Summer in the city. If you can’t get to the beach, “The Little Fugitive” will take you there – all the way to Coney Island of 1953.
Written & directed by handheld camera-pioneer Morris Engel, who had studied with photographer Paul Strand, it was shot on-site with a 7-year old non-actor, using a 35mm camera jerry-rigged with an arm-strap and tells the tale of a boy who’s run away from home. But the beauty of this film, and the story being shot, is an essay on both the childhood of a boy, and the innocent diversions of an archtypal American building type, the amusement park. Much of the place is now just a memory: Steeplechase Park closed in 1964; the sun-filtered underside of the boardwalk is now filled with sand; the poney ride and shooting games are all long gone.
But from the craft of an eager young film maker, and by dint of his naturalistic direction, the lights of the Wonder Wheel, the jostle of bathers, and the voices of barkers calling us to play, can still be enjoyed in this 80 minute reminder of summer’s joys.
While the plot can only be described as thin, and the visuals are what make this movie memorable, it was nominated for an Academy Award for best story. Perhaps it was the story of summer being honored.
[More stills here]