Film Review of Captain January: Shirley Temple in 1936 Musical Comedy Drama With Buddy Ebsen

by DerdriuMarriner

In the 1936 film version of "Captain January," a shipwreck and a yacht bring and keep together characters played by Buddy Ebsen and Shirley Temple.

Being a shipwreck’s sole survivor can be a leap into the void.

A caring foster parent and his kind friends can ease the pain. What will the orphan do when the law herds her toward wealthy relatives and away from impoverished “Captain January”?

The film features "At the Codfish Ball," in which Shirley Temple sings and tap dances with character actor and uniquely talented hoofer Buddy Ebsen, stage name of Christian Ludolf Ebsen, Jr. (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003). As a dancer, Buddy was famous for his surreal style, stemming from the uncanny pliability of his lanky, 6'3" frame.

In later years, Buddy thrilled television audiences as Jed, commonsense patriarch of the ingenuous Clampett clan on "The Beverly Hillbillies," which ran for nine seasons from Sept. 26, 1962 to March 23, 1971.

Two popular stories brought to cinematic success starring Shirley Temple: "The Little Colonel" in 1935 and "Captain January" in 1936

Helen "Star" Mason (Shirley Temple) and Paul Roberts (Buddy Ebsen) dance "At the Codfish Ball" in Captain January.
Helen "Star" Mason (Shirley Temple) and Paul Roberts (Buddy Ebsen) dance "At the Codfish Ball" in Captain January.


A waif discovers happiness and self-identity in Captain January by writers Sam Hellman, Gladys Legman, and Harry Tugend; producer Darryl F. Zanuck; and director David Butler. John F. Seitz, Irene Morra, and Lew Pollack handle cinematography, editing, and music. Filming showcases California.

The 75-minute comedy drama adapts Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards’ (1850-1943) 1891-published, same-named children’s novel. Its distributor was 20th Century-Fox. Its USA-premiere and release dates were April 17 and 24, 1936.


The movie begins with Captain January (Guy Kibbee) rescuing an orphan (Shirley Temple) from a shipwreck off coastal Maine. “Cap” is Cape Tempest’s lighthouse keeper. He raises Star as his daughter even though he neglects to adopt her legally.

Cap’s friends become Star’s. Star enjoys dancing and singing with Cap’s out-of-work sailor friend Paul Roberts (Buddy Ebsen). A favorite routine is “At the Codfish Ball.”

Truant officer Agatha Morgan (Sara Haden) arrives from Salem, Massachusetts. Observing Star acquiring such skills as spitting into the wind offends Agatha. Verifying Star’s never attending school upsets Agatha.

Cap and friend/government inspector Captain Nazro (Slim Summerville) compare tattoos during Star’s birthday party. Agatha considers the display unwholesome. She disbelieves Cap’s boasts of Star having the reading and writing abilities of an eight-year-old.

Cap, Nazro and Star check out store-bought clothing. A pretty dress’ price tag does not suit Cap’s empty pockets. Widow Eliza Croft (Jane Darwell) has Cap on her eligibility list for husband #2. She lends Cap $41.71. Perfectly dressed Star places perfectly into teacher Mary Marshall’s (June Lang) third-grade class. Agatha’s same-tested nephew Cyril (Jerry Tucker) will not be allowed to skip grades.

A telegram from Washington, D.C. informs Nazro of lighthouse modernizations. Lamp automation leaves Cap homeless and jobless. Nazro scans a scrapbook which Cap retrieves while rescuing Star. He sees the names Mr. and Mrs. John Mason (George Irving, Nella Walker). Mary telegrams the Boston-based couple.

Cap expects Star to live at Eliza’s. He hides with Paul and Star in Nazro’s boat when Nazro reveals Agatha’s and a deputy sheriff’s (Jim Farley) imminent arrival for Star’s court-ordered removal.

Nazro is followed when he gathers supplies. Cap punches the lawman. Agatha and the lawman take Star.

Mary awaits on shore. She explains that John is back from 4 years as American consul of Morocco. John has proof of Star’s identity as niece Helen Mason.

The movie ends with Star:

  • Enjoying John’s mansion and the many toys inside;

  • Finding helmsman Cap, cook Eliza, first mate Nazro, and crewman Paul working on the family yacht;

  • Looking forward to lovebirds Mary’s and Paul’s imminent marriage;

  • Singing with her friends.


At The Codfish Ball - Shirley Temple & Buddy Ebsen

Published on YouTube on Feb. 20, 2014, by loafersguy ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Image Credits


Helen "Star" Mason (Shirley Temple) and Paul Roberts (Buddy Ebsen) dance "At the Codfish Ball" in Captain January: WallaceReid* @WallaceReid_, via Twitter July 24, 2018, @

loafersguy. "At The Codfish Ball - Shirley Temple & Buddy Ebsen." YouTube, Feb. 21, 2014, @


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Amazon's Choice DVD: Captain January

Captain January

Shirley Temple Black's autobiography

Child Star: An Autobiography

Shirley Temple in "Captain January" (1936)

CAPTAIN JANUARY, Shirley Temple, 1936.

Shirley Temple as Star in "Captain January"

Shirley Temple

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.

DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09/19/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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