By virtue of being a Temple film, Stowaway may not be Shirley Temple’s best known film, but it gets a steady reissue every few years—although it did take quite a while to see it’s DVD debut.
For me, Shirley Temple films are less about Shirley Temple and more about her co-stars. When I was a little girl, my mom tried occasionally to get me to watch Shirley Temple films, but I had no stomach for it. She was too cute, too cheerful, too simple. It wasn’t until I sat down, as I tend to do, and forced myself to watch marathons of her films on AMC that I actually began to appreciate Shirley’s talent and began watching her films in order to become more familiar with her co-stars. Stowaway may have been the first film I saw with Robert Young and it definitely cemented my interest in Alice Faye.
Little Ching-Ching (Shirley Temple) is orphaned when her parents die during their missionary term in China and saved by a magistrate when his village was raided, who fills her with Chinese proverbs which aide in her ability to charm millionaire playboy Tommy Randall (Robert Young) and soon-to-be-engaged-to-a-man-and-his-mother, Susan Parker (Alice Faye). Seemingly wise beyond her years, Temple brings the two together and sets the path for herself to have a new family.
This is the third and final film Alice Faye starred in with Shirley Temple—there was also Now I’ll Tell and Poor Little Rich Girl. Poor Little Rich Girl was released five months before. Four Temple films were released in 1936. It was noted in many reviews that she was portraying a more grown-up character—a little less in the realm of hearts and rainbows and a little more substance. I agree to some extent, but the film doesn’t dismiss the blocks on which Temple’s star had risen.
There was controversy over “Goodnight, My Love” because it was believed Revel lifted the song, but it’s a lovely little tune that is reprised in the film and sung by Faye and Temple. Shirley also does a number where she imitates Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (pictured left) called “You’ve Got to S-M-I-L-E to be H-A-Double P-Y” And since the film was released in December, “That’s What I Want for Christmas” is tacked on the end of the film showing the new little family in their happily ever after. Alice Faye also gets another solo in the lovely “One Never Knows, Does One?”
Alice Faye has a fairly limited role in the film, but it’s a good introduction to the slightly less Jean Harlow-ish Faye—the look was toned down with Sing, Baby, Sing, which was released earlier in the same year. Robert Young is charming as always. The dialog between Mrs. Hope (Susan Parker’s fiancee’s mother played by Helen Westley) and Susan Parker is fast-paced and a lovely battle of wits.
Mrs. Hope: I’m afraid I’m boring you.
Helen Westley is far too much fun. Alice Faye shows she can go toe to toe with her in quips.
All around, Stowaway is a lovely little film. One that in my thirteen years of life, I could appreciate a bit more than some of Shirley’s earlier roles and allowed me to have a little tighter grip on 1930 films. One really can’t look at 30s musicals and discount the popularity and star power of little miss Shirley Temple.