Starring: Shirley Temple, John Boles, Bill Robinson
Director: David Butler
Running Time: 73 mins
The Littlest Rebel is an American film about a young girl living in a wealthy plantation-owning family whose father, a Confederate soldier, is being searched for by Union forces, however she aims to do everything she can to protect her family.
I’m sure you can tell from the title alone, but The Littlest Rebel is a lovely little film. Although its story doesn’t feature all that much depth, and it doesn’t impress hugely when it comes to hilarious comedy, it’s a very simple and smiley film that proves a generally harmless way to spend just over an hour.
First off, let’s talk about young Shirley Temple in the lead role. It’s clear from this film, even if it’s not her most famous, why she’s seen as one of the best child actors ever. Although her rather pompous and even precocious character may seem like the perfect premise for an annoying kid on screen, Temple is a delightful presence from start to finish, playing up the cute factor throughout while adding some lovely humour and energy to the story with her lively central performance.
Another plus comes in David Butler’s directing. Although I can’t say that he manages to make the film’s story as engaging as perhaps intended, Butler does a wonderful job at making The Littlest Rebel a really cute little movie. It’s got a brilliantly light-hearted atmosphere, and although it’s set during the Civil War, none of the darker and grittier historical truths are ever brought into the fray here, rather using the backdrop to show Shirley Temple’s comically extreme resilience and confidence against the Union army.
What’s more is that, although the original version of the film was black-and-white, it works well in colour, adding another level of brightness and joy to the atmosphere, and also proving very reminiscent of Gone With The Wind, given that so many locations and scenes are set around the same historical period, and in roughly the same class.
In general, The Littlest Rebel is a very cute film, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. For one, as nice and smiley as it is, there’s very little depth in its story, and many events do get resolved a little too quickly and a little too easily. Of course, that plays into its nice side, but it proves a little frustrating if you want to find a little more intrigue beyond just smiling along at the film.
Finally, there are a few moments where attitudes at the time of the film’s release seem a little shocking when watched nowadays. For example, there’s a blackface scene, which although is meant without malicious intent, may still be a little uncomfortable for some, as well as some of the black characters’ personalities. Although Billy Robinson is shown as a likable and caring man, many of his African-American co-stars, who play slaves, are shown in a rather dumb light, which also just feels a little off.
Overall, however, this is a film to sit back and relax with. There’s no real depth to its story, and although that means it’s not the world’s most riveting film, it does prove a very pleasant and nice classic to pass the time, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.