Movies

The Bizarre New Deal Comedy That Made Shirley Temple a Star

Watch the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer.

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In honor of the late Shirley Temple, I give you one of the strangest political pictures of the 1930s: Stand Up and Cheer.

Released in 1934, the movie—Temple's first big hit—is a sort of a New Deal backstage musical. I summarized the story in these pages a decade ago, and I'll recycle that precis now (spoiler alert, not that this is the kind of movie where spoilers matter):

The president creates a new Department of Amusement because Americans are so depressed, what with the Depression and all. A Broadway producer takes the helm and, in a great feat of central planning, organizes a massive entertainment drive. This angers a cabal of evil businessmen, who somehow are profiting from the bad times, so they conspire to bring the new agency down. The noble impresario rebuffs their efforts; and the country, inspired by his not-quite-Keynesian stimulus, emerges happily from the Great Depression.

Add some noxious racism to the dumb economics—the movie features both Steppin Fetchit and Aunt Jemima—and you've got more bad politics here than in any '30s Hollywood production this side of Gabriel Over the White House. If you can't bring yourself to watch the whole thing, you can skip directly to the most gloriously weird scene—the moment when the Depression abruptly ends—by going to 1:03:09.

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  1. Fake. They didn’t even have YouTube back then.

    1. What are you talking about? FDR had verified account, Keynes4evah that he used to post videos that calmed down the country, along with videos of his cat chasing him around in his wheelchair with a piece of yarn tied to the back.

    2. It has to be fake.

      Why would the US Government need a Department of Amusement when it already has Congress and VP Joe Biden?

  2. The height of bad FDR Hollywood politics was Mission to Moscow.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036166/

    I would encourage that it be shown more as a way to shame and disgrace Hollywood, but I am pretty sure Progs would see it as a truthful documentary on the glories of Stalinism that the racist tea baggers have suppressed. So, better it not be shown lest we encourage them to go even more full commie than they already are.

    1. I wrote about that one once. It’s disqualified from the “bad ’30s politics” competition by coming out in the ’40s. But yeah, it’s pretty awful.

      1. Pah, details.

      2. I know. It is 1943. So it is technically in the “worst war time propaganda” category. But it is still FDR.

        1. Curiously, Mission to Moscow is unavailable on Netflix, YouTube, or anywhere else that I can find.

          1. Yeah. It was pretty much put down the memory hole. Its existence doesn’t fit t he narrative that there were no communists in Hollywood, just victims of McCarthyism.

          2. $20.00 from Turner Classic Movies.

            They air it every once in a while. Did you know that all the show-trials were real?

      3. Not hard to see why Hollywood was once persecuted for being communist!

    2. I am sometimes torn over whether Meet John Doe is among the worst 30’s politics movies (because of its naive view of the power of primitive collectivism to defeat the Depression) or is the BEST 30’s politics movie (because it sees how a naive belief in the power of primitive collectivism to solve problems can easily be scaled up to serve the goal of a ruthless and power-mad authoritarian).

      1. I vote for the best. The whole thing is a fraud. There is a real dark element to the John Doe movement in the book. To me it always seemed to be a stand in for fascism.

        1. There is a real dark element to the John Doe movement in the book. To me it always seemed to be a stand in for fascism.

          Right, but the original impulse is depicted as pure.

          But I guess that does make it the best – because it shows the nexus between the impulse and the reality.

          Usually fascism in movies is depicted as “Look at the moustache-twirling villains who want to do bad stuff! Evil, evil fascists!” and MJD does so much better a job at showing how people would be taken in.

          1. Meet John Doe is ambiguous about the John Doe movement in really intricate ways. I think the result is pretty brilliant, and that it’s one of Capra’s best movies.

            But it came out in the ’40s, not the ’30s.

          2. Exactly. I don’t know if the movie makers intended it that way. But it shows how fascism starts always with the best of intentions and by appealing to people’s better instincts.

  3. “Steppin Fetchit *and Aunt Jemima”

    When progs are racist it’s an irony and a paradox. Because racism is supposed to be right-wing.

    /prog

    1. But George Clooney said in his Oscar speech that Hollywood was way ahead of society in racial tolerance because he gave a black actress who played a happy slave in Gone With the Wind (you know the movie that celebrates the slave holding South and the white slave holders who built it) an Oscar in 1939.

      1. Was that the don’t know nothin’ about birthin no babies lady, or a different person?

        1. Different character.

      2. Right, but the Hattie McDaniel character is often smarter and stronger than the white characters around her (in fact, she is essentially an Americanized version of the Wise Fool – a character whose outsider social position allows them both insight into the main characters and the social space needed to critique them on it).

        That was fairly revolutionary for its time.

        It’s funny – we’ve come full circle, and NOW the character is revolutionary because it depicts a slave in a social context OTHER THAN complete degradation…which of course we know never could have happened, ever, amirite?

        1. You make a good point about the Hattie McDaniel character. I was more holding Clooney to the lefts’ own standards. Among the left and a good part of the black community, Gone with the Wind is considered to be about on the same level as Birth of a Nation. For leftist like Clooney to then use it as an example of rational tolerance was ironic to put it mildly.

          1. Gone with the Wind is considered to be about on the same level as Birth of a Nation.

            Right, but we’re the ones who can’t see the complexity and ambiguity in things.

            It’s amusing to me that I’m accused of having a flat and Manichean perspective from people who are unable to see the ambiguity in Gone with the Wind. Which is basically a kindergarten class in ambiguity.

            1. The sad thing about that is is that the truth of slavery is both a thousand times more interesting, complex and in many ways more horrible than the pre school level cartoon leftists believe.

              One of the great popular history books of the 20th Century is Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South It was written in the 1950s and systematically looks at how slavery actually worked in all of its variety. It talks about the class structure among slaves between field and house slaves. How some slaves actually liked life on the plantation and viewed themselves as holding positions of authority and importance. Then it shows all of the horrors, the beatings, the forced marriages and flat out selective breeding of slaves like animals, the brutality and inhumanity of it all. It is one of the most interesting books I have ever read.

              I have met very few people who have ever read it. And I am told it is now pretty much banned from the academy because it made the point that slavery in the South evolved and was not simply a creation of evil profit driven capitalists. And that of course contradicts the Du Boise Marxist narrative and is thus not allowed.

              1. Sounds fairly similar to Roman slavery. Definitely classes of slaves and wide range of work conditions and treatment.

                1. There were millions of slaves in the South at any one time. And it went on for generations. You are going to find a huge variety of experiences in that out of sheer numbers alone.

              2. Also good Being from SC and attending undergrad here, this is what we read.

                1. Thanks RBS. I will check that out. I have an odd fascination with Southern Slavery. It is unspeakably horrible. But at the same time it is not uniformly horrible. As bad as it was, it wasn’t the Gulags or the Holocaust. It is not 100% evil and horror like those two. That contrast makes it a very interesting and compelling story.

              3. Slavery is a terrible disgusting thing. One of th3.most disturbing.parts of.it is.how.it systematically destroys the.individual will and.pride.of.the enslaved.

                If slavery were 100% beatings and rapes and forced labor, how could.it.last as long as it.has? The hostories of.enslaved people are perplexing from the point of.view of.free people, because we.ask.ourselves how they could put up with.it for.so long? The fact is, it so insidiously destroys the will of.individuals and takes advantage of.herd mentalities, that it is easy to see how slavery can last so long. It is.not necessarily just the threat of superior force: people (both slaves and non-slqve-owning freemen) become inured.to thebinstitution.of.slaver.ly.

                It frightens.me when I consider.how.easiky slqvery could be reintroduced, given proper conditioning over a relatively short.period.of.time.

                1. It exists in a lot of places today DB. They just call the slaves “prisoners” and “criminals”. Once the gulag system got going and the Soviets realized what they could do with all of that forced labor, thy just became an organ of slavery to the state. Chinese prison industries are the same thing.

                  And absolutely if this country ever started generally using prison labor it would quickly become a self sustaining form of slavery.

                  The only thing that would be hard to reintroduce is the concept of generational slavery. It would take a lot to get people to think children should be enslaved based on their parents being slaves. It is not impossible. But it would take a lot longer than the prison slavery I describe.

                2. During the Roman Empire lots of free people in the lower middle-class would sell themselves into slavery to pay off debts and void taxes (slaves didn’t have to pay). Emperor Valens made it illegal in 410 to sell oneself into slavery to stop the revenue loss.

              4. The sad thing about that is is that the truth of slavery is both a thousand times more interesting, complex and in many ways more horrible than the pre school level cartoon leftists believe.

                Indeed!

                If you’re interested in this topic, I also recommend Charles MacKay’s Life and Liberty in America: or Sketches of a Tour of the United States and Canada in 1857?58. MacKay is more well known for his Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

                Free at http://books.google.com/books/…..5EAAAAIAAJ

                It’s a contemporaneous account, essentially an antebellum travelogue, by a visiting Scot. MacKay isn’t quite Toqueville, but he travelled and wrote more extensively about the South’s peculiar institution. Paraphrasing MacKay: With his European notions that a man’s color makes no difference in his natural rights, MacKay comes to the same conclusion as previous travellers — that “Liberty” in the New World was not yet exactly what the founders of the Union intended it to be — and he expresses his opinions without bitterness. He admires the political virtues of the Republic, but he is not blind to its defects or vices.

                1. Another indispensible work is, of course, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe was not a profound scholar of the peculiar institution, but the book conveys the 19th Century worldview and how well the complexity of slavery was understood by by its opponents. If a modern authoritarian progressive were to read the book, I’m sure its literary allusions would be entirely lost on the modern progressive, and their response would be akin to Dr. Lexus’ response to Luke Wilson’s manner of speech in Idiocracy.

                  1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is another book Progressives have robbed of all of its artistic value and complexity in the name of the cause. Uncle Tom, even though it is an all purpose insult now, was not a sell out in the book. He was a good person caught in horrific circumstances who did his best. His character illustrates the compromises good people are forced to make when living in and around evil, not how to be a Quisling.

          2. That’s a lot of Moonlight-and -magnolia movies for such a racially enlightened industry – Birth of a Nation, Littlest Rebel, Gone With the Wing, Somg of the NationalSouth…to say nothing of Ron Jeremy’s The South Rises Again.

            1. Song of the South post-Civil War though.

  4. Most people who are nostalgic about FDR are kind of vague about his po, icies. Would they want to bring back the National Recovery Administration, boosting food prices, imprisonment of American citizens without trial? They just have a gooey sentimental vision of this nice guy helping people.

    1. Would they want to bring back the National Recovery Administration, boosting food prices, imprisonment of American citizens without trial?

      Have you been vacationing some place for the last 10 years.

    2. Well all of their professors said he was the bee’s knees so no reason to think too hard about it, hey? Just join the personality cult, mouth the approved slogans and bam, they’ll go after you last.

    3. The history classes in school never mention the 1946 midterms or explain why things like the WPA and the National Recovery Administration don’t exist anymore.

      With the exception of Social Security, none of the New Deal remains law in any form that would be recognizable to the FDR people. Even things like the National Labor Relations Act were radically revised in the 1950s.

      People have no idea not only how awful the New Deal was but also how the country revolted and ended nearly all of its policies. In terms of long term effects on the country, the Great Society is much more important and influential than the New Deal. We still live with those policies today.

      1. FDIC,FHA,FCIC,TVA…

  5. Creepy propaganda complete with Holy Child. What’s not to like?

  6. If you can’t bring yourself to watch the whole thing, you can skip directly to the most gloriously weird scene?the moment when the Depression abruptly ends?by going to 1:03:09.

    What, do they really show FDR dying? WTF?

    1. You gotta watch it. It’s pretty hilarious.

    2. What KK said. Hilariously bizarre.

    3. It’s awesome, not just for the abrupt end of the depression, but also for the transition into a Paul Revere character riding a horse through the sky and a bunch of happy people running around and marching and singing.

      Here’s a link directly to that section.

      1. Lani Riefenstal must have had a retarded brother named Lonny.

        1. It was her retarded brother Louis.

    4. Especially the parade scene.

    5. I had the same thought. Only FDR death ended the mess. He just outsourced the unemployed to battlefields the last few years of his life.

  7. I look forward to all of the other Reason posts on Shirley Temple:

    1. Shirley Temple; did being a Republican or was it Heroin, kill her?
    2. Journalists, Politicians More Likely to Die Than Shirley Temple
    3. Shirley Temple and Lou Reed, soul mates of cultural significance?
    4. Does keeping the children away from Hollywood Help Avoid Tragedies
    Like Shirley Temple’s Death?
    5. Hunger Games Not Affected by Shirley Temple’s Death
    6. Can Drinking a Shirley Temple Lead to Harder Drug Use?

    1. 7. How can the example of Shirley Temple’s complex life impact immigration reform in 2014?

      1. Ah good catch, I missed her tie in to immigration.

      2. Shika Dalmia explains how the lack of immigration reform will keep America from having any future cute child actors like Shirley Temple.

    2. As shirley Temple is let down for the last time, a new generation watches Golden Girls.

    3. The Evolution of Shirley Temple’s Political Views Since the 1930s

      1. Ron Bailey talks about the creationist menace to the scientific evolutionary view of Shirley Temple’s politics.

    4. I look forward to all of the obnoxious comments complaining about what Reason chooses to publish on its blog.

      1. If you didn’t, why would you be reading the comments at all?

  8. My favorite thing about early movies is the weird Hollywood accent.

    “Our fahm products ah bein’ sold the world ovah! Didya hear??”

    1. And the shouting.

    2. Isn’t that a version of the Boston/New England accent?

      1. It’s Californians making fun of New Yorkers.

  9. Is that supposed to be George Washington doing a Wicked Witch of the East impression, or a fat dude in a cheap high school stage Robin Hood costume?

  10. you’ve got more bad politics here than in any ’30s Hollywood production this side of Gabriel Over the White House.

    Holy fuck, that movie creeped me out.

    1. Almost everything Hollywood made before roughly the Graduate creeps me out.

  11. BTW, no mention of Shirley Temple would really be complete without a link to That Hagen Girl.

  12. I like the guy in the straw hat who broke the news that the Depression was over, and his series of Nazi salutes. Classy.

  13. When I saw the air bound horse at the end, I thought they would break out the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (and yes, I know that would have been an anachronism).

  14. if it wasn’t for bad politics, Hollywood would have no politics at all, lol

    keepwatchingtheskiesforweirdos.com

  15. Somehow I’m reminded of Haley Joel Osment in “Pay it Forward,” which I haven’t bothered to watch, but I do know the premise is also an incredibly stupid economic idea.

  16. A Faux Film production?

  17. In the 2007-2011 Depression, we just had the government and CNBC to amuse us.

  18. The noble impresario rebuffs their efforts; and the country, inspired by his not-quite-Keynesian stimulus, emerges happily from the Great Depression.

    Bureaucrat saves the day!!

    Pretty much the plot of every Kim Stanley Robinson novel ever written and not a few other left wing Sci-fi writers as well.

    1. He is almost uniquely terrible. Every academic flimflam that has come off the production line over the last four decades he has worn threadbare. I hate him with a passion pure and true.

      1. Years of Salt and Rice is pretty good and one of his few novels that is not a Bureaucrat’s hero tale.

        Though the fact that it is an attempt to demonstrate the progressive view of history is a bit ironic as being alternate history fantasy it by definition counters the progressive view of history.

  19. Hmm, the movie was released in 1934. The Depression had ended in 1933, before FDR even took office, but — like the recent recession — the recovery was not announced until much later. So I’ll guess the movie didn’t have that long a run.

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