Comedy

Shirley Temple presents: Poverty Lite

Has Shirley Temple resorted to knocking down liquor stores?
Has Shirley Temple resorted to knocking down liquor stores?

Dear Reader, are you having financial difficulties? Are you worried about losing your job or paying the rent?

You are not alone! Did you know that Shirley Temple has navigated those same choppy financial waters? True! In addition to that, she’s given us a blueprint so that we, too, may dance and charm our way to prosperity.

Just Around the Corner is a 1938 comedy about a rich girl (Temple) who is abruptly sent home from boarding school to discover that her architect father has lost his job. If that weren’t bad enough, the pair has been kicked out of their lavish penthouse apartment and dumped into a basement suite where they can see people walking on the sidewalk above them. Fortunately, Temple’s father still has a job…as the building superintendent.

Now, you are not going to believe this movie’s subplot: Temple lives with her widowed (?) father, and she encourages him to pursue a lovely young tenant who could become her New Mother! Surprise! (Bet you never expected that.) Here’s another shocker: Temple orchestrates a happy solution for all the muddle-headed adults around her. Hooray!

So, given these familiar themes, what makes this movie different from other Shirley Temple movies?

1. The script. While the pro-capitalist script embraces racial and socio-economic stereotypes, it has a lot of surprisingly witty lines. For example, the poor children in the neighbourhood refer to each other as “mugs” and tell each other that they’ll “get a sock in the kisser if they don’t button their lip”.

In another scene, when Temple first returns to her swanky apartment building – blissfully unaware of her dire financial situation – a building employee studies Temple’s face and says, “You got a good strong chin, darling. Keep it up no matter what happens.”

2. The luscious 1930s-era sets. The building in which Temple & Co. live is a swanky New York high-rise, with floors as slick and polished as a brand-new nickel. (The floors present a running gag throughout the film; characters often slip and slide on these intensely shiny surfaces.) The footage of New York itself, shot from the harbour, presents a sturdy, efficient city that seems full of possibilities.

3. The characters. There are a terrific assortment of people who work in the building, such as the wise-cracking dog-walking lady (Joan Davis) and a saxophone-playing chauffeur (Bert Lahr). Never has being broke been so much fun!

All of this chaos is presided over by the snooty building manager (the ever-delightful Franklin Pangborn) who suffers the inevitable fall into the pool, a drop down the laundry chute and a kick to the seat of the pants.

Temple also befriends the boy (Benny Bartlett) who is the new tenant in her  penthouse. Bartlett sports round glasses and talks like Rudy Vallee. After a haircut, he analyzes himself in the mirror and remarks, “I do look more vigorous, don’t I?”

4. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson is the building’s doorman who’s also a fabulous dancer. Whatever your opinion of Shirley Temple, her dance number with Robinson is pure joy to watch. But be warned: the tune for this number will stick in your head for the rest of the day.

The movie also has the trademark Temple optimism. When her father expresses sorrow at not being able to afford the penthouse apartment, Temple outlines all the positives to living under a sidewalk. “There are not so many stairs to climb,” she says, “and the rooms are small. I don’t have to walk around so much.”

You may feel that if you’ve seen one Shirley Temple movie, you’ve seen ’em all. But Just Around the Corner is a clever, fast-paced movie that will make you laugh – even if it doesn’t really show you how to regain prosperity.

Just Around the Corner: starring Shirley Temple, Joan Davis, Charles Farrell. Directed by Irving Cummings. Written by Ethel Hill, J.P. McEvoy, Darrell Ware. Twentieth-Century Fox, 1938, B&W, 70 mins.

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19 thoughts on “Shirley Temple presents: Poverty Lite

  1. You’d think that with many cable companies offering 500+ channels, they could find room for a Shirley Temple movie once in a while. Is it really necessary to see these publicity hounds masquerading as Wives, Families, or whatever? I’d stop whatever I was doing to see Robinson dance with Temple. Thanks for today’s reminder. It’s another one for the list.

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    1. A lot of people find Shirley Temple’s sweetness a bit too much, but for my money a little sweetness goes a long way these days.

      Re: the 500+ channel universe in which we live, I laughed at your description of the “publicity hounds”. They are, indeed.

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  2. I’m always surprised by the number of classic movies fans that don’t like Shirley Temple. Most of her films are well-made and entertaining…and this sounds like it fits the bill, too (that’s a great supporting cast with Bert, Franklin, and Bill). Right now, a lot of people could use some of Shirley’s optimism, so this was a very timely post!

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  3. I haven’t watched this film in years but just reading your post has put so many songs into my head. It might be time to revisit some of the delightful films from my childhood. Thanks again.

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  4. A little bit of Shirley (one movie at a time) is enough to brighten a day, too much gives you a toothache. I loved this write-up. A few months ago some company (I think Time Life) was hawking a complete collection of Shirley Temple movies on television. I saw the ad at least 5 times a day. They almost wore me down, and I am just a regular fan and not a crazed collector like some people.

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  5. I haven’t seen this one, but I’ve liked most of what I’ve seen so far. Really enjoyed the two she made with Alice Faye – Stowaway and Poor Little Rich Girl – so I bet I would like this one. A friend of mine has all of her movies on DVD. I’ll ask to borrow it. Thanks for the heads up.

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