Directed by David Butler with Shirley Temple, James Dunn, Jane Darwell
Gotta Dance: The American Movie Musical 1929-1953
1934, U.S. Shirley Temple was that “rare phenomenon, a child actress who could sing, dance, laugh, and cry on cue without inducing nausea in adults… At the peak of her popularity she was an American original, a folk heroine adored by movie audiences who saw in her the ideal child: bright, cheery, and self-reliant” (Ted Sennett). In Bright Eyes, the picture custom-crafted for Temple and which brought her stardom and saved Fox studio from financial crisis, the six year old plays a suddenly orphaned child. Among those hoping to adopt her is her godfather, co-star James Dunn, with whom Temple appeared in three other films. Bright Eyes, one of nine pictures Temple completed in 1934—earning herself a special Oscar that year for "outstanding contribution to screen entertainment”—features the entertainer’s delightful signature song “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”
Shirley Temple was “simply an adorable little girl who phrased her songs with instinctive charm and danced like a pro.” – Richard Barrios, A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film
Gotta Dance: The American Movie Musical 1929-1953 is a survey of the American film musical, a genre whose uniquely American exuberance and optimism entertained audiences through the dark years of the Great Depression and reached its apex in the 1940s and 50s, where our series concludes in May. From now until then, we will visit the musical each week, with titles ranging from well-loved classics such as An American in Paris (1951) to lesser-known B-musicals and intriguing entries produced outside Hollywood.
The movie musical may be the apotheosis of the American movie theater’s “darkened dream-world,” a seductive space with “surreal sets, sumptuous costumes, uplifting song, and an entire cast moving to the same rhythm” (Rick Altman, The American Film Musical).