Cute tots have traditionally been tough subjects to fit with stories. Little Colonel is skillful hokum that will please in general, although the sophisticated minority may make a point of being superior to such sentimentality. Widely read book gives the film a head start, too.
A southern colonel (Lionel Barrymore) is embittered when his daughter (Evelyn Venable) elopes with a northerner (John Lodge) and banishes them from the arc of his benevolence. Things go badly with the couple and the wife is forced to return with her small daughter (Shirley Temple) to occupy a cottage near her father’s estate.
Of course, the child is the means of patching everything up, finale taking the form of a ‘pink party’ given by the grandfather and photographed in Technicolor [by William V. Skall]. It’s a gingerbread fade-out for a film loaded with sweetness and light.
Bill Robinson, vet colored hoofer from vaudeville, grabs standout attention here. Voice is excellent, he reads lines with the best of ’em, and his hoofing stair dance is ingeniously woven into the yarn. He plays the kindly and aging family butler. A strong point for the film is the youngster doing Robinson’s stair dance with him.
Dressed in the bustled costumes of the 1880s, the diminutive miss is a fetching, beautiful and amiable infant. Her appeal is certain here and her acting range remains surprising.
Barrymore plays the colonel with scarcely one of his usual mannerisms, and with a zippy tempo, in contrast to the sidled-down technique he so often employs. Outside of the principals the other parts are incidental.