The film tells the story of a talented orphan's trials and tribulations after winning a radio audition to represent a breakfast cereal. Highlights include Temple singing a medley of her hit tunes and dancing with Bill Robinson on a flight of stairs. The film was well received by Variety, and, in 2009, was available on videocassette and DVD.
Rebecca Winstead (Shirley Temple), a musically talented orphan, is under the guardianship of her stepfather Harry Kipper (William Demarest). She auditions for the radio role of Little Miss America and wins it, but leaves the studio believing she lost it. Kipper regards her as a loser and a burden, and dumps her on the farm of her Aunt Miranda.
Tony Kent, the radio advertising executive who approved Rebecca for the role of Little Miss America, lives next door to Miranda. He recognizes Rebecca, and asks Miranda's permission to feature Rebecca on his radio show. When Aunt Miranda (Helen Westley) refuses to allow Rebecca to associate with show people, Kent broadcasts secretly from his house with Rebecca joining him on the sly.
Kipper hears Rebecca's broadcast and returns to the farm looking for easy money. As Rebecca's legal guardian, he forces Aunt Miranda to surrender the child. He takes her away from her friends and loved ones to New York City. There, he signs a contract with Kent's competitor Purvis (Alan Dinehart) to star Rebecca on another radio show.
When Rebecca suddenly develops laryngitis and cannot sing, Purvis angrily voids the contract. Kipper sells his legal guardianship to Aunt Miranda for $5,000. Rebecca reveals to her friends she feigned hoarseness to free herself from Kipper. The film ends with Rebecca and Aunt Miranda's farm hand Aloysius costumed as toy soldiers performing a dance on a flight on stairs.
Subplots include a romance between Kent and Rebecca's cousin Gwen, another between radio singers Orville and Lola, and the rekindling of an old romance between Aunt Miranda and neighbor Homer Busby.Shirley Temple as Rebecca Winstead, a young orphan
Randolph Scott as Tony Kent, a radio advertising executive
William Demarest as Harry Kipper, Rebecca's stepfather
Helen Westley as Miranda, a farm woman and Rebecca's aunt
Gloria Stuart as Gwen, Rebecca's cousin and Kent's romantic interest
Bill Robinson as Aloysius, Miranda's farm hand
Slim Summerville as Homer Busby, Miranda's old sweetheart
Jack Haley as Orville Smithers, a radio performer
Phyllis Brooks as Lola Lee, a radio performer
Alan Dinehart as Purvis, Kent's competitor
Franklin Pangborn as an organist at a radio station
This movie is notable as the first movie in which Temple's mother did away with the trademark 56 curls for which Temple became famous. The new style with the long loose waves combed back was modeled to look closer to that of Mary Pickford, whom Temple's mother admired.
In the preparation for the film's finale (the "Toy Trumpet" dance number), Robinson joined Temple and her mother at the Desert Inn in Palm Springs to begin rehearsals. It was here that Temple had her first real encounter with the racism endured by Robinson, as he was forced to sleep in the chauffeurs' quarters as opposed to the cottages reserved for white guests.
At one point, preparations were made to include a drum sequence in the movie where Temple would play on the drums along with the musicians on the set. Temple befriended the studio drummer Johnny Williams, who taught her how to play the drums. Dwan, noticing her aptitude for the instrument, immediately ordered another drum set for her. Temple's mother, however, was strongly opposed to it, believing her sitting with legs apart was unladylike. The resulting sequence was later dropped, much to Temple's chagrin.
Temple's brother Jack Temple was hired on for the movie as the 3rd assistant director, in which as Shirley Temple would later say, he "spent time thinking up things to take care of, one of which was me." He was eventually dispatched after he and Shirley Temple got into a dispute over a roasted turkey prop on the set. The turkey was sprayed with insecticide to keep away insects and her brother loudly ordered her not to eat the turkey, which she was not intending on doing. Not liking to be bossed around, she popped the turkey in her mouth anyway, prompting her brother to try to shake her to dislodge the turkey from her mouth. The spat did not sit well with the director Dwan, who ordered him off.
The opening credits overture is an orchestral arrangement of what appears to be the film's unofficial theme tune by virtue of its several reprises, An Old Straw Hat by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon. The tune returns as an abbreviated vocal solo for Rebecca when she auditions at the radio station in the first scene, and returns later as a solo for Rebecca while she picks berries on the farm with Aloysius. In another scene, she sings it over the telephone.
When Rebecca broadcasts from Kent's country home midpoint in the film, she accompanies herself on the piano through a medley that includes On the Good Ship Lollipop, Animal Crackers in My Soup, When I'm with You, Oh My Goodness, and Goodnight My Love – all Temple hit tunes from previous films. The film ends with Temple and Robinson clad as toy soldiers dancing on a flight of stairs to The Toy Trumpet by Raymond Scott, Sidney D. Mitchell and Lew Pollack.
Other tunes in the film include the first scene's Happy Ending (Pollack and Mitchell) sung by Phyllis Brooks (Temple also recorded the song for the film, but it was cut before release); You've Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby (Revel and Gordon) sung comically and never in its entirety by girls auditioning for the radio show in the first scene; Come and Get Your Happiness (Pokrass and Yellen) sung by Temple; and Alone with You (Pollack and Mitchell) sung by Brooks and Haley. The breakfast cereal's jingle Crackly Grain Flakes (Pollack and Mitchell) is sung by a male quartet.
Variety wrote, "The national No. 1 box office star has seldom shone so brilliantly in her singing, dancing and repartee. That means she is going right ahead to bigger and better grosses."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
In 2009, the film was available on videocassette and DVD in the black and white original and computer-colorized versions. Some editions had special features and theatrical trailers.