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Little Fugitive Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 30 2013 - 09:29 PM

Little Fugitive Blu-ray Review

French director François Truffaut wrote "Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn't been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie." The "fine movie" to which Truffaut referred is Little Fugitive, a low budget, fascinating tale of two eventful days in the life of a young Brooklyn boy. The black-and-white movie was filmed on location (primarily at Coney Island) by director-cinematographer Engel with a discreet hand-held 35 mm. camera. Little Fugitive was revolutionary in several respects, including the fact that the cast is made up almost entirely by non-professional actors. How well you respond to it may depend upon how you feel about New Wave films.


Cover Art


Studio: Kino

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English PCM 2.0

Subtitles: None

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 1 Hr. 20 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

Standard Blu-ray Keep Case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 03/26/2013

MSRP: $34.95




The Production Rating: 4/5

I don't want to be the man of the family. I want to go to Coney Island with the fellas.

French director François Truffaut wrote "Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn't been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie." The "fine movie" to which Truffaut referred is Little Fugitive, a low budget, fascinating tale of two eventful days in the life of a young Brooklyn boy. The black-and-white movie was filmed on location (primarily at Coney Island) by director-cinematographer Engel with a discreet hand-held 35 mm. camera. Little Fugitive was revolutionary in several respects, including the fact that the cast is made up almost entirely by non-professional actors. How well you respond to it may depend upon how you feel about New Wave films.

Joey (Richie Andrusco) is a young boy who lives in a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother, Lennie (Richard Brewster) and their mother (Winifred Cushing). It is summertime and Lennie, who appears to be about 12 years old, is unhappy about the fact that he has to watch over Joey on weekdays while their mother goes to work. However, the story opens on a Saturday, which also happens to be Lennie's birthday. His gifts include a new harmonica and few dollars, and he plans to spend his money with his friends Harry (Charlie Moss) and Charley (Tommy DeCanio) at Coney Island on Sunday. However, Lennie's scheduled day of fun is cancelled when his mother has to leave town because the boys' grandmother is ill. Instead of enjoying the parachute jump at Coney Island, Lennie will have to spend Sunday taking care of Joey.

After their mother leaves Lennie hangs out with his friends, with Joey annoyingly tagging along. While playing with an unloaded rifle in an empty lot Lennie and his friends play a dirty joke on Joey, convincing him that he has shot and killed his big brother. Joey runs away and hides in a closet at home, but then he notices that his mother left $6.00 and a shopping list on the telephone table. Joey, convinced that the police are searching for him, takes the money and boards a subway bound for Coney Island. Director Engel's camera then follows the young boy as he wanders through Steeplechase Park, spending his money on rides, games of skill, hot dogs and cotton candy. New Yorkers in particular will be fascinated to see how Coney Island looked in 1953, and they surely will recognize such familiar names as Nathan's Hot Dogs and Bonomo Turkish Taffy.

Joey eventually runs out of money, but he learns that he can earn some cash by scouring the beach for empty soda bottles and returning them for the deposit refunds. In the meantime, Lennie comes to realize that the joke has turned out badly. He has no idea what has become of his brother, and their mother calls to say that she will be home at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Joey's wanderings through Coney Island are at times visually striking but largely devoid of tension, so viewers who are not enamored with this style of filmmaking may become impatient with the pace of Little Fugitive in spite of its relatively short running time.

The actors who portray the boys are surprisingly natural, particularly in view of the fact that none of them had any prior acting experience. Still, the most notable aspect of Little Fugitive is Engel's very original cinematography, which is replete with unusual camera angles and memorable imagery. Viewers who are looking for riveting drama will not find it here, but if you know what to expect you will find much to appreciate about Little Fugitive. The film was co-directed by Ray Ashley and Morris Engel's wife, the noted photographer Ruth Orkin. The three also jointly wrote the script, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing of a Motion Picture Story.



Video Rating: 4/5  3D Rating: NA

The 1.33:1 black and white image was mastered in high definition from a nearly pristine print preserved by the Museum of Modern Art, which received funding from The Film Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Celeste Barton Fund for Film Preservation. The print is nearly devoid of damage and it exhibits good contrast, solid black levels, fine shadow detail and exemplary sharpness. I was able to identify the location of one of the Brooklyn scenes because I was easily able to read a small street sign. There are occasional brief blemishes and occasionally a speck of dirt shows up, but overall this is a very impressive video presentation. There is no hint of excessive DNR or edge enhancement, and an appropriate level of film grain has been retained to give Little Fugitive a natural, film-like appearance.

Most of the "extras" at Coney Island apparently had no knowledge that they were being filmed. Engel reportedly followed Joey through the amusement park and beach with his concealed, hand-held camera, a process which reportedly inspired both François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.



Audio Rating: 3/5

The audio is uncompressed PCM 2.0 mono, and it is certainly satisfactory considering its inherent limitations. Engel's camera did not have sound capabilities, so the dialogue for the outdoor scenes was recorded by the actors in post-production. While there are moments when the synching is fairly obvious, for the most part it is well-done. There is some minor hiss and occasional light noise, but nothing which detracts from enjoying the film. However, anyone who dislikes harmonica music may find the soundtrack by Eddy Madson to be a bit much.



Special Features Rating: 4/5

There are several notable and worthwhile extras on the Blu-ray disc.

An excellent commentary track by Morris Engel was recorded in 1999. Although it was made nearly fifty years after Little Fugitive was filmed, his memory of the production is excellent. He briefly discusses why he preferred to use a lightweight, hand-held camera and how the story was developed. He explains that the single-instrument musical soundtrack was necessitated by budget limitations.

"Morris Engel: The Independent" is a 28-minute 2008 documentary directed by his daughter, Mary. It is important to remember that when Little Fugitive was made in 1953 the film industry was still under the control of the studio system, so quality independent films were quite rare.

"Ruth Orkin: Frames of Life" is an 18-minute 1995 short documentary directed by her daughter, Mary Engel. Besides contributing to the script and the direction of Little Fugitive, Orkin also was co-editor and a member of the cast. She considered herself to be a documentary photographer and was dismissive of those who aspired to be "art" photographers. Her most iconic photograph was "American Girl in Italy," which she took in 1951.

The original theatrical trailer opens with an animated segment and is a light-hearted preview of the film. It is in decent but not pristine condition.

Also included is a gallery of thirty-one still photographs.



Overall Rating: 4/5

Little Fugitive is an important, highly influential film which has been given a very nice Blu-ray release by Kino. As noted, the film does not have an intense dramatic arc, but its style and outstanding imagery will linger in your memory.


Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher


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