LITTLE MISS MARKER -- AMC Carrollton, K-B Studio, Springfield Mall, Sterling Town Center and Village Mall.
Shirley Temple has had a lot going for her -- blonde ringlets, dimples, the personal rank of United States Ambassador. Sara Stimson, 7, doesn't have any of these. Nice manners, but nothing that would make you expect her to work her way up to being Chief of Protocol.
Nevertheless, she does a creditable job in the title role of "Little Miss Marker," the newest remake of Shirley Temple's 1934 hit. Her assets are a dark sugar-bowl hairstyle, a steadily dead-pan look and a comically brisk walk, all of which go well with Walter Matthau.
He plays Sorrowful Jones, a smalltime bookie in whose keeping she's been left as a marker by her impoverished father on his way to jumping in the river. This has been a particularly durable Damon Runyon story, with its surefire juxtaposition of the tough and the young.
The latest version is stylistically more like the musical "Annie" than a period '30s picture. Its charm relies more on a nostalgic approach to the Depression than on the characters themselves. They are matter-of-fact funny. Matthau's face looks as if it had been through the wringer, and Stimson manages to pick up the expression on the tiny expanse below her bangs.
Some of their best moments don't even depend on the great Runyon lines. Matthau's refusal to take Stimson's hand crossing the street says a lot that is both comic and touching about her expectations of parenting and his ignorance of it; and, of course, sets up the reverse scene, where she angrily shakes off his hand.
Bob Newhart, as the bookie's weary sidekick, fits well into this light satire; Tony Curtis, as a sleek gangster, and Julie Andrews, as what used to be called a "society lady," show less restraint.
But the no-nonsense approach doesn't work well for any of them when the story turns sappy. When the Matthau and Stimson characters are required to warm up, they seem to have gone soft in the head, not the heart.