Little Fugitive

"Extraordinary"

Little Fugitive Review


A forgotten minor classic that is perhaps the most influential independent film of the '50s, Little Fugitive looks like nothing that came before it, but its DNA can be seen in many films that came after it, including much of the oeuvre of Francois Truffaut. Not bad for an unknown husband and wife team and their buddy from Brooklyn.

Richard Engel, a D-Day veteran whose films from that day are often included in the D-Day documentaries we've all seen, his wife Ruth Orkin, and Ray Ashley wrote, directed, and produced this small-scale gem with a homemade handheld camera, a few thousand bucks, and a cast of non-actors. Set on the streets of 1953 Brooklyn and at Coney Island, its value as a cinematic style setter is equaled by its value as a historical record of a city long gone.

When seven-year-old Joey (Richie Andrusco) is left in the care of his older brother Lennie (Richard Brewster), there's bound to be trouble. Hoping to have a little fun and tease Joey, Lennie lets Joey think he has shot and killed him with a gun. Terrified by what he thinks he's done and urged by Lennie's mean friends to go on the run, Joey takes off with only a few dollars in his pocket and rides to the end of the line.

Once on the beach at Coney Island, Joey's fears fade as he's captivated by the many attractions of the boardwalk and the carnivals. He runs through his money eating hot dogs and watermelon, trying the batting cage and the pony rides, and riding the carousel, while all the while, Engel's camera simply follows him around, letting the kid be a kid, and capturing whatever happens. Every scene is full of lively background action of real people doing real things, action that wouldn't be possible to capture in today's world of permits and legalistic consent forms. The trailer, which somewhat strangely spins the movie as a comedy, gives you a two-minute taste of what you'll see. It's delightful.

Joey spends a total of two days and one night on the boardwalk, turning to the strenuous work of collecting bottles for deposit when his money runs out. Throughout it all there is almost no dialogue -- even so, the movie picked up an Oscar nomination for best screenplay -- so you can simply sit back and feast your eyes on the innovative black-and-white photography while appreciating all the techniques someone like Truffaut would copy liberally as he got his career rolling. (The film made a splash in Europe, where it picked up the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion award.) Watch this and The 400 Blows and looks for the similarities.

Sadly, other than a couple of shorts, Little Fugitive is the only project that this talented and innovate team produced. They brought the ball to the playground, but it was the French New Wave that would pick it up and play with it. So yes, Little Fugitive is a film-school essential, but it's much more than that. You'll enjoy it from whatever angle you approach it, and you'll want to hand Joey a nickel so he can ride the pony one more time.

DVD Note: The Kino DVD includes auto commentary by Engel plus two short documentaries produced by his daughter.

Buy the kid a malted, will ya?



Little Fugitive

Facts and Figures

Run time: 80 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 16th December 1953

Box Office USA: $21.5k

Budget: $500 thousand

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin

Producer: Ray Ashley, Morris Engel

Starring: Nicolas Martí Salgado as Lenny, as Natalia, as Sam Norton, as Elizabeth, as Destiny

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