The guy who created “Guys and Dolls” was a literary legend who had a tremendous influence on Hollywood and the movies. One of the best pictures based on his fanciful stories made a star of the curly-headed six-year-old moppet who played the title role, though she failed her first audition for the part.
When Shirley Temple’s mother read Damon Runyon’s story “Little Miss Marker,” about a young girl left in the care of gamblers as a $20 IOU for a debt, she knew it was perfect for her tyke and wrangled a meeting with the director. It took less than a minute for him to realize her potential. As Temple would later recall, Twentieth Century-Fox loaned her to Paramount Pictures for $1,000 a week, “a neat 600% markup on what Fox paid me.”
“Little Miss Marker” (1934) brought in a small fortune at the box office, Depression be damned. This imaginative tale, filmed in crisp black and white, looks as good today as when it was first released thanks to Kino Lorber (kinolorber.com), which recently reissued it on Blu-ray. Adolph Menjou (“The Front Page”) has one of the best roles of his career as Sorrowful, the bookie reluctantly pressed into the role of foster parent.
Dorothy Dell—who died in a tragic car accident at age 19, the week after the film’s release—and Charles Bickford co-star as a nightclub singer and her racketeer boyfriend. Alexander Hall (“Here Comes Mr. Jordan”) directed this enduring 80-minute comedy. Edith Head designed Temple’s costumes for the film from scratch, and costume historian Elissa Rose joins film critic Lee Gambin on the audio commentary.
Hollywood studios would remake (and knock-off) the movie about the bookie and the “40 pounds of trouble” left in his care many times over the years, but never with the outstanding results realized the first time out. Temple’s incandescent charm and talent are on full display here, clearly the reason for the film’s success. If you want to see what made her the most popular child star of her era, look no further.
Kino Lorber has brought out many of W.C. Fields’ films on Blu-ray, including the ever-popular “It’s a Gift” and “The Bank Dick.” A cherished but lesser-known title recently added to their burgeoning catalogue is Paramount’s “If I Had a Million” (1932). Fields is but one luminary in an all-star galaxy.
Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft, Frances Dee, Jack Oakie, May Robson, Charles Ruggles, Alison Skipworth and others are also featured in this witty Pre-Code comedy. Based on a novel by one Robert D. Andrews, some 15 writers are credited with the episodic screenplay for this oft-recycled tale of a dying tycoon who gives a million smackers to eight strangers at random.
The Fields segment (written by Joe Mankiewicz), in which the great comedian takes revenge on road hogs, is unquestionably the funniest part of the movie. Laughton is a humble office clerk who quits his job in another wonderful episode (written and directed by Ernst Lubitsch). Ruggles destroys a china shop in a highly amusing vignette, and Robson (who earned an Oscar nom in the title role of Runyon’s “Lady for a Day”) stars in the film’s moving finale.