Since confession is good for the soul (or so they tell me), I’ll admit that when ClassicFlix announced that it was starting up its own distribution of classic movies to DVD and Blu-ray…I was a bit skeptical. (You may have noticed from time to time that this is my nature.) I posited that CF would probably just pull a few public domain titles out of mothballs and slap them onto disc.
As such, I don’t mind issuing a major mea culpa that ClassicFlix’s releases—which began in April of last year—far surpassed my expectations. They’ve released impressive titles like their John Alton Film Noir Bundle—a three-disc special edition consisting of T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and He Walked by Night (1948) that is also packed to the rafters with bodacious bonuses like featurettes, audio commentaries (including author Alan K. Rode), image galleries, and exceptionally well-done booklets. (Full disclosure: while I have contributed liner notes to several CF releases—for which I have received due compensation—I did not write the Alton set booklets, which were composed by author Max Alvarez. I just wish I had.) ClassicFlix also showcases titles previously unavailable on DVD, as in the case of Miss Annie Rooney (1942), one of CF’s inaugural releases.
A slight reworking of Little Annie Rooney (1925), a Mary Pickford silent (they changed the “Little” to “Miss” to emphasize star Shirley Temple’s “grown-up” status), Miss Annie Rooney features America’s favorite movie moppet in a dramatic tale of a teenage girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” who makes the acquaintance of Marty White, Jr. (Dickie Moore)—the scion of rubber magnate Marty, Sr. (Jonathan Hale)—after her pal Joey (Roland Du Pree) rear ends Marty’s car as the couple are on their way to a “jam session” at Annie’s friend Myrtle’s (Peggy Ryan) house. His jalopy in need of repair, Joey agrees to let Marty take Annie to Myrtle’s, so she won’t miss the festivities…and movies being what they are, it doesn’t take long before Annie has fallen head-over-heels in love with Marty.
There’s an interesting “class” angle to Rooney, however. Marty and his parents are members of the one percent, and when Marty asks his mother (Gloria Holden) if he can invite Annie to his sixteenth birthday shindig, she looks at her son as if he’s grown a second head. Marty invites Annie on the sly…but Miss Rooney is in a quandary: she’ll need a formal dress to attend, and both her father (William Gargan) and grandfather (Guy Kibbee) are financially embarrassed at the moment. Granddad manages to borrow enough on his pension (he’s a retired cop…as if the “Rooney” hadn’t already tipped you off to that) to get Annie her posh frock…but once she’s arrived at Chez White it becomes abundantly clear that she’s out of her element (she’s not only looked at with disdain by the society girls Marty has invited…she overhears two of the hired help bitching about how they have to accommodate a last-minute guest).
Will Annie be able to overcome this class prejudice and be accepted by the in crowd? Of course, she can—because she teaches the kids at the party how to jitterbug! (How else to unify the haves and have-nots but with the power of dance?) All goes well until Annie’s dad—a ne’er-do-well whose get-rich-quick schemes would prompt Ralph Kramden to say “Slow your roll, fella”—turns up at the soiree and proceeds to embarrass her by trying to sell a revolutionary milkweed-to-rubber process to Martin, Sr. Will her father’s chuckleheaded attempts to rise above his miserable station jeopardize Annie’s burgeoning social climbing? For the moment maybe…but movies are magic, ma chere—there’s a happy ending on the horizon.
If you’re a regular visitor to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear—come to think of it, you don’t really need to be a regular visitor since it’s not exactly a well-kept Internets secret—you may have gleaned info that I am not one of Shirley Temple’s biggest fans. (My pal Page can attest to this…but in Temple’s defense, she doesn’t fill me with the revulsion that She Who Must Not Be Named entails.) I was therefore a little hesitant to sit down with Miss Annie Rooney…but I’ve been meaning to get some reviews of ClassicFlix releases up on the blog, and I figured I’d tackle the vegetables first before I get to the dessert. I liked Rooney more than I thought I would even though it’s not one of Shirl’s better “adult” features (like Since You Went Away or Fort Apache, my favorite Temple film). Shirley herself thought Rooney was “terrible,” though she couldn’t measure up to The New York Times critic who opined: “Miss Annie Rooney is a very little picture. In fact, it is a very grim little picture…” (That’s gonna leave a mark.)
I was able to enjoy Miss Annie Rooney because it’s very much reminiscent of old-time radio “teenager” sitcoms like A Date with Judy and Meet Corliss Archer (Temple fans are aware that Shirley played this latter character in two feature films, Kiss and Tell  and A Kiss for Corliss )—pleasant little divertissements in which wacky teens speak a strange lingo (the Blu-ray/DVD of Rooney includes a glossary that explains slang like “thirty for now” and other expressions) while attending parties and having the time of their young lives. Shirley is quite good as the titular gal who loses herself in romance tales like Pygmalion and Romeo & Juliet, and dreams of landing a beau who’ll pay less attention to his car (that would be young Joey) and more attention to her.
Miss Annie Rooney received a little notoriety as the movie in which Shirley Temple received her first onscreen kiss. In her autobiography, Temple revealed that contrary to the publicity it was not her first time…and when I mentioned this trivial tidbit to Mom, she remarked: “Shirley was quite the little trumpet, wasn’t she?” (Yes, she meant “strumpet.”) It was the first time—on or off-screen—that co-star Dickie Moore had ever planted one on a girl, and he was a bit more embarrassed than the been-there-done-that Shirley. Moore, a former Our Ganger (and as such, a child actor that does not want to make me retch), later turned in first-rate performances as an adult thespian in films like Sergeant York (1941) and Out of the Past (1947)…but to be honest I couldn’t determine whether the awkwardness he exhibits as Marty in Rooney was genuine or just bad acting.
The supporting cast in Miss Annie Rooney helps make the movie less painful than it could be; Andrew “Grover” Leal fave Guy Kibbee has some nice moments as Shirley’s grandfather (“May you be in Heaven half-an-hour before the Devil finds out you’re dead!”) and I’d be lying to you if I wasn’t amused by the fact that J.C. Dithers (Jonathan Hale) and Dracula’s Daughter (Gloria Holden) play Moore’s parents. June Lockhart has a small role as a snooty society deb (you’ll also spot future Lois Lane Noel Neill as one of the party guests), and In the Balcony mascot Byron Foulger makes an appearance at the end as an engineer employed by Hale’s character. I also tittered when I saw William Gargan’s brother Edward as—what else?—a cop…but then Edgar Dearing is also on hand as a uniformed representative of the law (I think this was a federal statute at the time). In summation, Miss Annie Rooney is highly recommended for Shirley Temple fans.