Now and Forever, 1934, Paramount Pictures. Starring Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, Shirley Temple. Directed by Henry Hathaway. B&W, 83 minutes.
A feckless con man in constant need of cash, Jerry Day’s (Gary Cooper) latest get-rich-quick scheme involves the daughter he just learned about, Penny (Shirley Temple). He plans to sell his parental rights to her uncle, that is, until he meets and is captivated by the little girl. He takes on his role as father, but despite his daughter’s influence of honesty and integrity, doesn’t give up his corrupt business dealings.
That is, until he is reunited with his wife, Toni (Carole Lombard). He begins to make an honest living, but when it comes to paying for Penny’s education, he is short, and resorts to thievery. He is joined in this effort by Felix Evans (Sir Guy Standing), a man he’d cheated once before only to discover he was, essentially, being double-crossed.
While Toni comes to his aid, he is forced to make a choice, and it is a heartbreaking decision.
Despite Temple’s key role, the story is grown-up and not a children’s tale. Unfortunately the film suffers from abrupt transitions and wooden performances between Cooper and Lombard, who were rumored to have briefly restarted their one-time romance during filming.
Temple, however, is charming without being saccharine, a natural at her craft at the tender age of six. The movie critic for the The New York Times was less than enthusiastic about the film as a whole, but had this to say about the child actress, “The enormous charm of Shirley Temple is potent enough to make almost any character do almost anything. The little girl has lost none of her obvious delight in her work during her rise to fame. In Now and Forever she is, if possible, even more devastating in her unspoiled freshness of manner than she has been in the past.”
What is evident throughout the story is the genuine affection between Cooper and Temple. Cooper is at ease with the child, starting with the moment he pretends to be close friends with her makeshift doll. Shortly thereafter, he sets sail with his new-found daughter on a days’ adventure as pirates.
The film had a lot of potential, unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the possibilities. While the story is predictable, the actors, including co-stars Standing and Charlotte Granville, had immense talent and could have brought great life to an ordinary tale. Instead, it is a pleasant diversion, but not a “must-see” film.
Fans of Gary Cooper will enjoy seeing him in this earlier role; he was not yet the star he would become, but that star quality was always an essential part of who he was and comes through even in lesser parts. Lombard’s comedic talents had only recently been discovered with her part in Twentieth Century, and this dramatic character doesn’t take advantage of her full screen presence as comedy roles would come to do so well.
This is not one of the films Temple is best known for, but it has developed a bit of a following in recent years because of Cooper and Lombard and the rapport both shared with their young co-star. Followers of any or all of the three stars will find the film worth watching.