Curly Top

Curly Top

Screenshot courtesy of the author

Oh, my goodness!

Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel Daddy Long Legs and the 1919 Mary Pickford film of the same name, 20th Century Fox’s Curly Top was produced and released in 1935. Interestingly, Shirley Temple would go on to remake four of Mary Pickford’s movies including Poor Little Rich Girl, The Little Princess and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Curly Top, along with The Littlest Rebel (another of Shirley’s releases), was listed by Variety as a top box office draw for that year. In addition to being a box office success, Curly Top was the first in a series of four films that Shirley would make with Arthur Treacher. Their other collaborations are: The Little Princess, Heidi and Stowaway.

Although Curly Top was accepted with open arms here in America, overseas the reception was quite different. Denmark, Switzerland and Italy had the film banned. Denmark cited an unspecified controversy and the other two countries’ censors felt the behavior young Elizabeth (played by Temple) portrayed set a bad example for children. Funnily enough, the First Lady of China – Madame Chiang – was such a fan of the movie she arranged several private viewing parties.

On a fun note, Shirley got to keep the film’s doll house as a souvenir. This little home was fully loaded with hooked rugs on its parquet floors, curtains at its windows, sheets on its beds, fake food in its refrigerator, books on its shelves, and a toilet with a working lid!

So, if it’s good enough for the First Lady of China is it good enough for you? Let’s take a look and see…

Plot Summary

The film starts with a pictorial introduction to the main characters – set against a fun, little background score. It’s a rainy night when we are taken to an orphanage where we see all the children praying and getting ready to settle in for the night. Enter Elizabeth Blair (Shirley Temple), a feisty little curly-haired orphan. Elizabeth is always getting into trouble for singing and dancing without permission, along with her older sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson) who works as a maid in the orphanage in order to stay with her sister.

Curly Top

Screenshot courtesy of the author

The orphanage is reliant on their trustees for survival and we are introduced to a new trustee Edward Morgan (John Boles) – a handsome, charming man who just happens to be very rich. The orphanage’s headmistress, set on making a good impression on all the trustees, makes arrangements for a tour.

”Edward Morgan, insanely jealous and acting like a sixteen-year-old.”- Aunt Genevieve

During this tour and inspection from the trustees (including Edward), Elizabeth is seen singing and dancing. It is here that Edward meets Mary who he is clearly smitten with. All this singing and dancing without permission soon turns into mimicking the head trustee. This trustee, lacking a sense of humor, demands that Elizabeth be sent to a public institution. Edward intervenes after being instantly taken with Elizabeth – or “Curly Top” as he calls her. A lawyer by trade, Edward decides he wants to adopt Elizabeth and give her a life of luxury.

“I like to make things to eat, and I especially like to eat them.”- Elizabeth

Not wanting Elizabeth to feel as if she owes him gratitude for his kindness, Edward decides that he will adopt Elizabeth but tell her that he is acting on behalf of a fictitious benefactor “Hiram Jones.” Edward’s plans are put on hold when he finds out that Elizabeth is not able to be adopted unless her sister Mary goes with her. Determined to not let that stop him, Edward (alias “Hiram Jones”) adopts Elizabeth and invites Mary to join them.

Curly Top

Screenshot courtesy of the author

Edward brings them to his beach house in Southampton, accompanied by his aunt Genevieve (Esther Dale) and his butler Reynolds (Arthur Treacher). It’s a wonderful life as we see all the fun that Elizabeth and Mary are having. Things take an unexpected turn when Mary – who is secretly in love with Edward – gets a proposal from a young Navy pilot, Jimmie. Edward – who is also secretly in love with Mary – is taken aback by this news but gives his less-than-heartfelt congratulations. Will Edward and Mary finally express their love for each other? Will Mary and Elizabeth find out that there is no Mr. Jones?

Content for Concern

Nothing to mention here – this film is clean as a whistle. Cuteness overload is the biggest “concern” you’ll face.

“There’s no human problem that can’t be solved by kindness.”- Edward Morgan


So, is this film worth your time? Absolutely! I give this film five stars with no hesitation. Shirley’s adorable personality, the fun dance and song numbers and the romantic chemistry between the two leads are a pure delight. I would go so far as to say this beloved classic in my top five favorite childhood Shirley Temple films. Do yourself a favor – sit back, relax and let yourself be swept up into this fun, heartwarming film!

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