The last film Shirley Temple made for Fox was Darryl F. Zanuck’s personally supervised The Blue Bird (1940); an abysmal and amateurish attempt to recapture and bottle up some of the glorious fantasy magic of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) which Temple had been up for – as part of a studio loan out - but lost to Judy Garland. In almost every way The Blue Bird is a wholly inferior and leaden filmic experience. Yet, only part of this gargantuan misfire can be blamed on the hokey production values and shoddy special effects.
The latter half of the film’s poor box office returns must lay in Temple’s complete lack of grasp on the role of the protagonist. Well past her prime as the pint sized princess, Temple’s desperate awkwardness to retain even a little of that angelic pixie dust that had made her such a star during the 30s is at odds with her pre-teen body proportions. If only the film had been made three to five years earlier, she might have been able to pull it off.
Temple is miscast as Mytyl, a Germanic knockoff of Gretel (of Hansel and Gretel fame), whose father, Tyl (Russel Hicks) is slated to go off to war. Heart-sore and befuddled, Mytyl falls asleep and has one whopper of a dream about the blue bird of happiness – a mythical creature that escapes her discovery. The good fairy, Berylune (the wholly ineffectual Jessie Ralph), instructs Mytyl to search for the blue bird with her brother, (Johnny Russell), her dog and cat, whom Berylune has transformed into faithful human servants, Tylo (Eddie Collins) and Tylette (Gale Sondergaard). But Tylette is mischievous and nearly gets the whole lot killed during a raging forest fire.
Ernest Pascal's screenplay is episodic and uninspired almost from the opening credits. The garish sequence in which Mytyl journeys to heaven and meets boys and girls who have yet to be born – some eagerly awaiting the hour of their birth, others utterly depressed by the prospect of leaving heaven for earth - neither hinges on the scene that immediately preceded it, nor cohesively leads into the scene that immediately follows, but is just a bit of suspended fantasy in a narrative structure that is desperately struggling for cohesiveness.
Zanuck’s faith in Temple was stirred into mounting this super production, but without any of the suspended disbelief that MGM’s Oz has in spades. The film's abysmal flop at the box office sent Temple packing from Fox in a hurry. In retrospect, The Blue Bird is not a worthy vehicle for either Zanuck’s efforts or Temple’s acting abilities. It is an unaffected bit of tackiness to be avoided.
Fox’s DVD transfer is below par. The Technicolor is quite unstable with fluctuating hues, overly orange or pink flesh tones, some mis-registration problems that crop up now and then, and a barrage of age related artifacts that are more obvious during the matte process and effects photography. Fine details are occasionally lost in a print that becomes quite softly focused. The audio has been remixed to 2 channel stereo (the original mono is also included). Neither distinguishes itself. There are NO Extras!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)