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BAD LITTLE ANGEL (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), directed by William Thierle, based on the book by Margaret Turnbull, is a harmless, inoffensive cute little movie centering upon a trials and tribulations of a pre-teenage girl whose faith in the Bible points her to the right direction, and how her presence in a town she just happens to choose changes the lives of those around her. This little known and rarely seen "B" movie not only has all the elements of good family viewing, but a message that reveals that everything happens for a reason, even when things seem hopeless, bitterness eventually turns to happiness. While the story might appear like a script for a Shirley Temple movie, by which she might have made a go with such a story, but as fate has it, Temple worked for 20th Century-Fox, not for MGM, thus leaving the studio to entrust itself in offering the part to young Virginia Weidler, a veteran child actress in films since 1934, first at Paramount, later RKO Radio, and finally a resident MGM performer where she would turn out memorable performances supporting Norma Shearer in THE WOMEN (1939) and Katharine Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). BAD LITTLE ANGEL gives Weidler an opportunity to be the major character. Though this wasn't her first in which she undertook the responsibility in a leading role, she would rarely have such an opportunity on screen again, in spite of her natural charm and wisdom. Sadly her movie career concluded during her adolescent years with a non-lead performance in the musical, BEST FOOT FORWARD (MGM) starring Lucille Ball. But for now, let's concentrate on Weidler, the little star of BAD LITTLE ANGEL. After watching her performance, it seems a pity that she didn't much of an opportunity as a leading child actress. By the time she became a teenager, it's a small wonder that she grew up too fast.
Set in the early 1900s, Weidler undertakes the role as Patricia Victoria Sanderson, better known as "Patsy," an dark-haired orphan sporting pigtails and wearing a little Cross hanging from around her neck, living under the care Mrs. Perkins (Elizabeth Patterson), an elderly woman wheelchair bound. These two lonely souls love and help one another, with Mrs. Perkins teaching Patsy the importance of the Good Book: whenever she gets in trouble and nowhere to turn, she should say a little prayer, open up the Bible and point her finger on a verse on any given page, and accept it as a message from God. (Very interesting concept). Trouble starts knocking at their door when the head of the orphanage comes to take Patsy away, causing Mrs. Perkins to succumb to a heart attack. Back at the orphanage where Patsy originated, the supervisors (Arthur Aylesworth and Esther Dale), of the dreadful place bring her down in saying that she is a jinx to those who take her in. Wanting to escape her surroundings and with no idea where to go, Patsy opens up her Bible, points onto the page that writes about Egypt. Taking her dog with her, Patsy heads over to the nearest train station where she buys a ticket to Egypt, not the Egypt across the ocean, but to a small town in New Jersey. While there she encounters Tommy Wilks (Gene Reynolds), a teenage son of a habitual drunk (Henry Hull), who guides her to the right direction, especially after learning she's an escaped orphan eluding authorities who are after her. Tommy introduces her to Jim Creighton (Ian Hunter), editor of the town newspaper,The Sentinel. He finds himself taking this child home with him where she meets his wife (Lois Wilson) and three children (Ann Todd, Mickey Kuhn and Douglas Madore). All goes well until Creighton loses his job and becomes critically ill, causing Patsy to really believe she is a jinx, but in time, just as she is losing her faith and planning to leave, she opens the Bible once more and comes across a very important verse that really opens her eyes.
A "B" movie running at 73 minutes consists of familiar faces supporting the cast, including Guy Kibbee as the unlikable Luther Marvin; Reginald Owen (Scrooge in 1938s A Christmas CAROL) as Marvin's butler; with Milton Parsons, Mitchell Lewis, Byron Foulger and George Irving in smaller roles.
BAD LITTLE ANGEL might be a misnomer of a title, since the girl is far from bad. The story has warmth, amusement and inspiring message, a sort of movie best presented to children attending Sunday School class, particularly since it has a youngster as the central character, with Weidler being more like an ordinary child than a child performing like an actress. Direction, authentic period settings and acting all get "A" for effort.
BAD LITTLE ANGEL occasionally airs on Turner Classic Movies. To find out when it will be shown again, instead of the Bible, let the website or program listing be your guide. (**1/2)
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