Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Back when Shirley Temple died and TCM had their day-long tribute to her, I mentioned that Bright Eyes was one of the first movies to follow what would become a successful formula. Another good example of this would be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on FXM/FMC.

Shirley Temple is once again an orphan; Rebecca (naturally, she gets the title role) is a little girl whose biological parents have died and who is going around the country with her actor stepfather Henry (William Demarest). Henry and Rebecca show up at a radio station just in time for the auditions for a cereal magnate's auditions to find the next "Little Miss America". Obvoiusly, Rebecca has the same charm and talent that Shirley Temple does, so she'd be a natural for the part. But a mix-up happens, and Henry thinks that the programming director's (Randolph Scott) decision to stop the audition is because they've failed. With no job prospects, Henry decides to send Rebecca to her aunt's farm.

Aunt Miranda (Helen Westley) is a bit of a tough character. She doesn't like those acting people, and she certainly doesn't want Rebecca hanging out with them. She also doesn't like the farmer who lives on the other side of the fence, and orders Rebecca to stay away, even though they're OK with her. Also with Rebecca and Aunt Miranda is Gwen (Gloria Stuart), another of Miranda's nieces and one of Rebecca's cousins.

But back to that other farm. It's owned by Tony Kent, who just happens to be... a programming director. And he's the same one who was looking for "Little Miss America", and had intended to sign Rebecca to a contract for it, before she and her stepfather left thinking he audition had failed. He's come up for a visit; being a city folk, he doesn't actually run the place. It's the manager Homer (Slim Summerville) who is the subjected of Miranda's aforementioned dislike of everybody on that side of the boundary fence. Anyhow, Tony hears Rebecca singing, and realizes -- here's the girl I've been looking for!

Complications, of course, ensue. Miranda only took in Rebecca on the agreement that it would be for good, and none of those acting people. (Never mind what Rebecca wants.) Henry learns that Rebecca is going to be successful, and wants her back. And there are also the romantic complications. There's no reason for Gwen to be in the story, other than to serve as the eventual romantic interest for Tony, and that it's going to be Rebecca who brings them together. And you can probably guess that Rebecca's presence will ultimately convince Miranda that perhaps she was wrong about Homer.

It's all a tried-and-true formula, having worked for a good three years already. Once again, Shirley Temple is the stick that stirs the drink, making everything work. She's paired up with all the comic character actors and other supporting talent Fox could find, including getting a dance with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Nobody really outshines Shirley Temple, of course; instead, many of these actors make good pairings with her to entertain the viewer. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is, after all, entertainment first and foremost, with an unchallenging plot and a predictably happy ending. This should, however, not be construed as a negative. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm succeeds in spades at what it's trying to do.

There are several DVD releases of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but some of the cheaper ones seem to have been colorized.

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