Priscilla Williams is a young girl traveling with her mother, Joyce, to join her paternal grandfather, a British army colonel, at the post he commands in northern India. Upon arrival, they ...
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William A. Seiter,
Priscilla Williams is a young girl traveling with her mother, Joyce, to join her paternal grandfather, a British army colonel, at the post he commands in northern India. Upon arrival, they witness the capture of Khoda Khan, leader of the rebel Indian faction. Priscilla plays at being a soldier and is even given a uniform and allowed to drill by the genial Sergeant MacDuff, but her gruff grandfather disapproves and insists she remain apart from the troops. She eventually charms him, along with everyone else on the post, including Khoda Khan, whom she wins over by returning a talisman he's dropped. When the attractive Lieutenant Brandes deserts his post to take Joyce to a dance, Khan escapes, and Brandes is arrested. As hostilities with the rebels mount, Priscilla and servant Mohammet Dihn --actually an Indian spy--take off for Khoda Khan's stronghold. Written by
Shirley Temple disclosed in her autobiography that this was the only film she made in which she received an onscreen spanking, much to the chagrin of June Lang who played the spanker and feared that her career would suffer as a result of the audience seeing the popular Shirley being treated in this fashion. The scene was shot but cut from the final film. See more »
"Wee Willie Winkie" is a very, very schmaltzy film. In addition, it is one of many films of this era that strongly reinforced the notion that British imperialism was wonderful (as an American, I never understood why we make pro-imperialism films like this, actually). So, for those two reasons I should hate the film...but I just couldn't.
The film begins with a mother and daughter (Shirley Temple) arriving in India to live with the child's paternal grandfather--who is the Colonel in charge of a Colonial regiment (circa about 1890). It seems that the child has never met the old man and the pair have come there because they are destitute. For the mother, adjusting to India and the loneliness of camp life is tough, but for perky little Shirley, it's a snap. She is seen as a sort of regimental mascot. And, I must say that the child was freakin' adorable dressed up in a cute little uniform.
Everything seemed pretty cool (except for the mother) until the wicked Khoda Khan (Cesar Romero) escaped custody. This villain had the effrontery not to want to become 'civilized' and a loyal subject of the Queen (sarcasm intended)! And, when little Shirley is abducted and taken to him, things look pretty grim. After all, the British just want to be their friends (and enslavement, but that's only a trifle).
All this is packaged in a very attractive sepia-toned package. Some of this is due to Shirley's amazing acting, some is because the film was directed by the king of sentimental films, John Ford. And, some was because of Victor McLaglen's wonderful portrayal of the Sergeant and C. Aubrey Smith as the Colonel. Overall, despite its faults, the film is hard not to like and it is exceptionally well made.
By the way, it was very strange seeing Willie Fung in this film. Not only did he usually play a Chinese man (as he was of Chinese origin) but instead of the rather dim but affable sort, here he plays someone quite evil and blood-thirsty! For fans of old Hollywood films, this should come as a bit of a surprise.
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