A marvelous precursor to Bugsy Malone (1976), the satirical one-reeler Little Geezer: His Rise & Fall (1932) is a gangster film spoof with children playing all the roles of gangsters, murder victim, cops, pool hall denizens.
Little Geezer is the Edward G. Robinson-like figure. The heroine is named Greta Garbage, "refuse of the street, more to be pitied than sniffed at." She's tired of life which consists of drinking & smoking. But Little Geezer has a soft spot for her.
The rival eastside gang is headed by Scarface Macaroni. Gang war breaks out over rum-running territory. Little Geezer ends up wounded & Greta helps patch him up. She wants him to get out of the rackets before it's too late.
They try to go straight but Big Boss says no one leaves the gang & there's a hit out on Little Geezer. Geezer & Greta will be gunned down together & afterward even the fat kid playing Big Boss cries over them.
The "Baby Burlesks" series of one-reel comedies starred exclusively babies between ages three & five.
War Babies (1932) is a wickedly perverse film spoofing war films, casting toddlers as soldiers in a bar, with an extremely small three year old Shirley Temple playing a prostitute with a purse full of suckers the soldiers have paid her for her affections.
If such a film were made today someone would probably be arrested, but as a relic of another era one has to admit it's an absolutely delicious little comedy, a satire on What Price Glory? (1926) with Shirley in the Dolores del Rio role of Charmaine.
Soldiers in their battlefield helmets & diapers & dragging their rifles gather at Buttermilk Pete's Cafe for some fermented milk.
There's a band performing for the floor show's star, Shirley, who gets an ice-cream down the back of her blouse & does a wild shimmy. One of the baby musicians plays a slap-base four or five times his size.
A black soldier, littlest of the kids, does a jive dance on a table & most curiously concludes with a striptease for his fellow soldiers, tapdancing in his shorts.
One baby soldier says, "Why there's Sargent, he sure knows how to get the dames." The baby sergent comes into the bar with two baby French floozies at his sides. He ditches the dames & begins competing with the baby captain for the affections of Shirley, who'll end up going with the guy with the biggest lollipop.
In case there's any doubt Shirley's character is a hooker, the guy with the biggest sucker takes her in the back room for a while, & later the guy displays her diaper pin as a trophy.
The third Baby Burlesk has Shirley Temple as La belle Diaperina was Glad Rags to Riches (1932), Set in the 1890s, Shirley is the kidnapped showgirl.
Inferior to the Hal Roach "Our Gang" series, the kids are a whole lot younger so can't do as much. But for ten or fifteen minute adventures, they do enough.
This one includes what must be Shirley's first tapdance routine to be filmed. She's just wildly inept, but charmingy sure of herself. If cute was mustard gas we'd all be dead.
As a showgirl she's "tired of it all" & wants to quite the business & return to her small town roots. But she's indebted to the club owner, a real stinky-diapers, who treats her like pimps treat whores.
She has a helpful black maid as she does in several of these Baby Burlesks, & as her rival diva had in Kid in Hollywood.
This stereotype of the star's sassy maid is kind of annoyingly racist but the toddler playing the role manages somehow to get it right.
Elmer, a hick from La Belle's small town, shows up in town looking for his sweetheart, unware she's become a headlining showgirl in a seedy club. No sooner is he & his sweety united than the club owner becomes enraged, & forces him to leave.
"I'll go now," says Elmer, "but I'll return! And when I do, I'll be back!" He has every intention of saving her from that "den of iniquity" & it's a good thing, too, as her manager has had just about enough of her rebelliousness & is getting increasingly dangerous. Elmer shows up in the nick of time, with the police for a raid on the illegal establishment, & all ends well.
Kid's Last Stand (1933) is a another "Baby Burlesk," starring exclusively three to five year olds. This one a satire on the boxing world & movies about boxers.
Shirley's boyfriend Diaper Dampsy has a diaper-weight championship bout with the champ, Pop-Skull McGee. Both boxers are training at the Baby Socks boxing club.
Pop-Skull has his eyes on Shirley, but she dislikes him & looks forward to Diaper Dampsy giving him a beating in the ring.
Pop-Skull has learned Diaper can't fight well if Shirley isn't ringside as his good luck charm. So he has baby gangsters kidnap Shirley intending to hold her hostage until after the match.
The kids put on a thrilling bout, but superstitious Dampsy has one bad-luck moment after another. At ringside is his dog, & the struggling challenger says to him, "For the love of mike! Go find Shirley!"
The heroic dog sets out to find & liberate Shirley who makes it to the match just in time to give Dampsy the psychological boost he requires to take down the cheating champ.
Kid in Hollywood (1933) is a Baby Burlesk with Shirley Temple as Morelegs Sweettrick. Her role spoofs Marlene Dietrich. The all-toddler cast acts out behind-the-scenes & back-stage doings in the world of filmmaking.
Morelegs is passed over by casting despite having won a beauty contest. To have any job on the stage at all, she takes a position as floor scrubber. Other girls practice for the chorus line while poor Morelegs crawls on the floor with a sponge.
Freta Snobo, a parody of Garbo, is a demanding deva who won't show up for rehearsals. Morelegs sees her chance in the situation & is soon chosen to replace the star.
Even if you dislike Shirley Temple's best known films, you'll have to admit she's adorable in these Baby Burlesks when only three years old, even if the films themselves are nowhere near the quality of Our Gang comedies.
In this one she sings "We Just Couldn't Say Good-bye" like most three-year-olds would, which ain't great, but she does have that extra little oomph that explains why she became a star & none of the other toddlers in the Baby Burlesks did.
No sooner is Morelegs a star than she becomes a diva, too, making unreasonable demands. But when her first film turns out to be a flop, her come-uppance is complete, & she decides to get married instead. Soon she has a baby of her own, weirdly enough.
None of the Baby Burlesks are outstanding either for stories nor for humor, & rarely for Shirley's performances.
None is better than War Babies & if that one fails to hold a viewer's attention, there's not much reason to bother with the rest.
They're occasionally startling for sexualizing a preschooler. In Polly Tix in Washington (1932) she plays a prostitute hired to tempt a bumpkin politician. A hooker with a heart of gold in the City of Corruption must've been pretty tasteless even in its day. In ours it would likely get producers arrested.
A. Clodbuster running for office promises a lolipop in ever fist & will ban caster oil. All the three & four year old politicians wear bowlers or tophats, cute as hell. Codbuster's that rarity among politicans in that he won't take bribes, so Polly Tix is sent round to try to seduce him. Her slutty act & kissing scene are kind of startling.
Polly seduces him easily enough but then feels guilty or perhaps falls in love. She gives up the world of prostitution, even giving up her harlot's jewels, in favor of an honest senator, whose career I'm sure will be cinched when the folks back home find out he's engaged to an ex-hooker.
Kid in Africa (1933) has Shirley playing Madame Cradlebait, the very name evocing the "humor" of child sexual exploitation. As a satire of Tarzan the Apeman (1932) & Trader Horn (1931), it is thoroughly racist, but more colorful than most episodes, the ostritch-drawn coach being worthy of a grin.
The story has Shirley trying to convert the heathen when the cannibals grab her for lunch. It's up to Diaperzan to save her.
Pie-Covered Wagon (1932) does for westerns what Kid in Africa did for jungle movies, spoofing in particular The Covered Wagon (1923), with pioneers & Indians all in diapers.
All of Lamont-directed episodes rely on a formula that was rarely working, which is surprising because the "pilot" for these one-reel comedies, the only one with a different director (Ray Navarro), did not establish such a pattern of reliance exclusively on the cutesie.
Runt Page (1932) was the very first film to feature Shirley Temple, at age three tiny as can be.
She's in her highchair at the dinner table while the adults (not to be seen in later Baby Burlesks) prattle on about the plot of the new film The Front Page (1931).
The bored infant nods off to sleep, & dreams herself into a spoof of The Front Page. One aspect rightly jettisoned from the series was the use of adult voices coming from the kids' mouths. It loses about three-fourths of the cute value due to the kids sounding like old gents on some radio program.
The young lads look charming in their newspapermen outfits in the newsroom, but the voices sabotage the thing. It's too bad, too, as the script is a mite better than later ones, not that that's saying a lot.
No one had guessed Shirley was going to be the star, so apart from being the dreamer of these events, she doesn't even show up in the story until more than halfway through the reel, & has rather little to do once she does show up. And while it's the only Baby Burlesk to have its own unique approach to the material, it's ultimately no better than the rest.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl