she walks in the role of the new replacement, the half-mast flag and all, and especially the barracks scene, bringing to mind the good lads filling the dead men's shoes doggerel:
"We meet 'neath the sounding rafters, the walls around us are bare; they echo the sounds of laughter, it seems that the dead are there. So stand by your glasses steady, boys, this world is a world of lies! Here's a toast to the dead already, hurrah for the next man that dies!"

Vanwall said...
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Kevin Deany said...

Another film that treats Islam with respect is, no, really, DeMille's "The Crusades." Ian Keith's Saladin is portrayed with great dignity and honor.

When DeMille went to Egypt to film "The Ten Commandments" in the mid 1950s, he was given access to any and all locales and was given the loan of part of the Egyptian Army to appear as Pharoah's charioteers. They did this in appreciation of how he portrayed Saladin in the earlier film.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Khoda Khan and his band are actually quite sympathetic (when you've got Cesar Romero playing Khoda Khan, how could he be anything else?)"

Butch was nothing if not sympathetic. That's probably why Marlene didn't want him for The Devil is a Woman. She liked her gay men more macho.

DavidEhrenstein said...

THE COMPLETE VERSION

Graham Green published the following review of Wee Willie Winkie. Both he and the magazine Night and Day were sued by Shirley Temple's studio and her guardians. The magazine was bankrupted and Greene fled to Mexico, where he found the material for his novel, The Power and the Glory. When Greene's film criticism was collected in the volume "The Pleasure Dome" this review was omitted.

Night and Day, October 28, 1937 The Films by Graham Greene

Wee Willie Winkie

The owners of a child star are like leaseholders — their property diminishes in value every year. Time's chariot is at their backs: before them acres of anonymity. What is Jackie Coogan now but a matrimonial squabble? Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has peculiar interest: infancy with her is a disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece — real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is a complete totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep.

It is clever but it cannot last. Her admirers — middle aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire. "Why are you making my Mummy cry?" - what could be purer than that? And the scene when dressed in a white nightdress she begs grandpa to take Mummy to a dance - what could be more virginal? On those lines in her new picture, made by John Ford, who directed The Informer, is horrifyingly competent. It isn't hard to stay to the last prattle and the last sob. The story — about an Afghan robber converted by Wee Willie Winkie to the British Raj — is a long way after Kipling. But we needn't be sour about that. Both stories are awful, but on the whole Hollywood's is the better.

DavidEhrenstein said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...

In short Wee Willie Winkie is a work of purient interest -- designed to incite the desire of select spectaotrs is spanking Shirley Temple for sexual satisfaction.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Maybe Greene was just being a Kipling purist. In the original story, WWW is a boy.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Shirley was a bigger star than Dickie Moore.

Casey said...

I just watched Wee Willie Winkie recently, and I have to say I thought it was weak. Ford is great, but there are times where the familiar touches strike me as mawkish rather than moving, this movie being a prime example. Miller does some lovely stuff, and there are a few images that resonate. I'm surprised, though, that you rate this as one of Temple's best. I'm sure you've seen Now and Forever. For my money it's smarter, tighter, and the performances are much better. Hathaway does less tugging on your heartstrings, and still gives the movie more emotional punch.

Karen said...

Well, I'm a sucker for Shirley Temple and always have been, and the younger she is the more I love her. I would be hard-pressed to say a single film of hers nay.

So I will change focus for a moment to the problem of films about the Raj...I was blithely accepting of all that claptrap when I was a kid watching these movies, and it was a sudden rather than gradual realization, in my 20s, of just what we were getting sold. It doesn't ruin my enjoyment of Gunga Din, but it tempers it, and when I introduced my nephews to that great film I tried to address those issues.

Instead of addressing them here, however, I will share a favorite joke of mine, which films such as these always evoke for me. It was told me by the son and brother of rabbis, and I'm a member of the Tribe myself, but I don't really think of it as a Jewish joke.

A family in the shtetl saved the money to send their eldest son to England, where he made a great success of himself. One day he decides to send for his father to come live with him. The day of arrival dawns and the bell rings at his lovely flat. The son opens the door to find his father: shabbily dressed, bearded, tallis-wearing. The son looks out at his neighbors' doors in embarrassment and hurries his father into the flat.

"Papa, here we need to blend in a little better," the son explains, and the next day he sends his father out to Savile Row for new suits, to the best barber for a haircut and a trim, new spectacles, a walking stick, the works.

His father seems to be enjoying his new image, but a few days pass and the son walks past the sitting room where his father is relaxing and sees the old man sitting with his head in his hands. The son feels pangs of guilt: he tried to change this old man, he stripped away all that was familiar, he didn't honor his father. In he walks, and he lays his hand on his father's shoulder. "Papa, are you all right?"

His father looks up with mournful eyes and heaves a deep sigh. "My son," he whispers, "I can't believe we lost India!"

The Siren said...

Casey, I have indeed seen Now and Forever; I think I saw them all. But gosh, it's been ages and now I would love to see it again. I count myself a Hathaway fan and a head-to-head comparison with the Ford would be fascinating. I doubt Hathaway would win in visual terms but the script, maybe.

Karen, what a rather sweet joke. I remembered that you once confessed love for Temple. I think as a child I got something out of her every film. Due to my daughter's newfound interest I stand a good chance of revisiting a lot of them, so it should be quite the viewing experience. I might have tried to go into the whole historic background of Winkie--A. and I watched together--but it didn't seem to register much with her beyond Romero saying "Allah's blessings be upon you" and her responding, with delight, "ooh, he's Muslim!"

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

This was lovely.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen,

Actually it's that rarest of things, an English joke.

Arthur S. said...

That was an amazing story, Karen.

Rest assured that many in the educated Indian middle-class felt the same way when the Raj left and they still buy phony nostalgia that the "British did some good things too" as if it somehow justifies anything. They made lots of good business and profit under the Raj and they didn't like the nationalized direction of Nehru's government and many of them subsequently immigrated or sent their kids to England or the US to set up shop there, that's why a lot of the emigre Indians in the United States tend to vote Republican.

DavidEhrenstein said...

STOP PRESS! THIS JUST IN!

Organizers Can't Find Honorary Oscar Recipient Godard
Hollywood Reporter
By Stephen Galloway
August 25, 2010

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Where is Jean-Luc Godard when you need him?
Oscar organizers have spent almost 24 frantic hours trying to reach the iconoclastic filmmaker ("Breathless") to inform him he's getting an honorary statuette -- and by late Wednesday they still hadn't been able to find him.

Godard, a Swiss citizen born in Paris, is notoriously anti-Hollywood. He's also anti-flying and has avoided long plane flights, one insider said, because he's not allowed to smoke. This means Godard, 79, could be one of the rare no-shows for an honorary award. Audrey Hepburn died in 1993 before her prize could be presented.

"We've been attempting to reach him since 7 o'clock Tuesday evening and we have as yet had no confirmation," Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences said late Wednesday afternoon. "We have tried by telephone, by fax, by emails to various friends and associates. We have sent a formal letter by FedEx. But we have certainly not been told he will show up at this point."

Davis said that possibility played no factor when the Academy's board determined recipients of the honorary Oscars, which will be presented in November at the second annual Governors Awards. Other recipients will be Eli Wallach, Francis Ford Coppola and silent film historian Kevin Brownlow. The Americans were informed Tuesday night. Brownlow was awoken in London by a call from Academy president Tom Sherak.

"They were all thrilled, Mr. Brownlow especially," Davis said. "He had no idea why the president of the Academy had reached him in the middle of the night."
Presumably, at this point, Godard has no idea either.

Vanwall said...

The emulation of the British in India goes as far as many military units still retaining the regimental names and shared histories, but the most curious is Argentina, which has a miniature Big Ben laying about somewhere, and somewhat sadly, the Argentine Air Force fighter pilots modelelled themselves on the RAF, especially the Blitz period, some having nicknames like "Jock" and "Pip", and styling in vintage togs - these brave, (and some doomed) young men went up against the RAF in the Falklands Campaign in semi-obsolescent "crates" too, and aquitted themselves as well as any RAF stalwarts could've.

I should note that Shirley Temple's characters, while generally conformist, were much less constrained as social creatures on film than most adult women's roles - a good example of the innate subversive nature of outspoken children's parts. And she was certainly good at making the most of those "out of the mouths of babes" parts.

I remember seeing a week-long set of Temple films, followed by Margaret O'Brien films back in the late sixties, it was a bit treacly by the end of that week, altho it was the first time I saw some of the Temple films that didn't get heavy rotation, and O'Brien in "Lost Angel" and "Tenth Avenue Angel", and even "Jane Eyre" were little revalations for me then. I don't ever remember a boy's series of films outside of the Roddy McDowell's, which were often far darker.

Trish said...

Why move to censor Greene's cynical review when his point was already well illustrated by the baby burlesque shorts Shirley made a few years previous to Wee Willie Winkie. Here Shirley is a tiny tot in diapers, starring in grown-up plots about put-upon dance hall floozies who are sexually harassed, black-mailed and always rescued by the right man - er - boy. Lots of double entendres and phallic symbols. I hope the Temples enjoyed the money they earned off her.

Rozsaphile said...

Who could have imagined an Oscar for Godard! The "missing" aspect recalls the scene in Wilder's FEDORA where "President of the Academy" Henry Fonda goes off to a Greek island to present an honorary Oscar to Marthe Keller, who is supposed to be . . . Well, it's complicated -- and actually has Godardian possibilities.

Yojimboen said...

Nicely put, Trish, kudos for grounding it all in reality. But I will argue “cynical”. I don’t see Greene as ever being cynical. Impatient, perhaps but, as someone said, ‘one man’s cynicism is another man’s perceptive observation.’

Adam Zanzie said...

Many thanks for writing on this film--it's the one Shirley Temple film I would pick to see, if I were offered choices of those I haven't seen yet. Your descriptions of how Ford photographs her has me intrigued.

Yojimboen said...

Forgive me, Karen, I can’t resist. The opposite of your joke is the one about the Jewish family completely assimilated in the goyish world (temple only on Yom Kippur, children in secular public schools, etc.) whose oldest son elects to go to Yeshiva University.

After the first semester the boy comes come for a visit; the father opens the door to his son, now dressed head to toe in orthodox black, tallit’d, yarmulka’d, peyes’d and bearded to the max.
The father joyously exclaims, “Look at you, Joe College!”

DavidEhrenstein said...

I don't find the review cynical at all.

Merely acurate.

naomi said...

Have you seen the Race in Film series at the site Mirror? They are looking at how classic film portrayed people of color. The discussion here about the Indians reminded me of the Shanghai Express post over there:

http://www.mirrorfilm.org/2010/07/06/race-in-film-shanghai-express/

Trish said...

Perhaps I went overboard calling it cynical -- I have just watched The Quiet American (1958).

Trish said...

I'm sure Jean-Luc Godard is anti-Hollywood, anti-flying, anti-crowd, anti-address, anti-anything that allegedly prevents him from saying thank you. But I no more believe he doesn't want an oscar any more than I believe it of Woody Allen. They do protest too much.

X. Trapnel said...

Hard to say which is more of a characteristically 50s atrocity, The Quiet American or (Miss) Lonelyhearts. The ideal personification of Pyle would have been Robert Francis giving the exact same performance he gave in The Caine Mutiny with a non-Mank director not cluing him in that he's the villain.

Rozsaphile said...

Regarding Anglo-India and the Raj: I'm sure that the makers of Gunga Din shared the same imperial assumptions as most Americans of the time, and there are doubtless many inaccuracies in their vision of British order. Still, the baddies in that film, a criminal murder cult called Thugee, can hardly be viewed as a proto-independence movement.

X. Trapnel said...

No indeed, but the Thuggee movement had been suppressed long before Gunga Din takes place and is anachronistically revived to make British activities look noble.

Blake Lucas said...

Just to say how much this old Fordian enjoyed your lovely piece on WEE WILLIE WINKIE. It really warmed my heart, Siren.

I had never heard it was Shirley Temple's own favorite of her movies--which shows excellent taste on her part. Thanks for including that info.

Just a small correction--Arthur Miller was indeed a great cinematographer, but so was Bert Glennon and he was the one on YOUNG MR. LINCOLN.

Again, though, this had wonderful feeling for the film, so observant of its qualities. As for the famous Greene piece, it's been talked about way too much, but it sounds like you agree and really brought it up to make that point.

- said...

I always love this quote you wrote by Erich von Stroheim. Thanks.

gmoke said...

Peter Nellhaus' comment about Ford's shooting Temple at her own level reminds me of the one thing I found interesting about "ET." Spielberg, whose movies I generally dislike, shot it all from the height of ET.

Yojimboen said...

Yasujirô Ozu shot everything from the static POV of someone kneeling on a tatami mat.

While I don’t think Ford ever saw an Ozu film, I’d bet Spielberg has.

The Siren said...

Nothing like waking up in the morning to a beautiful series of comments. Jacqueline, thank you; if I'd had to guess, I would have thought you'd like this movie, it is Our Sort of Thing.

Vanwall, love your point about the lack of social constraint on Temple's characters, and it's interesting to contrast her lively all-over-the-place presence with the mother or surrogate mother figures in her films, usually lovely, graceful DRIPS. (One exception, before vp81955 beats me to it, would be Carole Lombard in the aforementioned Now and Forever.)

Blake, I am so happy to see you here. I know very well that you are also an ardent Ford fan from seeing you in Dave Kehr's comments, where the Siren lurks but stays mute. So I'm glad you thought I did this one some sort of justice. Really, I think Kehr is right, that it's one of Ford's most underrated films. Trust me people, it is a thing of beauty, no matter where you stand on Temple's ultimate appeal. (@Adam Zanzie--you won't be disappointed in that regard.) And yes, what's a bit distressing about the Greene analysis is its ubiquity. I don't think it's the ultimate word on Temple, any more than Katharine Hepburn's remark about Astaire and Rogers should be the final word on them.

As for Miller/Glennon, thank you very much, and lord I am kicking myself black and blue. I would never diss Bert Glennon. I will say in my defense that Miller is listed as a DP for Young Mr. Lincoln in Wikipedia, which is either dead wrong (wouldn't be the first time with Wikip., and that's why this is an object lesson in why that & IMDB should be cross-checked) or crediting him as a secondary DP, I suppose. I will research and correct.

Naomi, thanks very much for the Mirror link. I want to see Shanghai Express again so badly; reading that later today will be a small but pleasurable substitute.

Karen said...

For what it's worth, Siren, even the AFI Catalog lists, simply, "Photography Bert Glennon; Photography Arthur Miller;" without any additional commentary.

X., you're absolutely correct: it IS an English joke, and a pretty successful one, too, I think.

Yojimboen, I have never heard that Joe College joke (and I really thought I had the market cornered on Jewish jokes), so I thank you!

Trish, I think that the modern attitudes about children that result in the horror many feel at baby pageants really are of a more recent vintage. Dressing kids up as grown-ups and having them behave inappropriately was a time-honored form of entertainment as recently as 1976's Bugsy Malone. I'm not defending it, mind you; I'm just acknowledging it. I'm just not sure that it was seen then as as exploitative as we see it now.

I'm open to dissent, however!

Blake Lucas said...

Siren, thanks for what you said in your reply. You know, you are very eloquent and I wish you would post at davekehr.com if you were ever inclined. I think anyone there would enjoy your voice. But I know you have your own blog to keep up and there's only so much time. For what it's worth, you've made me want to keep looking in here.

I see Tag Gallagher has Arthur Miller in a parenthesis on YOUNG MR. LINCOLN but uncredited on the film (for "river locations"), and of course it's common for DPs under contract to the same studio to sometimes do scenes on a film one of their colleagues is shooting. So yes, though Glennon is the credited cinematographer, Miller did work on it too and you were not wrong at all to mention him. If "river locations" refers to the Ann Rutledge sequence, that means he shot the most beautiful sequence in the movie.

Which takes nothing away from Glennon of course. The contributions of both Glennon and Miller to the work of Ford are immense, as to so many other great films they both worked on.

Trish said...

Karen, you're right when you say modern attitudes can be linked to our feelings about baby pageants. I completely agree. I'm the last person to defend political correctness, and I am not a parent, but there is something stomach-churning about a scene where a 3-year old scantily dressed tart informs her suitor that she's "expensive". Someone else must have thought so too -- weren't these films banned for a time?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hi Blake!

Nora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nora said...

I won’t attempt to comment again on Graham Greene and his assessment of WWW or Shirley Temple, not only because my post/delete cycle is becoming ridiculous and can be used as evidence of approaching senility, but because overall I enjoy Shirley Temple while knowing little of Greene’s film criticism (something that shall be immediately remedied).

However, with the advent of film, what was once local became national. Beauty pageants in the 1920’s were filled with little girls in skimpy outfits wiggling their way to trophies and studio contracts. And while I prefer to think that stage parents did not knowingly exploit their children, if you look at the costumes and the routines, the exploitation is there.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Parents quite knowlingly exploiting their children sexually is a show business mainstay. Need I remind everyone of the long line of parents eager to give thier little boys to Michael Jackson?

Robert said...

In her admirable memoir Child Star, Shirley Temple quoted Graham Greene's long unseen review in its entirety.

panavia999 said...

Thank you Siren for such a thoughtful post. I haven't watched WWW since I was a kid, because subsequently I read the Kipling story and thought it was so silly to change the story to a little american girl. Of course, so many Temple films are like that! However, I do love Temple movies so I'll just watch it again. Also, I love old movies and old novels about the Raj, The Empire and The Great Game. I love to read Kipling and John Buchan. I don't cringe over imperialism or put on my PC goggles, I just enjoy the stories.

panavia999 said...

Robert mentioned that Temple quoted Greene's review in its entirety in her autobiography. What did she think of it?

Bob Westal said...

Another great piece, oh FSN/Siren-person.

Re: Graham Greene. I'm a pretty big fan of him in general, but that piece strikes me as pointlessly nasty. Not worthy of someone like Greene, certainly.

Re: the larger issue that he brings up. I'm as creeped out by kiddie pageants as anyone, I think, but is pedophilia really THAT common? On the other hand, I admit to being hugely turned on by Jodie Foster in "Bugsy Malone," but then I was thirteen when I saw it.

Ace89 said...

A truly splendid piece on one of Ford's lesser-known films. As a devout Ford fan, I was especially impressed with your attention to details implicit in his pictures. I am new to computers- and have just started my own rather awkward blog- so I just discovered your site and am delighted I found it.