My desire to see The Little Fugitive during its two-night run at the Michigan Theater on Sunday and Tuesday, July 8 and 10, arises from many interests. As a film lover, I can't pass up the opportunity to view this much heralded and sadly overlooked 1953 gem. Written, produced, directed, and marketed by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin — a trio whose experience lay in still photography and journalism — it is widely regarded as instrumental in establishing the world of independent films. Truffaut credits its influence on the French New Wave. Lost in a genre of children's film, this is a simple, charming tale of a young boy's escape from fear into a world of fantasy.
In working-class Brooklyn in the 1950s, seven-year-old Richie is tricked by his pals into believing he has killed his older brother Joey. On the advice of Joey's friends, he flees to the subway and rides to the end of the line, which happens to be in Coney Island. His fear and terror dissipate into ecstasy as he melts into the carny world jammed with hucksters, bathers, players, and other big-city folks out for some release.
Many reviews note the photography and framing of this bizarre world. Critics also consider the film repetitious and dull, as it focuses solely on Richie's escape into this fantasy world in his own backyard. Not preachy, idealistic, or pretentious, the camera takes its cues from the curiosity and simplified perspective of a child. As an adult you might find it easy to tire at the lack of drama, unless you remember going to the circus or fair as a kid, or have had to hustle your own children away from this other world after a "reasonable" time spent. Richie's wide-eyed amazement at this world is boundless. What kid's wouldn't be?
The ease of watching rare or classic films at home has made it easier to dismiss cinematic opportunities like this. But for a lover of film presentation, the chance to see this picture on the big screen of a movie palace is a real treat. What's more, it gives me the chance to take my ten-year-old daughter to experience an unusually modest and straightforward style of filmmaking. I'm curious to see whether she'll enjoy it or just shrug it off as a "Dad thing."
[Review published July 2007]