Little Fugitive (1953)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 1953. . Screenplay by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin. Cinematography by Morris Engel. Produced by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel. Music by . Film Editing by Ruth Orkin, .

Lennie and Joey are two little boys whose widowed mother tells them that their grandmother is ill and she needs to leave them for a day to go visit her. The boys have been living the happy life of latchkey kids so they can take care of themselves, but older Lennie is upset that he has to miss out on his plans to go to Coney Island with his friends and must look after his seven year-old brother instead. Lennie and his little gang concoct a plan to shake Joey off, playing a prank on him with their toy rifle that convinces Joey that he has killed his brother and must hide from the law. The boy at first hides in the closet at home but then gets the idea to run away, jumping on the subway with a pocket full of coins and heading to Coney Island, where he spends the day riding every ride and eating every snack while ducking every time he sees a cop. On the beach he runs into a fellow youngster who collects empty bottles and turns them in for deposit money, which Joey also does and uses it to finance pony rides that help him live his fantasy of being a cowboy. Shot on a miniscule budget on 35 MM cameras and using a fully post-dubbed soundtrack, this pioneering independent milestone has been referred to as an influence on the French New wave at the end of the fifties (Truffaut in particular cited it as an influence on The 400 Blows) and it’s easy to make the connection. The unstudied performances by the young cast members, who never come off as a show biz kids, are as much a part of the film’s spontaneity as the sharp editing, while the raggedy production values add to a sense of simultaneous realism and capricious magic that the characters are living in their New York City concrete jungle. is pure charm as the young hero, his facial expressions a study in unforced vulnerability and accidental mischief.

Academy Awards Nomination: Best Motion Picture Story

Venice Film Festival Award:  Silver Lion

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