AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Littlest Rebel
Director: David Butler (Dir)
Release Date:   27 Dec 1935
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 19 Dec 1935
Production Date:   mid-Sep--late Oct 1935
Duration (in mins):   73
Duration (in feet):   6,618
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast:   Shirley Temple (Virgie Cary)  
    John Boles (Captain Herbert Cary)  
    Jack Holt (Colonel Morrison)  
    Karen Morley (Mrs. Cary)  
    Bill Robinson (Uncle Billy)  
    Guinn Williams (Sergeant Dudley)  
    Willie Best (James Henry)  
    Frank McGlynn Sr. (Abraham Lincoln)  
    Bessie Lyle (Mammy)  
    Hannah Washington (Sally Ann)  

Summary: During his six-year-old daughter Virgie's birthday party, Captain Herbert Cary of the Confederate Army gets word that Fort Sumter has been fired upon and that war has been declared. The men in attendance get ready to report to their Richmond regiment, and the children are sent home. Virgie asks the black house slave Uncle Billy about the war, and he tells her that he has heard that a man up North wants to free the slaves, although he admits he does not know what that means. After the men parade off to war, the Union troops arrive at the Cary plantation, and Virgie hits the commander, Colonel Morrison, with a rock shot from her slingshot. Although he admires her spunk, he warns her not to use the slingshot again. As he leaves, she tauntingly sings "Dixie." With the plantation in enemy controlled territory, Cary, now a scout for General Lee, has to sneak through enemy lines to visit his family. At the end of one short visit, a Yankee troop led by the gruff Sergeant Dudley arrives looking for him. After the soldiers find the family's hidden food and valuables, and Dudley chases Virgie upon discovering that she has covered her face with boot polish out of fear for what the soldiers would do to whites, Dudley struggles with Mrs. Cary, who is trying to protect her daughter, and he shoves her down some stairs. Morrison arrives, and after ordering the men to return the loot, he sends Dudley to get twenty-five lashes and apologizes to Virgie and her mother. When three gunshots are fired to signal that Cary has safely gotten through lines, Morrison leaves, but not before Virgie hits him with another rock shot from her slingshot. Later, as the battle rages in front of the Cary house, Mrs. Cary and Uncle Billy take Virgie into the woods, where, during a violent rainstorm, Mrs. Cary covers Virgie in her cloak. A month later, Uncle Billy arrives at Cary's camp to tell him that his wife is extremely ill. They return to the plantation where Mrs. Cary, now in Uncle Billy's cabin because the house has been burned down, dies after seeing that her husband will take care of Virgie. After the funeral, the Union troops arrive, and Cary hides in a garret attic. Morrison discovers him, but when he learns that Cary was not on a scouting trip and that he was planning to take Virgie to his sister in Richmond, Morrison, who has a daughter the same age as Virgie, tells Cary where he has left a Yankee uniform at a nearby plantation to be mended and writes him a pass to allow him and Virgie to travel to Richmond. Cary, dressed in the Yankee uniform, and Virgie are questioned as they pass through a Union camp, and Dudley overhears Virgie's voice. Cary whips him, and he and Virgie try to escape in their carriage, but the soldiers surround them. Both Cary and Morrison are court-martialed and sentenced to be hanged. A major, sympathetic to their plight, gives Uncle Billy a letter to take to a judge in Washington, D.C. To procure funds for the train trip, Uncle Billy and Virgie dance in the public square. Uncle Billy and Virgie see President Abraham Lincoln, after the judge writes him about the case, and as the president shares an apple with Virgie, she tells him the story. After she relates that her father instructed her that she was "honor-bound" not to tell anyone in Richmond about what she saw while they were traveling, because of a promise he made to Morrison, the president is convinced that the men are not spies and instructs his secretary, John Hay, to rush a pardon for them to General Grant. Virgie hugs the president. Later, back at the Union barracks, Virgie sings "Polly Wolly Doodle" with the Union soldiers and hugs her two "fathers," Cary and Morrison. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Production Text: Darryl F. Zanuck in charge of production
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: David Butler (Dir)
  Booth McCracken (Asst dir)
Producer: B. G. DeSylva (Assoc prod)
Writer: Edwin Burke (Scr)
  Harry Tugend (Scr)
Photography: John Seitz (Photog)
Art Direction: William Darling (Art dir)
Film Editor: Irene Morra (Film ed)
  Eleanor Morra (Ed asst)
  Mary Crumley (Ed asst)
Set Decoration: Thomas K. Little (Scenery)
Costumes: Gwen Wakeling (Cost)
Music: Cyril Mockridge (Mus arr)
Sound: S. C. Chapman (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
Special Effects: James Donlan (Spec eff tech)
Country: United States

Songs: "Dixie," words and music attributed to Dan D. Emmett; "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms," words by Thomas Moore, music traditional; "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "My Lodging Is on the Cold Ground," traditionals.
Composer: Dan D. Emmett
  Thomas Moore
Source Text: Based on the play The Littlest Rebel by Edward Peple (New York, 14 Nov 1911).
Authors: Edward Peple

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 27/12/1935 dd/mm/yyyy LP6082

PCA NO: 1727
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Civil War
Subjects (Major): Fathers and daughters
  United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Subjects (Minor): African Americans
  Courts-martial and courts of inquiry
  Death and dying
  John Hay
  Impersonation and imposture
  Abraham Lincoln
  Racial impersonation

Note: Var noted that there is "no trace of the Edward Peple play in the [Edwin] Burke film version" and that the play introduced Mary Miles Minter to the stage. According to a HR news item, two actors in the cast were replacements. Stepin Fetchit was originally cast in the role of "James Henry," but he was replaced by Willie Best after he claimed that the set lights were affecting his eyes; one hour's shooting on opening day apparently was lost because of this. Also, Charles Bickford was originally cast for the role of "Colonel Morrison," but he was replaced by Jack Holt because he was mauled by a lion during the filming of East of Java (see above). According to another HR news item, special effects technician James Donlan rescued Bill Robinson after Robinson was knocked unconscious during a scene with John Boles in which they crossed a stream on a log. The log unexpectedly turned on them, and as they went under, Robinson struck his head on the log. Jule Styne, in his autobiography, states that he was Shirley Temple's vocal coach for this film. In 1914, Photoplay Productions Co. produced a film based on the same source which was directed by Edgar Lewis and starred E. K. Lincoln, William J. Sorelle and Mimi Yvonne (see above). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   7 Dec 1935.   
Daily Variety   19 Nov 35   p. 3.
Film Daily   22 Nov 35   p. 8.
HF   26 Oct 35   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 35   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Oct 35   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Nov 35   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Oct 36   sect. II, p. 69.
Motion Picture Daily   20 Nov 35   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald   30 Nov 35   p. 58.
New York Times   20 Dec 35   p. 30.
Variety   25 Dec 35   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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