Shirley Temple's career as 20th Century-Fox's most bankable pint size star reached its apex with the Technicolor extravaganza, The Little Princess (1939); based on the celebrated novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Walter Lang’s film is a sumptuously mounted, often poignant melodrama. Temple is Sara Crewe, the privileged – though quite unspoiled - precocious daughter of Capt. Reginald Crewe (Ian Hunter), who is placed in the pampered care of Amanda Minchin’s (Mary Nash) private school while her father goes off to fight in the great war.
Life at the school is blissfully serene. Sara fits right in and makes friends quite easily. She is unselfish and giving of herself. Miss Minchin affords her new charge a great deal of latitude, because she believes the more she caters to Sara the greater her fee for her care will be once the Captain returns from the battlefields.
Unfortunately, word reaches Amanda that her father has been killed abroad, and worse – that his estate is virtually penniless. In order to pay for her education, the rather cold hearted Miss Minchin makes Amanda her servant – relegating her to quarters inside the freezing attic apartment where Sara must feverishly work night and day to stay warm and focused on her future.
But Sara is ever the optimist. She befriends Ram Dass (Caesar Romero) the dashing Arabic servant to Lord Wickham (Miles Mander), and easily wins the respect and support of Amanda’s brother, Hubert (Arthur Treacher), a butler at the school who eventually sneaks Sara into the sick ward of the military hospital to search for her father among the wounded soldiers. In one of the film’s best remembered sequences, Sara’s impassioned pleas even win the heart of England’s most gracious majesty, Queen Victoria (Beryl Mercer).
The Little Princess is heartwarming entertainment through and through. Shirley Temple excels as the unflinching child who remains steadfast and pure despite having to endure many hardships. Ethel Hill and Walter Farris' screenplay tends to drag during the middle act, but only occasionally does the treacle seem pronounced, or at least, rehearsed. Overall, The Little Princess is delightful, timeless and enduring family fun; a movie that will appeal to both the young and young in heart.
Fox’s DVD transfer is satisfactory, though not amazing. The original Technicolor exhibits a very saturated colors that occasionally suffer from 3 strip mis-registration. Colors on the whole are rich, bold and vibrant. Contrast levels are ideally realized. Fine detail is often very nicely realized.
There are several scenes where the image appears to suffer from a ‘thick’ characteristic – categorized by blocky colors and a sudden loss of detail that is brief but distracting nevertheless. Age related artifacts have been cleaned up. The audio is re-channeled stereo surround. The original mono will suffice quite nicely. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)