Watching 1939: The Little Princess (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

little princess1939 film: 
The Little Princess (1939)

Release date: 
March 10, 1939

Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher, Mary Nash, Sybil Jason, Marcia Mae Jones, Beryl Mercer, E.E. Clive, Deidre Gale, Ira Stevens, Eily Malyon

20th Century Fox

Walter Lang

When her father (Hunter) has to fight in the Boer War, Sarah (Temple) has to stay at an exclusive girl’s school in England run by Mrs. Minchin (Nash). When her father is presumed dead, Sarah is forced to work as a servant at the school.

1939 Notes:
• Actress Beryl Mercer died in 1939, so this was one of her last films. Mercer played Queen Victoria twice in 1939. In this film and THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL.
• By the numbers:
– Shirley Temple was in two films released in 1939.
– Sybil Jason was in two films released in 1939, and she left films in 1940.
– Arthur Treacher was in three films released in 1939.
– Richard Greene was in four films released in 1939.
– Anita Louise was in six films released in 1939.
– Ian Hunter was in seven films released in 1939.
– Cesar Romero was in six films released in 1939.
– Mary Nash was in two films released in 1939.
– Beryl Mercer was in four films released in 1939.
– E.E. Clive was in 13 films released in 1939.
– Ira Stevens only film of 1939 and her last film. Stevens was only in two films. Stevens was also Temple’s double.
– Eily Malyon was in eight films released in 1939.


Other trivia: 
• Based on the 1905 novel “The Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, though it has a different ending.
• This is the second version of Burnett’s book. The other was A Little Princess (1917) starring Mary Pickford.
• Shirley Temple’s first full-length Technicolor feature-film.
• Darryl F. Zanuck recommended Arlene Whelan for the role of Rose and Reginald Gardiner for the role of Bertie. The roles went to Anita Louise and Arthur Treacher.

little princess5

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
It’s shimmering in gorgeous Technicolor and delightfully fun, THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1939) is one of Shirley Temple’s best films as a child actor.

And while you can get lost in the beauty and fun, THE LITTLE PRINCESS is also a little sad when it comes to the career of Shirley Temple. While it was highly successful, it was the end of an era when it came to her successful career as a child star. It was her last successful film and towards the end of her time as a child star.

Despite this, THE LITTLE PRINCESS is my favorite Shirley Temple movie.

Adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel “The Little Princess,” the story follows Sara who has to stay at an exclusive girl’s school while her father serves in the Boer War. When her father is presumed dead, the school’s owner finds he is bankrupt and Sara is forced to work at the school to pay off his debts to the school’s owner.

little princess4While Temple is great, this film stands out to me because of it’s outstanding supporting staff. Anita Louise and Richard Greene play teachers at the school who are also secretly in love. The two are impossibly beautiful in general, but especially in Technicolor.

Mary Nash as the school’s owner Miss Minchin is deliciously mean, per usual. And Marcia Mae Jones is excellent as a snobby classmate.

Child star Sybil Jason is also wonderful and of course Arthur Treacher as Miss Minchin’s kindly brother is excellent as usual. Treacher and Temple singing and dancing together is a highlight in the film. Poor Ian Hunter doesn’t have much to do in this one.

If you read the book, you may be in for a bit of a shock at the end, because the film differs from the book ending. I remember reading this book as a teen and being surprised that the film and the book didn’t not end in the same way.

One highlight in this film is the dream sequence where Sara dreams that she’s a queen and she has to free a young couple (Louise, Greene) from being arrested for kissing. The whole thing is ridiculous and hilarious but I love it.

Overall this is a charming, colorful film that is so much fun. While it’s not a holiday film, it has a warm and fuzzy feeling that fits the season.

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: The Little Princess (1939)

  1. Loved your review, and love this film, Jessica. It’s my favorite Shirley Temple as well (although when I think about it, I realize that I really haven’t seen very many Shirley Temple movies!). I didn’t realize that Beryl Mercer played Queen Victoria!


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