For Reel

The Blue Bird (1940)
January 1, 2016, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Walter Lang
3.5 Stars
The Blue BirdThis ill-advised answer to The Wizard of Oz was a turning point in the career of a 12-year-old Shirley Temple, who 20th Century Fox didn’t know what to do with once she hit adolescence. It was her first flop and marked the downturn of her career, ending her contract with the studio that brought her stardom within a year of its release. And yet, if The Blue Bird is not the light fantasy fare that audiences might have expected, it is ambitious and daring, dealing with ideas of mortality in an earnest, uncommonly curious way. In a hugely memorable setpiece, Temple and her little brother (Johnny Russell) venture to the land of the Future, where children wait patiently to be born. Among those they encounter are a little girl who identifies herself as their future sister who won’t be on Earth for very long and a boy who dreads his birth as he knows that his fight against injustice will lead to his death. Shot in Technicolor on impressively designed sets, the film deserves comparisons to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in that it matches its fantastical circumstances with incisive philosophical themes. The great Gale Sondergaard has a hugely entertaining role as Temple’s cat-turned-human, and early sequences allow Temple to play somewhat against type as a bratty tween.