The Little Fugitive (1953/Blu-Ray/Kino Lorber)

I can lose myself in kids movies. The way life lends itself to mystery. Witches, the wide open sea, the thought of magic, always fear something. The same is true of youth. Dorothy, Liz, A Christmas Story, the eyes of a child well up. They cry. And yet innocence wins. Why is that? Why do we dream? 

Imagine Ward Cleaver dating De Sica, throw a little Ford on top, and that’s The Little Fugitive. A little ditty filmed back in the 50’s. Low budget, non-professional, the film trails a boy who runs away. After a prank goes wrong, Joey (Richie Andrusco) hops a train to Coney Island. Pony rides, Corn on the Cob, the tyke tries to fend for himself surrounded by “everything a growing boy needs.” As the hours fly by, his older brother begins to worry. 
Natural is the word here. Events pass, people walk by, the seeds for Truffaut are right there. More innocent maybe, there’s no dramatics, no ham-baked hysterics, no moralizing, no big speeches, no Maureen O’Hara brooding beautifully. This is image playback. The director Morris Engel knew photography. Establishing shot then reaction, the frame tails Joey and cuts to a larger view with the boy remaining in frame. He walks through a crowd, watches a boy collect bottles, wastes time under the boardwalk as the sun darts between cracks.
Scavenging, learning about himself, Joey exists without story. The threads are bare. Essence is the object. The shocker is no dialogue. Morris seeks truth or at least the bare minimum allowed. This isn’t television. Fantasy is never encouraged and that is evident. Most of the dialogue is in the beginning. The rest is behavior. The last stop, a missed phone call, some “scary” policemen, we view the world from the eyes of children. Motivations are never clear and often it’s only a game to bide time.
When the brother Lennie (Richard Brewster) arrives at Coney, the film swaps allegiance. We see what Lennie sees, as Joey’s absence pains us as it does him. The technique is subtle. The dichotomy speaks to Morris and his method. Patterns repeat, comparisons are seen from the other side. Annoyance falters, absence flakes to sentiment, we witness people and what they do. The French would soon pounce on this by the early 60’s.
400 Blows is the tip of the iceberg. Cassavettes, Pennebaker, Maysles, they attribute their work to Morris. The Little Fugitive fathered independent filmmaking as we know it today. The rule of no rules and Morris’ portable camera birthed documentary filmmaking and much of the aesthetic of low budget moviemaking. 
The Little Fugitive is one of those happy accidents. I was smitten from beginning to end. Kino’s package is equally impressive. The video is very crisp and representative of black and white for the time. Any lack of detail or softness I attribute to the film itself and not the master. The audio is a Linear PCM 2.0 mono track which is imperfect yet since the film was shot silently and duped in later, I can’t complain. The extras include a full-length commentary track by director Morris Engel, a 28 minute documentary on Morris, an 18 minute documentary on Morris’ wife and partner Ruth Orkin, the theatrical trailer, and a collection of stills from the film. I can’t say enough about it. Buy with confidence.

-- B.L. Matthews

Director: Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, Ray Ashley
Lead Actor/Actress: Richie Andrusco
Genre: Drama/Neorealist
Blu-ray Release Year: 2013
Theatrical Release Year: 1953
Time Length: 80 minutes
Rating: NR
Region Code: A
Release Company: Kino Lorber
Website: http://www.kinolorber.com/