Blue Bird (1940)
Fox’s head Darryl F. Zanuck’s produced “The Blue Bird,” as a Technicolor star vehicle for Shirley Temple and sort of a response to MGM’s smash hit, “The Wizard of Oz,” with Judy Garland in the lead role Zanuck hoped would go to Temple.
Adapted from the allegorical stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck (filmed as silent by Maurice Tourneur in 1918).
Like ”The Wizard of Oz,” “The Blue Bird” is bookended with black-and-white sequences, using Technicolor for the film’s lavishly mounted fantasy scenes.
Gale Sondergaard, who had been first choice to play the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard, was cast as Blue Bird’s villainess.
Set in mid-Europe in the late 18th century, the story concerns Mytyl (Temple) and Tyltyl (John Russell), the children of a woodchopper (Russell Hicks) who has gone to fight in a war. Heartbroken, the kids decide to run away from home in search of the Bluebird of Happiness, hoping it will solve all their problems.
Falling asleep, Mytyl and Tyltyl dream that the good fairy Berylune (Jessie Berylune) is leading the search, accompanied by their pets, Tylo the dog and Tylette the cat, who have assumed human form (played by Eddie Collins and Sondergaard).
Before arriving at the far-from-unexpected realization that the elusive Bluebird of Happiness is no further than their own backyard,
In their journey, the kids go through some amazing experiences, including a raging forest fire (Fox’s special-effects master Fred Sersen was Oscar-nominated) and an unsettling visit to “The Land of the Unborn”.
Lavishly elaborate but too heavyhanded, leaden and allegorical for children, “The Blue Bird” was one of Shirley Temple’s biggest commercial flop. At 12, Temple was beginning to lose her core audiences. Later on, despite valiant efforts, she was unable to make a smooth transition to more mature roles.
Troubled as it is, this version is still superior to George Cukor’s 1976 US-Soviet version, starring Elizabeth, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, and others.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Cinematography (Color): Arthur Miller and Ray Rennahan
Special Effects: Fred Sersen, photographic; E.H. Hansen, sound.
Oscar Awards: None
“The Thief of Bagdad” won the Cinematography (Georges Perinal) and Special Effects Oscars.
Running time: 98 Minutes.
Directed by Walter Lang
Screenplay: Ernest Pascal
Twentieth Century Fox
Shirley Temple as Mytyl Tyl
Spring Byington as Mummy Tyl
Nigel Bruce as Mr. Luxury
Gale Sondergaard as Tylette
Eddie Collins as Tylo the dog
Sybil Jason as Angela Berligot
Jessie Ralph as Fairy Berylune
Helen Ericson as Light
Johnny Russell as Tyltyl Tyl
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