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: