Bright Eyes (1934 film)
|Directed by||David Butler|
|Produced by||Sol M. Wurtzel|
|Music by||Richard A. Whiting
|Distributed by||Fox Film|
|Release date(s)||December 28, 1934|
|Running time||83 minutes|
Bright Eyes is a 1934 American comedy drama film directed by David Butler. The screenplay by William Conselman is based on a story by David Butler and Edwin Burke, and focuses on the relationship between bachelor aviator James 'Loop' Merritt (James Dunn) and his orphaned godchild, Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple). Merritt becomes involved in a custody battle for the child with a rich, elderly gentleman. The film featured one musical number, "On the Good Ship Lollipop".
Bright Eyes was the first film to be written and developed specifically for Temple, and the first in which her name was raised above the title. In February 1935, Temple received a special Academy Award for her 1934 contributions to film, particularly Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes. In 2009, the film was available on VHS and DVD in both black and white and colorized versions.
Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple) and her mother Mary (Lois Wilson), a maid, live in the home of her employers, the rich and mean-spirited Smythe family, Anita (Dorothy Christy), J. Wellington (Theodore von Eltz), and Joy (Jane Withers). Shirley's aviator father died in an airplane crash before the film opens, and she now spends most of her time at the Glendale, California airport with her godfather, bachelor pilot James 'Loop' Merritt (James Dunn), and his dog Rags.[note 1]
When Mary is killed in a traffic accident, the Smythes make plans to send Shirley to an orphanage. However, Uncle Ned (Charles Sellon), the cranky, wheelchair-bound patriarch of the family, is fond of little 'Bright Eyes' (as he calls her) and insists that she remain in the house. His relatives grudgingly comply with his wishes, although they make her feel unwelcome. A custody battle for her ensues between Loop and Uncle Ned. The impasse is resolved when Loop, his fiancee Adele (Judith Allen), Uncle Ned, and Shirley all decide to live together.
- Shirley Temple as Shirley Blake, the five-year-old daughter of Mary Blake
- James Dunn as James 'Loop' Merritt, a bachelor pilot and Shirley’s godfather
- Lois Wilson as Mary Blake, a widow, Shirley’s mother, and a maid in the Smythe family's home
- Judith Allen as Adele Martin, a socialite, Loop’s estranged sweetheart, and eventually his fiancee
- Charles Sellon as Uncle Ned Smith, the Smythes' cranky patriarch
- Theodor von Eltz as J. Wellington Smythe, a haughty nouveau-riche
- Dorothy Christy as Anita Smythe, J. Wellington Smythe’s wife
- Jane Withers as Joy Smythe, J. Wellington and Anita Smythe's spoiled and obnoxious daughter
- Brandon Hurst as Higgins, the Smythes' butler
- Jane Darwell as Elizabeth Higgins, the Smythes' cook
- Walter Johnson as Thomas, the Smythes' chauffeur
- George Irving as Judge Thompson
- Terry the dog as Rags, Loops dog
When Temple’s mother Gertrude Temple read the script, she tried to persuade Fox Film production head Winfield Sheehan to trim the role of Joy Smythe, a rich, mean, snobbish child and the complete opposite of Shirley’s winsome, lovable character. Sheehan however would not do so, believing the contrast between the two girls would enhance audience sympathy for Temple’s character.
Thirty girls auditioned for the role of Joy with the part being given to eight-year-old Jane Withers, an experienced stage performer but a relative newcomer to films. Mrs. Temple hovered ever closer to Shirley as filming began and ordered Withers to wash her hands before performing in any scene with her daughter. Director Butler later told Withers, "You stole the picture". In a 2006 interview on TCM's Private Screenings, Withers recalled that she was hesitant to take the role because she had to be so "mean" to Temple and the public would hate her for it.
Andre Sennwald in his December 21, 1934 New York Times review praised Dunn, Wilson, and Withers. Sellon was singled out for his "great humorous skill" in portraying crotchety Uncle Ned. Sennwald thought the film was at its best during Temple’s delivery of the Lollipop song and at its worst in the scenes involving the villainous Smythes, who, for him, were so over-the-top as to be unrecognizable as human beings. He decided the film was composed of "old standbys of the hearts-and-flowers drama", and noted that, “Shirley romps through all her assignments with such persuasive charm and enkindling naturalness that she succeeds in being refreshing even in her most painfully arranged scenes."
Film commentator Hal Erickson writes Bright Eyes is "arguably the best of Shirley Temple's 1930s vehicles", and thinks Jane Withers "terrific" as the film’s villainess. He notes that some critics believed Withers stole the show, and it was this "as much as anything else, that earned Withers her own starring series at 20th Century-Fox".
Temple received a miniature Oscar on February 27, 1935 for her contributions to film entertainment in 1934, chiefly for Little Miss Marker and Bright Eyes. She was the first child actor to receive an Academy Award.
The original black and white film and a computer-colorized version of the original were available on both videocassette and DVD in 2008. Some versions included theatrical trailers and other special features.
- Windeler 1992, p. 26
- Edwards 1988, p. 67
- Edwards 1988, p. 68
- The Radio City Music Hall Presents Its Christmas Show, 'Bright Eyes,' with Shirley Temple, The New York Times, 1934-12-21, retrieved 2009-10-08[dead link]
- Sennwald, Andre. "Bright Eyes (1934): Review Summary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- Edwards 1988, p. 80
- Windeler 1992, p. 27
- Maltin 2008, p. 180
- Works cited
- Edwards, Anne (1988), Shirley Temple: American Princess, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
- Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2007), Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide, New York: Signet, ISBN 978-0-451-22186-5
- Windeler, Robert (1992), The Films of Shirley Temple, New York: Carol Publishing Group, ISBN 0-8065-0725-X
- Basinger, Jeanine (1993), A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, pp. 262ff The author expounds upon father figures in Temple films.
- Thomson, Rosemarie Garland (ed.) (1996), Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, New York: New York University Press, pp. 185–203, ISBN 0-8147-8217-5 In the essay, "Cuteness and Commodity Aesthetics: Tom Thumb and Shirley Temple", author Lori Merish examines the cult of cuteness in America.
- Wojcik-Andrews, Ian (2000), Children's films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 134–141, ISBN 0-8153-3074-X The author presents an examination of social class in Bright Eyes.
- Bright Eyes at the Internet Movie Database
- Bright Eyes at AllRovi
- Bright Eyes at the TCM Movie Database
- Bright Eyes at Rotten Tomatoes