Starring-Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt
Scott’s Review #826
Reviewed November 2, 2018
During the 1930’s and the 1940’s Shirley Temple was the most prominent and profitable child star around starring in dozens of films deemed “wholesome” and “cute”. Heidi (1937) is one of her most popular and best regarded, a treasure of earnest and sentimental riches. The film is forever known in pop culture as the ruination of the 1968 Super Bowl when the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets game was interrupted at a crucial moment due to the scheduled airing of the film.
An interesting side note is that amazingly Temple relinquished her Hollywood title with dignity and without scars. She left the scene entirely and became a successful world diplomat. During a time in American cinema where child stars were treated like property and sometimes like cattle, her relative healthy exit was a remarkable feat.
The story of Heidi is based on the 1880 Swiss story of the same name. Temple, in the title role, plays an orphan living in the cold mountains with her grizzled grandfather, Adolf (Jean Hersholt). At first bitter for being saddled with raising a child, Adolf finally accepts the girl and he and Heidi become fast friends, exhibiting a warm and tender bond.
Heidi’s self- absorbed aunt ruins the dynamic and instead whisks the child away to live with a wealthy family. The little girl will serve as a companion for their crippled daughter, Klara, as Heidi and Adolf are determined to find each other. Adding drama to the story is Klara’s evil housekeeper and her jealousy of Heidi, leading to attempts to sell Heidi off to gypsies for profit.
By 1937 Temple was beginning to be deemed “too old” for cute roles, but Heidi is one of her best remembered films and the actress is in top form. As one might expect from any Shirley Temple film musical numbers are included- a dream sequence in Holland culminates with Temple belting out the charming “In My Little Wooden Shoes”.
As there are mountains of Shirley Temple fans worldwide there are also her detractors. Some feel her films are completely dated and that the young star was not as talented as some thought she was. Admittedly, watching her films approaching the one-hundred-year mark can be a peculiarity and, on the surface seem a bit hammy and overly sentimental, but my personal experience elicits a return to childhood days. Despite being decades before my existence, Shirley Temple films were commonplace in my household as a child.
Heidi is not a groundbreaking cinematic experience or really all that deep at all. What the film does provide though is comfort. The audience assuredly must know a film like Heidi has a happy ending as the child provides warmth and spirit to every person she meets, making their lives better. Even during peril, the girl has an “awe shucks” manner of being and makes the best of any lousy situation she faces.
The strongest appeal of Heidi comes in the friendship she makes with Klara the cripple. Klara is kind and naive, unaware of her servant’s jealousy and rage. Helpless, she comes to depend on Heidi and we root for Heidi to rescue Klara and bring her to a better life. The film has sappy written all over it, but somehow works all the same.
Films such as Heidi (1937), the best of all the Temple films in my opinion, can be watched and enjoyed as an ode to days gone by or a tribute to someone’s grandmother’s favorite film. Despite perhaps being irrelevant and too sappy in today’s modern world, they undoubtedly provide comfort and support to some and that cannot be such a bad thing. Heidi can easily be enjoyed for the popularity that the film achieved and the warm message the film exudes.