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It's a bit of a shock when you agree to something and then find out after the fact that your library only has 1 in 4 films. Not such a good thing. So I tracked down films 1, 2, and 3 on Amazon for a decent prize, made even more decent with rewards bucks through my credit card. One might call me obsessive and say I could have backed out of this topic, but I really didn't want to, and honestly, I was quite curious about Tony Curtis' film and Shirley Temple's. I only saw Shirley's movie once a long time back, and didn't care for it, so my memories were really sketchy, and my experience with Tony Curtis had been limited to his role in Walter Matthau's Little Miss Marker. How crazy is that, that the dude would get a role in the same movie twice!?
Anyway, I tracked all 4 films down, and did get them all watched, much to my relief and no small amount of pride.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let's start there.
Sorrowful Jones is a bookie, meaning he takes illegal bets on racehorses. On top of that, Sorrowful is a tightwad if ever there was one. Matthau's film even has the Tony Curtis character telling him that he knows Sorrowful still has the first dime he ever made, which might actually be true. One day, a desperate man walks into his establishment, wanting to place a bet with a marker, meaning a little slip of paper meaning he's good for the money. Sorowful doesn't take markers, but for whatever reason, in some he has a soft heart, in others he has an ulterior motive involving the winning horse, Sorrowful agrees to take the guy's marker. In this case, the marker is his little girl, whose name ranges all over the place. Sorrowful now has the little girl, daddy doesn't come back with the money, and Sorrowful is stuck with her. Softening of heart, protective fatherly instincts, and all of that, kick in, along with all sorts of emotional connection to the female lead, whose name also ranges all over the place.
The only really major variance in plot is the Tony Curtis film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, from 1962. This one is about a casino manager in Las Vegas named Steve McCluskey who's slightly on the lam from California so he can avoid paying alimony to his ex-wife. A guy in the casino loses a bundle, heads back to California to get it, never comes back, and good, old Steve realizes that the guy's daughter has been left behind.
Such are the plot main points.
Now, to examine the films under individual topics: Sorrowful Jones, The Kid/Doll/Marky/whatever, thoughts on the plot, and then my final thoughts.
The Character of Sorrowful Jones
What this plot really needs is a likable guy playing the lead male character, be he named Sorrowful Jones or Steve McCluskey.
For me, no one can play an old grump like Walter Matthau in the 1980 Little Miss Marker. He's hard-nosed and pretends that he's cold as ice, but he's really a genuine softy on the inside. I never once saw him as being just in it for the money. I don't know, maybe it's Walter's hound dog wrinkles helping him, but he just had such depth of emotion concerning the little girl in his care and I found him to be very genuine.
The next, most convincing and authentic version of Sorrowful for me is Adolphe Menjou in the 1934 Little Miss Marker with Shirley Temple. He's hard-nosed too, but he also dishes out $52 for clothes for the little doll now on his hands. He even goes so far as to teach her how to pray, because she's never learned, and her daddy told her that God didn't exist. He really has a heart of gold too.
Then you have Bob Hope in the 1949 version called Sorrowful Jones. I love Bob Hope. But he always plays Bob Hope. In the role of Sorrowful Jones, there isn't much nuance to the character with Bob Hope in it. That's nothing against him, it just is what it is, and I found him to be the most selfish of all the versions of this character. He doesn't like having his life disrupted and will do almost anything to keep it the way he likes it, even if it means considering holding his little doll's head under the water in the bathtub. Which he wouldn't do, of course, but he's only the version that visualized doing it.
And finally Tony Curtis. Okay, so my knowledge of this actor is nill. And all he proved to me in the role of Steve McCluskey a.k.a Sorrowful Jones is that he has the most beautiful dark eyelashes I've ever seen and really knows how to play a womanizing cad to perfection. So I really didn't like Steve all that much, but I do admit that the character matured and changed throughout 40 Pounds of Trouble in a good way. To the point where you can tell he really likes the little girl in his care and even wants to settle down.
The Kid Herself
How dark do you want this story? Re-watching the 1934 Little Miss Marker reminded me why I didn't like it when I was a kid. It's a very depressing story, partly because her daddy's gone and she's left in the care of gamblers, but partly because she's the most worldly version of this little girl. I don't like seeing children that don't have much innocence left, and that's what you see with Shirley Temple's version. She talks back, she has a bit of a mouth on her, and she's very impressionable to bad habits. Still, that's the real world, and even though this version isn't my favorite, the dark, brooding nature of the film is probably the most authentic version. It may not be my favorite, but it is the most authentic.
Sara Stimson, on the other hand, plays an innocent little child in the 1980 film. She's scared by what's happening around her, but she makes the best of it. She's a tough cookie without being hardened too early. And she doesn't have the stigma of being Shirley Temple attached to her performance. She just is who she is. Her performance holds up really well with veteran actors Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews, and there are plenty of touching scenes that she plays with genuine feeling and depth of emotion.
The little girl, played by Mary Jane Saunders, in Sorrowful Jones from 1949 is a gem. She's the cutest little thing, and she really knows how to drawl out Mr. Sorrowful when speaking to Bob Hope. Second only to Shirley Temple in overall adorableness, I was quite fond of her. Like Sara Stimson's version, Mary Jane's character is also an innocent, and I like that in a child.
Claire Wilcox plays the young munchkin in 40 Pounds of Trouble from 1962, and does an admirable job of it. She's very cute, very mischievous, very forgiving of the grouchy Tony Curtis character. Her enthusiasm for new experiences knows no bounds and it's really cute to see the trip to Disneyland and watch her experience the park for the first time, also a little bit of a first for me since I wasn't born in 1962 and never saw some of that version of Disneyland.
Giving credit to all these little actresses, each of them proved herself remarkably talented and skilled. For most people, Shirley Temple will be the tried and true favorite. For me, it's Sara Stimson, but each of these children brings something different to the screen that made them shine.
Thoughts on the Plot
Do you like singing in your movies? I do, sometimes. But I found that it was a bit much in the 1934 Little Miss Marker and I blame that simply on it being a "Shirley Temple movie." She's still Shirley and she's still doing her thing, although I don't remember her tap dancing so it wasn't fully a "Shirley Temple movie" as we expect them. Still, there was singing and for me that sort of depleted from the storyline a little bit. On the upside, little Marky's love affair with King Arthur and the knights of the round table was quite charming, as was Sorrowful's attempts at rejuvenating her innocence by hosting a masquerade party where he and his associates dress up as if they're knights from the era. It's a very novel idea.
The 1949 Sorrowful Jones suffered a little bit simply because of the casting. Bob Hope and Lucille Ball are brilliant together, but the movie just pulled too many laughs for it to really be taken seriously. Plus, the plot makes Sorrowful a lot more selfish than strictly necessary. I didn't much care for little Penny asking for her horse at the end of the film and Sorrowful trying to sneak the animal into the hospital. It felt like it was played entirely too much for laughs, like most of the movie.
How do you even describe the oddity that is 40 Pounds of Trouble from 1962? It hardly even qualifies as a remake because it is so bloody different from the original story. Even Sorrowful isn't Sorrowful. Still, once I adjusted to it being in a completely different era, different setting, different characters, and a trip to Disneyland, I actually enjoyed it. If you don't mind a movie where actual gambling in a casino plays a large role, it's a pretty cute story. I just wish they hadn't made Steve a womanizer because that really made it difficult to like him, at least for me.
Finally, Little Miss Marker from 1980. Like the 1934 film, this one tried valiantly for authenticity. It didn't play scenes solely for laughs, lets serious moments be serious moments, and really worked at getting to the heart of the matter. Julie Andrews and Walter Matthau are a bit of an odd pairing, but they really worked well together, even though I never fully bought that she was in love with him. Would you? I will say the inclusion of Tony Curtis as Blackie makes me laugh now that I've seen 40 Pounds of Trouble. Not that he aged well, because he didn't, but casting him as the villain really worked.
Each of these films will have people that love it or people that hate it. I didn't hate any of them. I may even re-watch all of them again, especially now that I own the majority of them. But my favorite is the one I don't yet own, the 1980 version of Little Miss Marker with Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews. What can I say? Just as other versions speak to other people, this one spoke to me, and it won my heart hands' down. I hardly even needed to re-watch since I've watched it 3 times since discovering it a few years ago.