LITTLE FUGITIVE (Morris Engel, Ray Ashley, and Ruth Orkin, 1953)
209 West Houston St.
Monday, September 4, 12:30 & 4:00
Series continues through September 5
Labor Day is the traditional end of summer, and Film Forum gets in on the fun with an inspired double feature of two Coney Island specials. Screening at 12:30 and 4:00, Morris Engel’s charming Little Fugitive is one of the most influential and important — and vastly entertaining — works to ever come out of the city. The underground classic won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1953, was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, and was entered into the National Film Registry in 1997. Written and directed with Ray Ashley and Ruth Orkin, Engel’s future wife, Little Fugitive follows the gritty, adorable exploits of seven-year-old wannabe cowboy Joey Norton (Richie Andrusco, in his only film role), who runs away to Coney Island after his older brother, Lennie (Richard Brewster), and his brother’s friends, Harry (Charlie Moss) and Charley (Tommy DeCanio), play a trick on the young boy, using ketchup to convince Joey that he accidentally killed Lennie. With their single mother (Winifred Cushing) off visiting her ailing mother, Joey heads out on his own, determined to escape the cops who are surely after him. But once he gets to Coney Island, he decides to take advantage of all the crazy things to be found on the beach, along the boardwalk, and in the surrounding area, including, if he can get the money, riding a real pony.
A no-budget black-and-white neo-Realist masterpiece shot by Engel with a specially designed lightweight camera that was often hidden so people didn’t know they were being filmed, Little Fugitive explores the many pleasures and pains of childhood and the innate value of home and family. As Joey wanders around Coney Island, he meets all levels of humanity, preparing him for the world that awaits as he grows older. Meanwhile, Engel gets into the nooks and crannies of the popular beach area, from gorgeous sunrises to beguiling shadows under the boardwalk. In creating their beautifully told tale, Engel, Ashley, and Orkin use both trained and nonprofessional actors, including Jay Williams as Jay, the sensitive pony ride man, and Will Lee, who went on to play Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street, as an understanding photographer, while Eddie Manson’s score continually references “Home on the Range.” Rough around the edges in all the right ways, Little Fugitive became a major influence on the French New Wave, with Truffaut himself singing its well-deserved praises. There’s really nothing quite like it, before or since. The 12:30 show will be introduced by Mary Engel, the daughter of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin.
SPEEDY (Ted Wilde, 1928)
209 West Houston St.
Monday, September 4, 2:00
Series continues through September 13
In between the two showings of Little Fugitive is another delightful treat, Ted Wilde’s Speedy, with live musical accompaniment by pianist Steve Sterner. Much like the end of the silent film era itself, the last horse-drawn trolley is doomed in Harold Lloyd’s final silent film. Big business is playing dirty trying to get rid of the trolley and classic old-timer Pop Dillon. Meanwhile, Harold “Speedy” Swift, a dreamer who wanders from menial job to menial job (he makes a great soda-jerk with a unique way of announcing the Yankees score), cares only about the joy and wonder life brings. But he’s in love with Pop’s granddaughter, Jane (Ann Christy), so he vows to save the day. Along the way, he gets to meet Babe Ruth. Wilde was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, Comedy, for this thrilling nonstop ride through beautiful Coney Island and the pre-depression streets of New York City. Film Forum’s second annual Festival of Summer Double Features continues through September 5 with such other sweet pairings as Panique and Peeping Tom, Point Blank and The Killers, and The Big Lebowski and The Last Picture Show.