When a maid is accidentally hit by a car and killed, her young orphaned daughter is forced to live with the snooty couple her mother used to work for. A custody battle soon ensues between an aviator who adores the little girl and the couple's crotchety Uncle Ned.
Shirley Temple ... Shirley Blake
James Dunn ... James 'Loop' Merritt
Jane Darwell ... Mrs. Elizabeth Higgins
Judith Allen ... Adele Martin
Lois Wilson ... Mary Blake
Charles Sellon ... Uncle Ned Smith
Walter Johnson ... Thomas, Chauffeur
Jane Withers ... Joy Smythe
Theodore von Eltz ... J. Wellington Smythe (as Theodor von Eltz)
Dorothy Christy ... Anita Smythe
Brandon Hurst ... Higgins
George Irving ... Judge Thompson
Even though there is very little singing and dancing, which is a big part of the appeal of Shirley Temple, it's still a solid film.
This was the first movie in which was Shirley was the big star, I believe, and you can see why she quickly won the hearts of Americans.
Although there is only one song, it's perhaps her most famous: "On the Good Ship Lollipop." The rest of the film is almost as charming as that song with many sweet, touching moments that made her films so endearing.
It also helped to have James Dunn as the male lead. Dunn was one of the more likable guys in classic Hollywood, on and off the screen. He and Shirley make a great pair.
Other interesting people to watch in this movie are the crabby old grandfather, played by Charles Sellon; the spoiled brat played by Jane Withers, who is so bad she's funny and an assortment of other characters from fliers to cooks to old girlfriends.
The only negative is the ending. It looked like they didn't know how to end this, so they rushed to finish it without much thought. Oh, well, the main thing is Shirley's charm.....and that's there in abundance.
Rare is the scene in a Shirley Temple film where Curly Top is reduced to a mere spectator while another actor grabs the spotlight and runs screaming with it, but Bright Eyes has them in bunches! See Shirley gasp as human pit bull Jane Withers dismembers a doll before her very eyes! Tremble with fear as Shirley flees from her possessed playmate when their Santa Claus discussion takes a nasty turn! And if you think young Joy is a terror now, imagine how bad she'd be without psychoanalysis. In the movie's far too numerous non-Jane scenes, Shirley reverts to her old role as top banana with predictably charming results. No Shirley Temple film can really get rolling until her parents have been killed, so Mother is done in about half-way through, while Dad offs it before the opening credits, freeing our young pixie for another delightful custody battle. (By the way, do you suppose kids of the 1930's took a secret satisfaction in watching Shirley's parents get systematically rubbed out in every one of her movies? After all, her new parents were always a step up from the old ones; richer, prettier and usually much more fun. Life as an orphan might not have looked so bad to a depression-era tot after seeing a Shirley Temple picture.)
In conclusion, this movie is highly recommended for Shirley's fans and foes alike. Watch it for Shirley's smile or Jane's scowl, and stay tuned till the end. You won't want to miss the most satisfying closing shot in the history of cinema.
Jane Withers, at age four, started as one of the deep South's most popular radio stars on Aunt Sally's Kiddy Club. She was so small she had to be lifted up to reach the microphone. She was the mischief-maker of the Kiddy Club program, called "The Little Pest". Like Mitzi Green, she had an uncanny ability to imitate the voices and facial expressions of actors, actresses and other people, something she learned playing with the mirror. On stage by age five, she became a famous actress throughout the South, finally moving to Hollywood at five-and-a-half. In Hollywood, Jane began by playing in a weekly radio-revue and gave numerous stage performances for beneficial organizations.
"Bright Eyes" was Jane's first credited movie role and led to a long-term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. She stared in numerous movies of the thirties, and was Shirley Temple's main competition. Jane was one of the great child actresses of all times, very popular with the children of her era, and after watching Shirley's goodie two-shoes act in Bright Eyes playing against Jane's power-house comedy performance, I can see why. Shirley Temple was her usual cute, sugar-coated, man-worshiping self with everyone giggling politely at her jokes except the audience. In contrast, Jane Withers had my daughter and I laughing our heads off until we had stomach-aches. Jane in Bright Eyes was bratty, adorable and hilarously funny. Her brat act has seldom, if ever, been equaled in the annals of film.
It is really a shame, and I hope the studios who own Jane Withers' many films as a child take note, that Bright Eyes is the only Jane Withers performance to survive to contemporary video. What ever happened to her movies "Ginger", Paddy O'Day", "Gentle Julia", "Little Miss Nobody", "Can This be Dixie?" and "Pepper"? In a published chat-room article Jane, who is still very much alive, says that she will eventually finish her book on her child star days. Like the kids of Our Gang, she remembers a fun, privileged childhood and has nothing in the way of sob stories. Let's hope that the studios will stop suppressing her films and release them on video soon, perhaps coinciding with her book.
BRIGHT EYES (Fox, 1934), directed by David Butler, stars child actress Shirley Temple in the last of her many 1934 movie releases, and the first to be categorized as a formula "Shirley Temple film," though her earlier LITTLE MISS MARKER over at Paramount comes close to that format. Whether playing an orphan or a child with a living parent, in BRIGHT EYES, Shirley has a mother whose aviator father "cracked up" some time ago. She is loved and admired by everyone except her mother's employers. This also marks a rare case in which Shirley is pitted against another little girl, a complete opposite to her angelic character, as well as the introduction to Temple's signature song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop" by Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare, singing it to the fellow aviators on an airplane as it taxis on the runway, and her catch phrase of "Oh, my goodness!"
The story, set during the Christmas season in California, revolves around Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple), a charming 5-year-old living in a mansion with her widowed mother, Mary (Lois Wilson), employed as a maid for the snobbish and selfish Smythe family: Anita (Dorothy Christy), J. Wellington (Theodore Von Eltz) and their unruly daughter, Joy (Jane Withers). Also under their wing is the cranky Uncle Ned Smith (Charles Sellon), a wheel-chair bound old man, and Mr. and Mrs. Higgins (Brandon Hurst and Jane Darwell), a middle-aged couple working as butler and cook, who all have a soft spot for little Shirley. One of Shirley's greatest pleasures is heading over to the American Airlines Airport where she spends time with her godfather, James "Loop" Merrill (James Dunn), a pilot whose best friend was Shirley's deceased father. When Shirley's mother is struck by a passing vehicle on her way to attend her a Christmas party at the airport, the child, now an orphan, becomes a charity case for the Smyths, who in reality take her in and her dog, Rags, too, only to please their Uncle Ned. Because Loop is a bachelor, he's unable to take in Shirley. He even refuses the help of Adele Martin (Judith Allen), a society girl staying with her cousin Anita's home for Christmas, because he refuses to forgive her for jilting him at the altar years ago. When it's learned that Uncle Ned intends on adopting "Bright Eyes," this not only finds the Smythe family in fear of losing their inheritance after he dies, but Loop to risk his life flying his airplane in uncertain weather to obtain enough money for an attorney to fight for the custody of Shirley against the old man in court.
BRIGHT EYES is one of the few Temple movies where she's nearly overshadowed by her co-stars, namely Charles Sellon and Jane Withers. Sellon's performance predates that of Lionel Barrymore years before cranky old men in wheelchairs became fashionable. Aside from coming down the stairs in his wheelchair, Sellon's Uncle Ned has some truly funny lines as well as a great moral message about selfishness and love. Withers, in the first important screen role, plays a spoiled brat to perfection. She not only has tantrums, rips apart dolls, and wanting to play train wreck with Shirley, but is the only little girl in history to want a wheelchair as a Christmas present. Fortunately her unlikable performance didn't put an end to her career. In fact, it started a whole new cycle of Jane Withers movies. While Temple remains the most famous child star in history, Withers, whose career at 20th-Fox lasted longer than Temple's, is virtually forgotten, and due to her only association with Temple, BRIGHT EYES would become the only Withers film from the 1930s in circulation today.
Great moments of BRIGHT EYES include Shirley's mother telling her a Christmas story with chorus singing "Silent Night" in the background, and a tender loving scene where Dunn's character, in a choked-up manner, having to tell Shirley that her mother has gone to Heaven. Shirley's response, "You mean, my mother cracked up, too?" This alone is classic Temple, with Dunn constantly asking her throughout the story, "How much do you love me?" He even gives her his "magic ring" to send to him whenever she's in trouble. All this sounds corny in print, but actually plays better on the screen.
Formerly available on video cassette and currently on DVD either in black and white and colorized process, BRIGHT EYES has played on numerous cable TV stations throughout the years: The Disney Channel (1980s), American Movie Classics (1996-2001),Turner Classic Movies (2002-03) and even The Fox Movie Channel. In spite of its age, BRIGHT EYES is sure to delight adults, children and optometrists alike. Be sure not to miss the good ship lollipop.
* Terry (Rags) is the same dog that played Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
* Shirley Temple's mother Gertrude Temple worried that Jane Withers would steal the spotlight from her daughter in this movie, and she tried to convince director David Butler to minimize Withers's role. Butler refused, saying that Withers's bratty, spoiled character would increase audience sympathy for Shirley.
* One scene called for Shirley Temple to slap Jane Withers. Temple repeatedly refused to do so, but after much coercion from director David Butler, she finally slapped Withers so hard that both girls burst into tears.
* Director David Butler auditioned over thirty girls for the role of snobby Joy Smythe. When he heard Jane Withers's imitation of a machine gun, he signed her on the spot and sent the rest of the girls home.
* Shirley Temple was presented with the first Academy Award ever given to a child for her role as Shirley Blake. She was then the youngest person to ever be listed in Who's Who, and was also the youngest person to ever be spotlighted on the cover of TIME Magazine.
* The first time Shirley Temple sang her trademark song "On the Good Ship Lollipop".
* Director David Butler wrote the story based on an incident that happened in his childhood. His parents had advertised for a live-in maid, and a woman answered the ad who had just arrived from Scotland. She had a little girl and was separated from her husband--an unusual circumstance at the time--and said she wouldn't take the job unless her daughter was allowed to live in the house with her, also an unusual circumstance at the time. Butler's parents agreed, and the woman and her daughter moved in with the family.