Young hearts can know what maturity and reason ignore in The Little Princess by writers Walter Ferris and Ethel Hill; producers Gene Markey and Darryl F. Zanuck; and director Walter Lang. Arthur C. Miller and William Skall; Louis Loeffler; and Charles Maxwell, Cyril J. Mockridge, Samuel Pokrass, and Herbert W. Spencer handle cinematography, editing, and music. Filming showcases Twentieth Century-Fox’s studios.
The 94-minute film adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett’s (November 24, 1849 - October 29, 1924) 1905-published novel A Little Princess. Its distributor was Twentieth Century-Fox. Its NYC-premiere and USA-release dates were March 10 and 17, 1939.
The movie begins with Captain Reginald Crewe (Ian Hunter), son of Sir George Crewe, traveling from India to Transvaal for the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902). Daughter Sara (Shirley Temple) enrolls in Amanda Minchin’s (Mary Nash) London School for Girls. She likes:
- Her doll Emily;
- Riding instructor Geoffrey Hamilton (Richard Greene), Lord Wickham’s (Miles Mander) grandson;
- Tutor Rose (Anita Louise).
Reginald and Sara arrange to remember each other at 2 p.m. on birthday #8. Solicitor Barrows (E.E. Clive) interrupts festivities to reveal Reginald’s:
Geoffrey enlists. Amanda fires Rose, whom she raised as a foundling and who wears husband Geoffrey’s ring on a necklace. Amanda’s brother/elocution professor Hubert (Arthur Treacher) joins the war effort after cavorting through “Knocked ‘em in the Old Kent Road” with Sara.
From across the way, Ram Dass (Cesar Romero) chats in Hindustani with Sara. He gives Becky and Sara blankets, robes, slippers, and tablecloths. Sara remembers Ram’s breakfast muffins and tea when Lavinia (Marcia Mae Jones) taunts her with chocolate. She upends ashes on Lavinia’s pink shawl.
Amanda appears unannounced. She considers Ram Dass’ (Cesar Romero) gifts stolen. She locks Becky and Sara in.
Becky and Sara cross the ledge to Ram’s window. They exit by Lord Wickham’s (Miles Mander) main entrance. Police nab Becky. Sara runs to the Veterans Hospital.
No one can enter for one hour. Sara gets into the room of the royal visit. Wheelchair-bound Queen Victoria (Beryl Mercer) hears Sara’s plight. She lets Sara search the hospital. Sara sees Geoffrey, whose war-wounded right arm is bandaged.
The movie ends with:
Amanda and the police arriving;
Sara concealing herself in the room where Reginald, shell-shocked and without identification papers, awaits transport to Edinburgh for surgery;
Sara hearing Reginald saying “Sara, Sara”;
Bertie maintaining Sara’s innocence of theft;
Reginald standing up with Sara’s help as Queen Victoria ends her visit with soldiers.