Wee Willie Winkie (film)

Wee Willie Winkie
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Gene Markey
Written by Screenplay:
Julien Josephson
Ernest Pascal
Mordaunt Shairp (uncredited)
Wee Willie Winkie
Week's News 1888
Rudyard Kipling
Starring Shirley Temple
Victor McLaglen
C. Aubrey Smith
Cesar Romero
June Lang
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • June 25, 1937 (1937-06-25)

(Los Angeles)[1]

Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget over $1 million[2]

Wee Willie Winkie is a 1937 American adventure film directed by John Ford. The screenplay by Julien Josephson and Ernest Pascal was based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. The film stars Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, and Cesar Romero in a story about the British presence in nineteenth century India. The production was filmed largely at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., where a number of elaborate sets were built for the movie.

William S. Darling and David S. Hall were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.[3]


During the British Raj, Sergeant Donald MacDuff escorts Joyce Williams, an impoverished widow, and her young daughter, Priscilla, to a remote military outpost on the northern frontier of India, to live with her stern father-in-law, Colonel Williams. Along the way, they witness the capture of notorious rebel chief Khoda Khan.

Soon, Priscilla, nicknamed 'Wee Willie Winkie' by MacDuff, wins the hearts of all the soldiers, especially her grandfather and MacDuff; even Khoda Khan is touched by her visits to cheer him up in his captivity. Meanwhile, her mother is courted by Lieutenant Brandes.

Khoda Khan is rescued by his men in a daring night raid and a fight breaks out. MacDuff is fatally wounded while out on patrol. He passes away in the hospital while Priscilla sings "Auld Lang Syne" to him.

Priscilla decides to persuade Khoda Khan to stop fighting when Mohammed-din, a soldier who is actually Khan's spy, smuggles her out of the base and takes her to the rebel mountain fortress. Khoda Khan is greatly pleased; he thinks that the colonel will bring his entire regiment in a hopeless attempt to rescue her.

Colonel Williams halts his force out of range and walks alone to the entrance. A few of Khan's men start shooting at Williams, and Priscilla rushes to her grandfather's side. Impressed by the colonel's courage and overcome with empathy for the child, Khoda Khan orders his men to stop firing. He agrees to negotiate and the war ends.



Until The Little Princess (1939) this was Shirley Temple's most expensive film.[2] Production of Wee Willie Winkie had to be moved from the Fox studio lot to Chatsworth, California, owing to intense conflicts taking place between labor unions and Hollywood studios. During one standoff, a Fox studio messenger visiting the set nearly had a light dropped on his head after scolding a stagehand who complained about working conditions. During the shooting of the film, Temple's mother, Gertrude, was hospitalized for two weeks with an unspecified stomach ailment.[4]

Ford was notorious for his distaste of working with child stars, but he was drawn to this movie for its large budget and strong supporting cast, including Ford favorite Victor McLaglen. He was initially indifferent towards Temple, but his demeanor changed after the famous death scene of Sgt. MacDuff, as he was pleased with the restraint shown in her performance and impressed by her professionalism. Temple and Ford remained friends for many years after this movie was finished. Ford was later the godfather of Temple's oldest daughter.[5]

Shortly after completion of this film, an unknown gunman fired a shot at Temple and her mother as they were walking into their home with a group of other people.[6]

According to Temple, this was her favorite film:

"Of all my films I rate Wee Willie Winkie the best, but for all the wrong reasons. It was best because of its manual of arms, the noisy marching around in military garb with brass buttons, my kilts bouncing. It was best because of daredevil stunts with snipers and stampeding horses. It was also best because I finally seemed to earn the professional respect of someone so blood-and-thunder macho as Ford. Best of all, the watery-blue color of my portable dressing room had been repainted in regimental red." [7]


Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "a pleasing enough little fiction, sure to delight every Temple addict and likely to win the grudging approval even of those who, like myself, are biding their time until she grows up, becomes gawky and is a has-been at 15."[8] Variety praised the film's "realistic and elaborate backgrounds and tense reality" as well as "good comedy" between Temple and McLaglen, but suggested that the film was too long for Temple's younger fans to be able to sit through.[9] Harrison's Reports wrote, "Very good! Although Shirley, as usual, predominates, the producers have wisely surrounded her with capable players ... The story has comedy, romance, and thrills, and holds one's attention throughout."[10] John Mosher wrote that the film "isn't much as a Shirley Temple tryout ... Miss Temple's talent is rather overexploited at times, and she seems just a bit too pert."[11]

Libel action against Graham Greene

On 29 March 1938, 20th Century Fox was awarded £3,500 in a trial for civil libel brought against British novelist Graham Greene, who was judged to have written a defamatory review[12] of Wee Willie Winkie for the magazine Night and Day.[13] He had written:

The owners of a child star are like leaseholderstheir property diminishes in value every year. Time's chariot is at their back; before them acres of anonymity. Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has a peculiar interest: infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirersmiddle-aged men and clergymenrespond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.[14]

Home media

In 2009, the film was available on videocassette and DVD in both the original black-and-white and in computer-colorized versions. Some editions had theatrical trailers and special features.

See also


  1. Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 2368–2369. ISBN 0-520-07908-6.
  2. 1 2 Up Budgets In Quality Film Drive The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1939: 14
  3. "Wee Willie Winkie". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  4. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 168, 178.
  5. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 179.
  6. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 180.
  7. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 181.
  8. The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. p. 1412.
  9. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. June 30, 1937. p. 20.
  10. "Wee Willie Winkie". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 123 July 31, 1937.
  11. Mosher, John (July 17, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 64.
  12. "Graham Greene's infamous review of Wee Willie Winkie (1937), starring Shirley Temple". The Charnel-House. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  13. Andrew Johnson "Shirley Temple scandal was real reason Graham Greene fled to Mexico", The Independent on Sunday, 18 November 2007
  14. Atkinson, Michael (August 21, 2009 ) "Our Man in London." Moving Image Source.
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