Plot: Star (Shirley Temple), an orphan, lives with Captain January (Guy Kibbee), a retired sailor who runs a lighthouse. They adore each other, and she loves her life there, with the large community of sailors as her extended family and “Cap” to take care of her and teach her. A meddlesome and jealous woman, Agatha Morgan (Sara Haden) tries to prove that Cap is not a suitable guardian for Star, and that she should be in school, but when she is tested, her performance is well ahead of her grade level.
When the lighthouse is automated, Cap loses his job, and this gives Miss Morgan another chance to take Star away. To keep her from Miss Morgan, Cap’s friend Captain Nazro (Slim Somerville) tracks down Star’s wealthy relatives, who come to get her. They do everything they can to make her happy, finally realizing that she cannot be happy without the people who have become her real family. They bring Cap, Nazro, and her other special friends to be the crew for their new boat so they can be together.
Discussion: This is one of Shirley Temple’s best movies, and it provides an opportunity to discuss some of the most sensitive issues facing some children. Children who are home schooled will appreciate seeing the success of Shirley’s home schooling with Cap. And children who are in foster homes or have had to face custody issues may appreciate the opportunity to discuss Shirley’s situation as a way of addressing their own.
When Shirley is taken away from Cap, she says, “Why are they taking me away from you? What have I done?” This is a good chance to talk with children about how many kids mistakenly blame themselves for the problems that are created by the grown-ups around them. Star sings a song about how all that matters is “the right someone to love,” and imagines what it would be like to be Cap’s nanny. She says that he needs her to take care of him. Children need to know that it can be fun to pretend to be the caretaker, but that it is the grown-up’s responsibility to take care of the child. The movie also depicts the difficulty of finding work, especially after a job has been made obsolete.
Warning: this is a “happily ever after” movie, and children whose own situation make it difficult to watch an ending that ties everything up too neatly may have a hard time with it.
Questions for Kids:
· Why does Paul try to get Mary to “bend the rules” for Star’s test, and why won’t she do it?
· How can you tell that Cap and Nazro are friends, even though they insult each other and argue?
· How does Star notice that Cap is sad?
· Nazro does not give Cap two important pieces of information — what are they, and why doesn’t he tell Cap?
· Star and Cap both give reasons they are glad to leave the lighthouse — do you believe them? Why do they do that?
· Nazro says that children “forget quick.” Is that right?
Connections: Television fans with sharp eyes will recognize Buddy Ebsen (of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Barnaby Jones”) as Star’s friend Paul, who dances with her to “At the Codfish Ball.”
Activities: Children might like to visit a lighthouse or a museum exhibit showing the way they used to operate before the automation portrayed in the movie. They might also like to learn something about the opera Shirley pretends to be in, “Lucia de Lammermor;” the public library may have a recording you can borrow. Cap and Nazro pay pinochle, which children might like to learn. And they might like to make up a story, as Star does so well in her test at school.