Wee Willie Winkie
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Written byJulien Josephson
Ernest Pascal
Mordaunt Shairp (uncredited)
Based onWee Willie Winkie
1888 story in Week's News
by Rudyard Kipling
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Gene Markey
StarringShirley Temple
Victor McLaglen
C. Aubrey Smith
Cesar Romero
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byWalter Thompson
Music byAlfred Newman
Distributed by20th Century-Fox
Release date
  • June 25, 1937 (1937-06-25) (Los Angeles)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budgetover $1 million[2]
Front cover of The Queenslander to publicize the film in Australia

Wee Willie Winkie is a 1937 American adventure drama film directed by John Ford and starring Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, and Cesar Romero. The screenplay by Julien Josephson and Ernest Pascal was based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. The film's story concerns the British presence in 19th-century India. The production was filmed largely at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, where a number of elaborate sets were built for the film. This film was the first of three in which Shirley Temple and Cesar Romero appeared together, second was Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937) and The Little Princess (1939).[3]

The film is noteworthy for not having any elaborate song or dance routines which had become staples in Temple's films for 20th Century-Fox.

William S. Darling and David S. Hall were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.[4]


During the British Raj, Sergeant Donald MacDuff escorts Joyce Williams, an impoverished widow, and her young daughter, Priscilla, to a military outpost on the northern frontier of British occupied India to live with her stern father-in-law, Colonel Williams. Along the way, they witness the capture of freedom fighter chief Khoda Khan. Soon, Priscilla, nicknamed 'Wee Willie Winkie' by MacDuff, wins the hearts of all the soldiers, especially her grandfather and MacDuff; even Khoda Khan is touched by her visits to cheer him up in his captivity, and her returning a lost necklace to him. Meanwhile, her mother is courted by Lieutenant Brandes.

Khoda Khan is rescued by his men in a night raid and a fight breaks out. MacDuff is fatally wounded while out on patrol. He dies in the hospital while Priscilla sings "Auld Lang Syne" to him.

Priscilla decides to persuade Khoda Khan to stop fighting when Mohammet Dihn, a soldier who is actually Khan's spy, smuggles her out of the base and takes her to the rebel mountain fortress. Khan is greatly pleased; he thinks that the colonel will bring his entire regiment in a hopeless attempt to rescue her. British troops arrive, demanding Khan surrender Priscilla; his men prepare for battle, and he orders that Dihn be thrown over a wall, presumably to death.

Colonel Williams halts his force out of range and walks alone to the entrance. A few of Khan's men start shooting at Williams, and Priscilla rushes to her grandfather's side. Impressed by the colonel's courage and overcome with empathy for the child, Khan orders his men to stop firing. He agrees to negotiate and the war ends.



Until The Little Princess (1939), this was Shirley Temple's most expensive film.[2] Production of Wee Willie Winkie had to be moved from the Fox studio lot to Chatsworth, California, owing to intense conflicts taking place between labor unions and Hollywood studios. During one standoff, a Fox studio messenger visiting the set nearly had a light dropped on his head after scolding a stagehand who complained about working conditions. During the shooting of the film, Temple's mother, Gertrude, was hospitalized for two weeks with an unspecified stomach ailment.[5]

Ford was notorious for his distaste of working with child stars, but he was drawn to this movie for its large budget and strong supporting cast, including Ford favorite Victor McLaglen. He was initially indifferent towards Temple, but his demeanor changed after the famous death scene of Sgt. MacDuff, as he was pleased with the restraint shown in her performance and impressed by her professionalism. Temple and Ford remained friends for many years after this movie was finished. Ford was later the godfather of Temple's oldest daughter.[6]

Shortly after completion of this film, an unknown gunman fired a shot at Temple and her mother as they were walking into their home with a group of other people.[7]

According to Temple, this was her favorite film:

Of all my films I rate Wee Willie Winkie the best, but for all the wrong reasons. It was best because of its manual of arms, the noisy marching around in military garb with brass buttons, my kilts bouncing. It was best because of daredevil stunts with snipers and stampeding horses. It was also best because I finally seemed to earn the professional respect of someone so blood-and-thunder macho as Ford. Best of all, the watery-blue color of my portable dressing room had been repainted in regimental red.[8]


Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "a pleasing enough little fiction, sure to delight every Temple addict and likely to win the grudging approval even of those who, like myself, are biding their time until she grows up, becomes gawky and is a has-been at 15."[9] Variety praised the film's "realistic and elaborate backgrounds and tense reality", as well as "good comedy" between Temple and McLaglen, but suggested that the film was too long for Temple's younger fans to be able to sit through.[10] Harrison's Reports wrote "Very good! Although Shirley, as usual, predominates, the producers have wisely surrounded her with capable players...The story has comedy, romance, and thrills, and holds one's attention throughout."[11] John Mosher wrote that the film "isn't much as a Shirley Temple tryout...Miss Temple's talent is rather overexploited at times, and she seems just a bit too pert."[12]

Libel action against Graham Greene

Writing for Night and Day in 1937, Graham Greene gave the film a mildly good review, complaining about the manufactured ingenue of the star's handlers, but otherwise observing that the Hollywood treatment is an improvement over the original Kipling version.[13][14] The review[15] said that the nine-year-old star, Shirley Temple, displayed "a dubious coquetry" which appealed to "middle-aged men and clergymen"—[16][17] provoking Temple and the British and American branches of Twentieth-Century Fox to sue Greene, Night and Day, its publisher (Chatto and Windus), and its printers (Hazell, Watson and Viney) for libel. The case appeared before the King's Bench in 1938 and a settlement was announced the following day. Speaking on behalf of Greene, Night and Day, and the publisher, the counsel for the defense Valentine Holmes reframed the review "which, his clients instructed him, [as] one to see which anybody could take their children". The Lord Chief Justice who prevailed over the hearing declared the printed "libel ... simply a gross outrage" and fined the defendants £3500[nb 1] (equivalent to £237,800 in 2021).[19][20][21][22]. Greene left the UK until after the trial was over to live in Mexico,[23][24] where he developed the ideas for the novel often considered his masterpiece, The Power and the Glory.[23]

Home media

In 2009, the film was available on videocassette and DVD in both the original black-and-white and in computer-colorized versions. Some editions had theatrical trailers and special features.

See also


  1. ^ The details of the settlement were such that Shirley Temple was to receive £2000 (equivalent to £135,900 in 2021) in compensation to partially defray court costs and the film corporation and company would receive £1000 (£67,900) and £500 (£34,000) respectively. The film and company would donate their portion of the fee to charity.[18]


  1. ^ Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 2368–2369. ISBN 0-520-07908-6.
  2. ^ a b Up Budgets In Quality Film Drive The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1939: 14
  3. ^ "Feature Film/TV Episode/Video/TV Movie/TV Special/TV Mini-Series/Documentary/Video Game/Short Film, with Shirley Temple, Cesar Romero (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)". IMDb.
  4. ^ "Wee Willie Winkie". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  5. ^ Shirley Temple Black, Child Star: An Autobiography (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 168, 178.
  6. ^ Shirley Temple Black, Child Star: An Autobiography (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 179.
  7. ^ Shirley Temple Black, Child Star: An Autobiography (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 180.
  8. ^ Shirley Temple Black, Child Star: An Autobiography (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 181.
  9. ^ The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. p. 1412.
  10. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. June 30, 1937. p. 20.
  11. ^ "Wee Willie Winkie". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 123 July 31, 1937.
  12. ^ Mosher, John (July 17, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 64.
  13. ^ "Graham Greene's infamous review of Wee Willie Winkie (1937), starring Shirley Temple". The Charnel-House. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  14. ^ Greene, Graham (28 October 1937). "Wee Willie Winkie/The Life of Emile Zola". Night and Day. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0192812866.)
  15. ^ "Graham Greene's infamous review of Wee Willie Winkie (1937), starring Shirley Temple". The Charnel-House. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  16. ^ Atkinson, Michael (21 August 2009). "Our Man in London". movingimagesource.us.
  17. ^ Chancellor, Alexander (22 February 2014). "Was Graham Greene right about Shirley Temple?". The Spectator.
  18. ^ "Law Report, March 22 - Libel on Miss Shirley Temple: 'A Gross Outrage'". The Times. London. 23 March 1938. p. 4. ISSN 0140-0460.
  19. ^ Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). "Appendix: The Shirley Temple Libel Action". The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. p. 276. ISBN 0192812866.
  20. ^ Temple v. Night and Day Magazine Ltd, HCJ, KBD (1938). (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 276–277. ISBN 0192812866.)
  21. ^ Andrew Johnson "Shirley Temple scandal was real reason Graham Greene fled to Mexico", The Independent on Sunday, 18 November 2007
  22. ^ Atkinson, Michael (August 21, 2009 ) "Our Man in London." Moving Image Source.
  23. ^ a b Johnson, Andrew (18 November 2007). "Shirley Temple scandal was real reason Graham Greene fled to Mexico". The Independent.
  24. ^ Vickers, Graham (1 August 2008). Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again. Chicago Review Press. p. 64. ISBN 9781556526824.