The Bizarre New Deal Comedy That Made Shirley Temple a Star

Watch the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer.


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.