Man of Aran

(UK 1934)

It’s not very often that I’m torn on a film, but Robert J. Flaherty’s pseudo documentary Man of Aran is one that I am. First the good news: from a technical standpoint, this is a visually captivating film. Crammed with impossibly rich and downright dangerous shots of the treacherous North Atlantic, the blacks are as dark as squid ink, the whites are as shimmeringly luminous as Tijuana silver, and the greys are a stunningly natural and lovely compromise between the two. These shades of grey are what impressed me most about this film. You’d be hard pressed to find a better fit for a nitrate print.

Now for the bad news: for all its visual allure, Man of Aran is boring. It unflinchingly shows what it takes to survive on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean, but it fails to explain why anyone would choose to do it. I was ready to leave after half an hour of watching waves crash on the rocks and men who look the Edge attack a shark. Yawn! I would have liked this better if Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie” were part of the soundtrack, maybe. Maybe not.

With Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch ‘Red Beard’ Ruadh, Patcheen Faherty, Tommy O’Rourke, ‘Big Patcheen’ Conneely of the West, Stephen Dirrane, Pat McDonough

Production: Gainsborough Pictures

Distribution: Gaumont British Distributors (UK), Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America (USA), Éditions Montparnasse (France)

76 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) A+ (visuals) / F (everything else) / C (average)

Nitrate Picture Show

Little Miss Marker [The Girl in Pawn]

(USA 1934)

Poor Marthy “Marky” Jane (Shirley Temple)—she’s five years old and has no idea what she’s just gotten into. For what seemed a sure bet on a horse race, her father (Edward Earle) leaves her as collateral—a “marker”—with a group of gangsters. He loses his bet and doesn’t come back, leaving cute little Marky, who has a thing for King Arthur, in the hands of Sorrowful Jones (Adolphe Menjou), a bookie, who plans to drop her off at the nearest police station. When Marky serves as an unwitting vehicle to a scam involving the horse of ringleader Big Steve (Adolphe Menjou), Sorrowful has no choice but to keep her around. He enlists the assistance of fellow hoods Regret (Lynne Overman), Sore Toe (Warren Hymer), Benny (Sam Hardy), Canvas Back (John Kelly), and Big Steve’s girlfirend, sassy jazz singer Bangles Carson (Dorothy Dell), in caring for the girl.

Big shock: Marky grows on all of them, softening their hard, criminal hearts with her sweetness and light. Sorrowful reads Marky bedtime stories, pays for a new wardrobe for her that Bangles picks out, and even teaches her how to pray. Bangles sings a duet with Marky—a great number called “Laugh, You Son of a Gun”— and tucks her in at night. Sadly, their rough edges and shady ways soon rub off on Marky, turning her into a “bad girl.” How can they save her innocence?

Little Miss Marker was Temple’s first starring role in a major motion picture, and it was a hit. Despite its dips into heavy handed morality, it’s a cute story that kept me engaged. It’s gritty, bawdy, and maintains a kind of cynical comedy that ultimately pulls at the heartstrings. Translation: it gets sappy at the end. Little Miss Marker reflects its time: it feels like a Prohibition/Depression Era film, which it is (Prohibition ended the year before). Marky is an orphan in the big city, and she works her cuteness to get her from rags to comfort if not necessarily riches. The accents are affected in that overdone, early “talkies” way. Crime and sex are part of the story, and I had the fortune to see it as part of a lecture series during which it was pointed out that the film is rife with undertones of pedophilia. Um, hello: Temple runs around in tiny shorts that nearly expose her cooter, she climbs all over the men and talks to them in a weird manipulative way, and in one scene she coyly removes her underwear beneath a bathrobe in front of Sorrowful before slipping into his bed, leaving him to sleep alone on a chair—with a bad case of blue balls, no doubt. Creepy!

In 1998, the United States Library of Congress deemed Little Miss Marker “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+