Shocking Blocking (15)

By: Joshua Glenn
February 7, 2011

Moments before the best-beloved scene in The Little Princess — the one in which Sara Crewe (Shirley Temple) and Hubert “Bertie” Minchin (Arthur Treacher) dance and sing “Knocked ’Em in the Old Kent Road” for wounded soldiers at a London veterans’ hospital — Sara encounters a soldier (Morton Lowry) who’s lost his wits. He’s tearing a newspaper into the shapes of soldiers; when Sara asks if he knows her father, for whom she’s been searching, he replies, “One soldier more or less doesn’t make any difference, you know.” It’s a shocking exchange, in a home-front propaganda movie made in 1939, one which begins with the skirling of bagpipes as British troops march off to the Second Boer War and ends with a girl saluting Queen Victoria. Director Walter Lang’s blocking speaks volumes: Bertie, the old music-hall trouper, is Spectacle, intervening between Sara/Society, who is recoiling in confusion and horror, and the soldier — i.e., the True Nature and Cost of War. For a moment, Sara forgets her father’s (Authority’s) admonition to “be a good soldier”… but then, in his cajoling way, Bertie reminds her. “Let’s try to forget our own troubles and do something for these lads,” he suggests. So Sara sings, dances, and soon forgets.

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An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.

THIRTIES (1934–1943): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–1953): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–1963): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–1973): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–1983): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Rock’n’Roll High School (1979) | Escape from Alcatraz (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–1993): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Candyman (1992) | Dazed and Confused (1993) |
NINETIES (1994–2003): Pulp Fiction (1994) | The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): Nacho Libre (2006) | District 9 (2009)

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READ MORE essays by Joshua Glenn, originally published in: THE BAFFLER | BOSTON GLOBE IDEAS | BRAINIAC | CABINET | FEED | HERMENAUT | HILOBROW | HILOBROW: GENERATIONS | HILOBROW: RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION | HILOBROW: SHOCKING BLOCKING | THE IDLER | IO9 | N+1 | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW | SEMIONAUT | SLATE

Joshua Glenn’s books include UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).

What do you think?

  1. PS: This was Shirley Temple’s last successful movie. Her decline began immediately after this scene was filmed.

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