This is a peculiar and rather uncomfortable feature from the early days of Shirley Temple's career. It's rather strange to see such a complete contrast between the innocent, almost syrupy tone of her best-known full-length movies and the risqué, often rather inappropriate nature of many of her early short features. If nothing else, it provides some interesting examples of how the perspectives of the time differed from those of today.
Temple, at four years of age, is part of a cast consisting entirely of equally young children (as was also the case in many of her earliest short movies). She plays a dancer who entertains a group of soldiers in a café, soon becoming the source of a rivalry between two of them. Besides the basic story line, there are a lot of isolated gag ideas, many of them using milk in one way or another.
The children are depicted as thoroughly amoral characters, leading to a lot of situations that the vast majority of today's viewers would find uncomfortable or even disturbing. Certainly, no film-maker today could film such material using children without suffering irrevocable consequences to his or her career. Setting aside whatever one's personal feelings may be, it points out some very different attitudes or sensitivities - and of course, there are things that are routinely accepted in today's movies that would have provoked nearly universal outrage in the 1940s.
If you can set aside the uncomfortable nature of the material, there are probably a handful of amusing moments. The intent was obviously to use the children to satirize adult behavior, and on occasion it works. But, to be painfully honest, it's just not really a very good movie anyway. Besides the racy behavior of the child actors, they threw in some racial stereotypes, apparently just for good measure, and then the constant emphasis on milk is a bit odd in itself.
One thing, though, that does stand out is that Temple has an obvious energy and screen presence that transcends both her character and the nature of the material. It's no surprise that she could be spotted and groomed for stardom even while performing in things like this. What's a little less expected is to see such a complete contrast between the movies for which she is usually remembered and the movies that gave her a start.
This is one of the "Baby Burlesks" (sic) that Shirley Temple did in the early 1930s. It is hard to believe that anyone would let their daughter be in this racy little film which today might just be considered this side of "kiddie porn".
Shirley Temple stars in a cast which probably has an average age of 5. They are all in diapers, and are in a saloon which serves milk instead of alcohol. The "cash" is in the form of lollipops.
Shirley playing a "femme fatale" sashays up to the bar and talks to soldiers who make suggestive comments about her (!). But Shirley doesn't need really their lollipops/cash because her purse is full of ones from other "men".
Meanwhile a little black boy does a suggestive dance on a nearby table (!).
What a strange film . . . infants using racy dialogue playing adult roles in a saloon. Who thought up this stuff any way?
It can get mighty rough at Buttermilk Pete's Cafe when the local contingency of diaper-clad WAR BABIES come in for their midday milk break.
This primitive little film - a spoof of military movies - provides a few chuckles, but little else: tiny tots talking tough can begin to pall in a short time. Shirley Temple, playing a duplicitous hip-swinging French miss, hasn't much to do in this pre-celebrity performance. Highlight: the real signs of toddler temper when a few of the infants unexpectedly get well & truly soaked with milk.
Often overlooked or neglected today, the one and two-reel short subjects were useful to the Studios as important training grounds for new or burgeoning talents, both in front & behind the camera. The dynamics for creating a successful short subject was completely different from that of a feature length film, something akin to writing a topnotch short story rather than a novel. Economical to produce in terms of both budget & schedule and capable of portraying a wide range of material, short subjects were the perfect complement to the Studios' feature films.
While claiming that this film borders on kiddie porn may be something of a stretch, it's not much of a stretch. It is certainly odd to consider the parents agreeing to let their kids perform in such a movie, which is racy, to say the least. The spectacle of Shirley Temple swinging her four-year-old hips around for a crowd of hooting four-year-old boys is disturbing indeed. This is one of Shirley Temple's earliest works for which the modern audience, or at least the few people who still manage or bother to see it, are most unimpressed, if not outright offended.
The movie is a stark illustration of some of the difference between 1930s society and today's, as this film would not have the slightest chance of getting made in the 21st Century, and I like to see that I'm not the only person who's glad for that. Nonetheless, it seems that her appearance in this film, as well as the three that she appeared in previous to it, played a significant part in the explosion of her career as a child actor. Here's this girl who started acting at age four, stopped before her 20th birthday, and there she is appearing in all manner of glamorousness at the 1998 Academy Awards, four decades after her last performance as an actress.
The extent of her popularity and success is clearly apparent, but this movie is more of a look at how differently movies were made in the 1930s as opposed to today, rather than an enlightening look at what it was about Shirley Temple that made her so tremendously popular. It seems clear that War Babies was an unintelligent film that exploited what must have been Temple's staggering cuteness. I can certainly understand that, because I have a sister who is 5 years old and she absolutely floors me, but the thought of her dancing around like Shirley does in this movie is not cute in the slightest. What is probably most odd about this movie is that all of the parents of the kids that appeared in it probably absolutely loved it.
I imagine that not many of these parents are around anymore, so sadly it becomes all the more apparent as to why the film has such a small audience, and its obscurity I don't think can be chalked up entirely to the fact that it is more than 70 years old. Normally I am bothered by the fact that there are so many people in today's audience that refuse to watch older movies, simply because they are black and white. Imagine someone refusing to watch Schindler's List because it wasn't in color. Unbelievable. In this case, however, I don't find it upsetting in the least that this movie has become so rarely seen, because a movie that features a scene as disturbing as the finale of this one (in which a little boy holds up an over-sized bobby-pin, making a genuinely disturbing implication to another little boy) is not exactly a classic not to be overlooked.
I love these "Diaper Baby" movies! You couldn't make a movie like this today and it is rich in cinematic history. It is goofy and the film was made to make you laugh, which it does. How they ever got these kids to "act" I'll never know. I think they are precious and the kids make me laugh but so do the others who made this movie as it shows the naiveté that existed in the early 30's. You have to remember that this is when the film industry was very young, the stock market had crashed, the world wide depression was beginning and these films were made to give a person a break from the real world. The fact that you could see movies for five cents is beyond my comprehension, but then dinner for 25 cents is too. It was a different time with a totally different mind set.
# This short film was the first in the "Baby Burlesk" one-reel comedy series.
# Shirley Temple said her first line of dialogue in this film. The line, "Oui, mon cher," was a French phrase she did not understand.
# Shirley Temple's parents, George Temple and Gertrude Temple, took their daughter to see this movie at a local theater; Gertrude later recalled, "The picture lasted ten minutes. Shirley merely flitted across the screen a few times and said only two lines. But my head swam and the goose flesh popped out on my arms. I think I cried a little. George squeezed my hand. We were proud. It was our little girl doing something wonderful, like saying her first words, and we were happy."