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Little Fugitive (1953) - Blu-ray Review

{2jtab: Movie Review}

Little Fugitive (1953) - Blu-ray Review


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4 stars

Sometimes stark naked ambition alone can create a lasting legacy.   Morris Engel’s Little Fugitive is all the proof you need.  It’s not much to look at but its visual poetry has an unmatched beauty.  It’s the tiny cub that roars.  Scrappily shot in black-and-white with hand-held 35 mm cameras, this independent film and its do-it-yourself attitude is consistently listed as a major influence upon the French New Wave movement.  It’s a film where style and subtext work together to create an interesting and entirely escapist mood.

Two brothers – Lennie (Richard Brewster ) and Joey (Richie Andrusco) – find themselves at odds when the older one wants time away from the younger one and heads out to roam the streets with his friends only.  Lennie just can’t seem to shake Joey.  After fawning over a friend’s rifle, Lennie decides to play a trick on his younger brother.  He pretends to be shot.  He pretends to die.  It is his brother, after begging to hold the rifle, which has pulled the trigger.  That should shake him off Lennie’s trail for a while.

But the unforeseen is what happens.

Unable to deal with the thought that he killed his brother, Joey immediately hauls ass away from the boys.  He goes home to cry but then, hearing sirens in the distance, he packs up.  He takes what little change he has and spends an entire day at Coney Island.  Completely in a daze, Joey eats cotton candy, has his photo taken, rides the rollercoasters and generally avoids the reality that suggests he killed his brother.

Written and directed by Raymond Abrashkin, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, Little Fugitive’s 24-hour odyssey is primal to its core.  Raw and full of wreckless energy, the film’s use of hidden camera tactics only intensify the reality it presents.  Hundreds of people at Coney Island simply had no idea they were being filmed.  The film’s focal point begins with the poverty the two brothers are living with inside a single-parent home.   Their mother (Winifred Cushing) is barely there, in fact.  Their security is consistently at risk; at least they have each other…

…that is until, the joke is played.

Joey is alone.  Maybe he’s always been that way.  Regardless, it’s never consciously affected him.  But soon – after Joey thinks he’s murdered his brother – the child’s world view gets seriously whacked.  He rides a wooden horse on a merry-go-round as if expecting them to come alive, break free from the cart, and ride him away from his woe.  Of course, we have no idea what he’s thinking.  With each new activity, he grows more distant

The rough Brooklyn landscape is equally maniacal and magical for Joey.  It both cares and ignores whatever grief he feels.  Organic by design and abstract by design, Little Fugitive is a joyfully grinding experience of emotion.  Realism rarely gets this fierce.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Little Fugitive (1953) - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
80 mins.
: Ray Ashley, Morris Engel; Ruth Orkin
Writer: Ray Ashley, Morris Engel; Ruth Orkin
Richard Brewster; Winifred Cushing; Jay Williams; Will Lee
Genre: Drama | Family
The picture that set Hollywood on its ear!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Hey Mister, you're laying on my pants."
Kino Video
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 6, 1953
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
March 26, 2013

Synopsis: Joey, a young boy, runs away to Coney Island after he is tricked into believing he has killed his older brother. Joey collects glass bottles and turns them into money, which he used to ride the rides.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Little Fugitive (1953) - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Special Edition

Available on Blu-ray - March 26, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
: None
English: LPCM Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Mastered from a 35mm print preserved by the Museum of Modern Art - with assistance from The Film Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation - Kino-Lorber’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks sharp.  It’s not a perfect image as the film has taken quite a beating since its release but it’s never unwatchable.  There are some issues with specks, occasional hairs stuck at the edge of the frame, and brief vertical scratches but nothing that suggests this is a subpar release from Kino.  The film is natural throughout with no edge enhancement or grain-erasing visible. Like the picture quality, the uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 mono track Kino offers us here has a light crackling sound and moments of low- level tape hiss.



  • Featuring Morris Engel, the commentary track Kino provides was originally released in 1999 but that doesn’t make it less successful.  This is a quality listen, guiding us through the history of the film's creation and some anecdotes he shares from the making of the film.

Special Features:

Beginning with a near 30-minute short about Morris Engel, the supplemental material tries to tell the story of Little Fugitive through Morris’ daughter’s point of view.  She covers her father’s career – including his photography – and also talks about her mother, Ruth Orkin, in another short.  There is a gallery of 31 images and a trailer is included, too.

  • Morris Engel: The Independent (29 min)
  • Ruth Orkin: Frames of Life (18 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Image Gallery

{2jtab: Trailer}


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