Film Review of The Blue Bird: Shirley Temple in a Fantasy Film about the Blue Bird of Happiness

by DerdriuMarriner

In "The Blue Bird," Shirley Temple's character travels to and from dreamland in the 1940 film version of Maurice Maeterlinck's beloved fairy play.

Fantasy film "The Blue Bird" is based on the namesake play by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, three years after publication, in 1908, of his popular play.

In "The Blue Bird," a little girl abhors the poverty of a woodcutter’s existence in eighteenth-century Germany.

She resists sharing a rare bird since others do not share their Christmas spirit or wealth.

How will she feel after questing “The Blue Bird” of Happiness?

"The Blue Bird" was the third of three Shirley Temple films directed successively by director Walter Lang (August 10, 1896 – February 7, 1972):

• "The Little Princess" in 1939,

• "Susannah of the Mounties" in 1939, and

• "The Blue Bird" in 1940.

Myltyl’s dream: illustration by English artist Frederick Cayley Robinson (August 18, 1862 – January 4, 1927)

Maurice Maeterlinck, The Blue Bird (1920), frontispiece
Maurice Maeterlinck, The Blue Bird (1920), frontispiece

 

Happiness cannot be confined in The Blue Bird by writers Walter Bullock and Ernest Pascal; producer Daryl F. Zanuck; and director Walter Lang. Arthur C. Miller, Robert Bischoff, and Alfred Newman handle cinematography, editing, and music. Filming showcases California’s:

  • Movietone City;
  • San Bernardino National Forest.

The 88–minute fantasy adapts Maurice Maeterlinck’s (1862-1949) 1908-presented play L’Oiseau Bleu. Its distributor was 20th Century-Fox. Its Boston/NYC/San Francisco-roadshow and USA-release dates were January 15 and 19, 1940. It was Oscar-nominated for Best:

  • Color Cinematography;
  • Visual Effects.

The movie begins with siblings Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) caging one of the Royal Forester’s (Dewey Robinson) birds. Mytyl deplores:

  • Bedridden invalid Angela Berlingot’s (Sybil Jason) asking for the bird;

  • Woodcutter Daddy Tyl’s (Russell Hicks) being summoned to war-torn borders;

  • Lacking rich people’s Christmas cakes, candies, dolls, dresses and parties;

  • Mummy’s (Spring Byington) cooking, cleaning and mending.

Patchwork-cloaked Fairy Berylume (Jessie Ralph) has:

  • The siblings quest Technicolored dreamland’s blue bird of happiness;

  • Maine Coon cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard), bulldog Tylo (Eddie Collins), and lantern Light (Helen Ericson) transformed into dreamland companions.

The siblings awaken their grandparents in the Land of the Past. Granny (Cecilia Loftus) not:

  • Letting Grandpa (Al Shean) complete the previous year’s carving;

  • Remembering grandparents except while catching bad colds Easter morning;

  • Staying for baked apple tarts.

Shirley yodels “Lay Dee O.”

The first side road accesses the Land of Mr. (Nigel Bruce) and Mrs. (Laura Hope Crew) Luxury. The siblings dispute who gets which gifted pony. Tylette makes the siblings the object of a raging conspiracy of:

  • Beech (James Blaine), birch (Eddy Waller), crabapple (Otto Hoffman), cypress (Dorothy Dearing), elm (Dick Rich), hickory (Harold Goodwin), maple (Edward Earle), oak (Edwin Maxwell), pine (Paul Kruger), walnut (Imboden Parrish), weeping willow (Alice Armand), and wild plum (Sterling Holloway);

  • Fire;

  • Wind.

She perishes in storms and wildfires.

The siblings enter the Kingdom of the Future. They meet barefooted unborn children whom silver-sailed ships transport to Earth. Father Time (Thurston Hall) plans to separate lovers (Tommy Baker, Dorothy Joyce) on earth. A little girl (Caryll Ann Ekelund) tries to sneak onto the boat. Little Sister Tyl (Ann Todd) will die soon after being born in about a year. A studious child (Gene Reynolds) will become 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

The movie ends with the siblings:

  • Finding their bird blue-colored and caged at daybreak by Daddy, whom a truce spares from service;

  • Hearing Mummy (Spring Byington) attribute their “stories” to something they ate;

  • Letting Angela pet the bird;

  • Understanding the happiness of family and friends.

 

Shirley Temple - The Blue Bird (1940) ~ excerpt of dream journey of Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and Tyltyl (Johnny Russell)

Published on YouTube on September 16, 2012 by JOHN DJ ~ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pfoXNyHNAw

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Sources Consulted

 

Maurice Maeterlinck. The Blue Bird: A Fairy Play in Six Acts. Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. With sixteen illustrations by F. Cayley Robinson. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/bluebirdfairypla00maet2

 

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

Giclée print of theatrical release poster

The Blue Bird, 1940, Directed by Walter Lang

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: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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