Film Festival: Cruise Ship Romance
Stowaway (1936) stars Shirley Temple as a little girl orphaned during conflicts in China. She finds happiness and love on a cruise ship with Robert Young and Alice Faye.
I’ve always loved the fantasy life of people cruising on ships in the old days. Dressing up for dinner, meeting all the strangers, and the romance of the sea just get to me.
Stowaway begins in San Chow, an island to the west of Hong Kong. A messenger rides into town bringing scary news. A bandit is on his way but the missionary Cruikshank couple refuse to flee. The mayor, Sun Lo, wants to take their little ward, Barbara “Ching-Ching”, to safety, but Cruikshank won’t let him.
“May the bird of prosperity continue to nest in your rooftop!” –Barbara
Sun Lo arranges for Ching-Ching (Shirley Temple) to be taken to his brother in Shanghai. When the little boat arrives in port, the servant in charge leaves Ching-Ching asleep on the boat while he gambles with her money. When she wakes up, she leaves the boat looking for breakfast for her little dog, Mr. Woo. And now we have a little girl lost in the huge city of Shanghai!
Tommy Randall (Robert Young) is a rich American traveling the world by cruise ship. Ching-Ching helps him in the market and he buys her a meal. While he is in the International Club drinking with his friends, it begins to rain on the waiting Ching-Ching and she hides inside the rumble seat on the car (a Duesenberg!). [Note: the car is a way to let the audience know how incredibly wealthy Tommy is. He has a high-end performance car, and he is traveling with it so he can use it in any port.] The car gets loaded on the ship, making Ching-Ching a stowaway.
Ching-Ching gets discovered in the stateroom of Susan Parker (Alice Faye) and Mrs. Hope. Susan takes an immediate liking to her and wants to help her.
“Goodnight my love / Your mommy is kneeling beside you” – Barbara
Some cute comedy comes from Tommy and his valet Atkins (Arthur Treacher) trying to take care of a little girl. She sings a lullaby and puts them to sleep.
Tommy is very interested in Susan, but she is engaged to Mrs. Hope’s son Richard and is traveling to marry him in Bangkok.
“You’re a museum piece. You should be in a glass case in an exhibit of the Terrible Twenties with a cocktail shaker in your hand and your shirt front scrawled with chorus girls telephone numbers and a label, Playboy, BC, before the crash, former habitat Broadway, now extinct.” –Susan
Tommy and Susan share a romantic dance on deck as she sings “Goodnight, My Love.” Mrs. Hope fears for her son’s engagement and wires him to take a plane and meet the boat in Hong Kong.
Tommy, Susan, and Ching-Ching spend the day on shore in Hong Kong. They go to a Major-Bowes-style amateur show, with a gong and everything. Ching-Ching decides to go on stage to compete for 10 yuan. She sings “You’ve Got to S-M-I-L-E”. She imitates Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Fred and Ginger. The day doesn’t end so well when Susan’s fiancé arrives and Tommy and Ching-Ching end up in jail.
“Bangkok is a very romantic city, isn’t it? –Oh, there are a lot of old temples and places like that. But our colony doesn’t bother with the native things. We have our own little set. Fine, substantial people, too. Bridge and tennis, you get to know your opponent so well you can tell in advance every move he’s gonna make. –Oh that must be interesting.” –Susan and Richard
Will Susan and Tommy find a way to be together? Will Ching-Ching end up in an orphanage? What will happen to Mr. Woo? Be sure to watch Stowaway for some great cruise ship romance!
- Stowaway (1936) from IMDb
- Rumble seat from OPPO
- Alice Faye biography
- Robert Young overview at Turner Classic Movies
- Official Shirley Temple website
- Mack Gordon at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
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