The Littlest Rebel
The old Edward Peble play The Littlest Rebel was gussied up in 1935 as a Shirley Temple vehicle. The curly-topped child star plays Virgie Cary, who lives in Southern-Plantation splendor with her dad Herbert (John Boles) and mom (Karen Morley). The family's idyllic existence is shattered when the Civil War breaks out. A captain in the Confederacy, Herbert Cary marches off to the battlefield, leaving his faithful family retainers -- including philosophical old Uncle Billy (Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) -- to watch over Virgie and Mrs. Cary. No one, however, is prepared for the ravages of war, thus Virgie is forced to endure the destruction of her family home and the death of mom after lingering illness. Desperately trying to make his way home for one last reunion with his wife, Herbert is arrested as a Southern spy. Fortunately, Yankee colonel Morrison (Jack Holt) takes a liking to the tenacious Virgie and tries to escort the girl and her father to safety. As a result, Morrison is arrested for desertion, and both he and Herbert are sentenced to be shot. Making her way to Washington in the company of faithful Uncle Billy, Virgie secures a pardon for both her father and Col. Morrison from an avuncular Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.) The stereotypical treatment of black characters in The Littlest Rebel is more offensive than usual, with "happy darkies" nervously pondering the prospect of being freed from slavery and shivering in their boots when the Yankees arrive. But Bill Robinson manges to cut through the color line with his astonishing terpsichorean talents, especially in his closing "challenge dance" with Shirley Temple.