The Blue Bird (1940 film)

The Blue Bird is a 1940 B&W and Technicolor American fantasy film directed by Walter Lang. The screenplay by Walter Bullock was adapted from the 1908 play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck. Intended as 20th Century Fox's answer to MGM's The Wizard of Oz, which had been released the previous year, it was filmed in Technicolor and tells the story of a disagreeable little girl (played by Shirley Temple) and her search for happiness.

The Blue Bird
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWalter Lang
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Written byScreenplay:
Ernest Pascal
Walter Bullock
Play:The Blue Bird (1908)
Maurice Maeterlinck
StarringShirley Temple
Spring Byington
Nigel Bruce
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Ray Rennahan
Edited byRobert Bischoff
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release date
January 15, 1940 (1940-01-15)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States

Despite being a box office flop and losing money, the film was later nominated for two Academy Awards. It is available on both VHS and DVD.


The setting is Germany during the Napoleonic Wars. Mytyl (Shirley Temple), the bratty and ungrateful daughter of a woodcutter (Russell Hicks), finds a unique bird in the Royal Forest and selfishly refuses to give it to her sick friend, Angela (Sybil Jason). Mother (Spring Byington) and Father are mortified at Mytyl's behavior. That evening, Father is called on to report for military duty the next morning. That same night, Mytyl is visited in a dream by a fairy named Berylune (Jessie Ralph) who sends her and her brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) to search for the Blue Bird of Happiness. To accompany them, the fairy magically transforms their dog Tylo (Eddie Collins), cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard), and lantern ("Light") into human form. The children have a number of adventures: they visit the past (meeting their dead grandparents who come to life because they are being remembered), have a scary adventure in the forest, experience the life of luxury, and see the future, a land of yet-to-be born children. The dream journey makes Mytyl awake as a kinder and gentler girl who has learned to appreciate all the comforts and joys of her home and family. In the morning, Father receives word that a truce has been called and he does not have to go to war, and Mytyl is inspired to give the unique bird (now discovered to be the titular Blue Bird she'd sought throughout her journey) to Angela.


Four-year-old Caryll Ann Ekelund (credited as Caryll N. Ekelund), appears as an unborn child in the film.[1] On Halloween 1939, Ekelund's costume caught fire from a lit jack-o-lantern. She died from her burns several days later and was buried in her costume from the film.[2] Ekelund came from a show business family, and her older sister was actress Jana Lund.[3]


Twentieth Century-Fox made the film as an answer to MGM's The Wizard of Oz. There is a myth that Shirley Temple was to be cast in Oz; however this is mostly untrue. She was considered, but only very briefly. Executives at MGM wanted Shirley because she was a proven box office draw. Arthur Freed, an uncredited producer on Oz, wanted the role to go to rising child star Judy Garland. When producers listened to Shirley, they were unimpressed with her vocal talents, and even if they were ready to offer the role Fox refused to loan her out. When Oz was a success, and shot Judy Garland to fame, Fox decided to create their own fantasy feature using Shirley Temple. They chose the fantasy play by Maurice Maeterlinck.

In imitation of The Wizard of Oz, the opening scenes are in black-and-white, although the opening credits are in color. However, sepia tint is not used. But unlike Oz, once the film changes to full color it stays that way for the remainder of its running time.

While writing the screenplay, It was decided to cast the role of Temple's brother to the much younger Johnny Russell, as Zanuck felt that in casting a boy of a similar age to Temple he would have to be mentally incompetent to allow a girl to take leadership away from him and Zanuck decided to drop some of the characters in the original story such as Bread, Water, Fire, Milk, Sugar, and Night, as he wanted the story more focused on her as the star of the movie. The tension between the Temples and Zanuck reached a boiling point during the writing stage, as Temple's mother objected first to Temple's characterization as too nice, and then had concerns about the script not being focused enough on Temple. Things came to a head when Zanuck threatened suspension. After consulting their lawyer, the Temples decided to go forward with the movie as planned.[4]

The Blue Bird was Shirley Temple's first box-office flop in her six years as a child star. Audiences disliked the idea of Shirley as a nasty character needing to learn a lesson. While many of Temple's films show her character misbehaving in various ways, this is the only one to show her being truly punished. Early in the film, her brattiness earns her a reprimand from her mother.

Almost a month prior to the film's release, The Blue Bird was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the December 24, 1939, broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Shirley Temple and Nelson Eddy. It was during this radio performance that a crazed woman made an attempt on Temple's life. As Temple was singing "Someday You'll Find Your Bluebird," the woman arose from her seat and pulled out a handgun, pointing it directly at her. The woman froze just long enough for police to get to her. It was later discovered that the woman had lost a child on the day it was publicly stated that Temple was born, and she blamed Shirley for stealing her daughter's soul. The woman did not know that Temple was born in 1928, not 1929.[5]

Differences between film and stage version

The film, although following the basic plot of the stage version, highly embellishes it, and does not literally use the original dialogue. The opening black-and-white scenes and the war subplot were invented for the film. Mytyl's selfishness, the basic trait of her personality, was a plot thread specifically written into the motion picture. It is not in the original play.

The play begins with the children already asleep and the dream about to begin; there is no depiction of the family's daily life, as there is in the 1940 film.


Alfred Newman's original score to The Blue Bird was released in 2003 by Screen Archives Entertainment, Chelsea Rialto Studios, Film Score Monthly and Fox Music. The album contains the entire score as heard in the film in chronological order. It was produced using rare preservation copies of the original nitrate optical scoring sessions which were digitally restored by Ray Faiola. This rare limited edition includes a lavishly illustrated 24 page color booklet with extensive liner notes on the film's production and scoring by film and music historians Jon Burlingame and Ray Faiola.[6]

Track listing[6]

  1. Main Title - 1:17
  2. The Royal Forest - 3:19
  3. Selfish Mytyl/Come O Children One And All/Returning Home With The Bird - 7:32
  4. Awaking In Technicolor/Tylo And Tylette On Two Legs/Search For The Blue Bird - 10:04
  5. In The Graveyard - 3:44
  6. There Are No Dead People/Granny And Grandpa - 4:57
  7. Lay-De-O (sung by Shirley Temple) - 1:00
  8. Leaving Granny And Grandpa - 1:29
  9. The Land Of Luxury - 4:44
  10. Carousel In The Foyer - 0:40
  11. Fighting Over The Horse - 1:13
  12. Fed Up With The Land Of Luxury - 5:35
  13. Escape - 1:51
  14. Return To "Light" - 1:43
  15. Tylette Summons The Trees/Forest Fire - 8:09
  16. Boat To Safety/The Land Of Unborn Children - 5:30
  17. Father Time/The Children Are Born - 8:01
  18. Returning Home - 1:57
  19. Waking Up/Finale - 5:15
  20. End Cast - 0:58

Total Time: 79:12


The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 13th Academy Awards ceremony:[7]

See also


  1. Caryll Ann Ekelund on IMDb
  2. Morton, Lisa (2012). Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Reaktion Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-1780230474. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  3. Jana Lund on IMDb
  4. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 288-291.
  5. Shirley Temple Black, "Child Star: An Autobiography" (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 293-295.
  6. "The Blue Bird (CD)". Film Score Monthly. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  7. "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-17.
  • Windeler, Robert (1992) [1978], The Films of Shirley Temple, Carol Publishing Group, pp. 208–211
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