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HISTORY

Onscreen credits include the following written acknowledgments: "We wish to thank STEEPLECHASE and the CONEY ISLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE for their cooperation." This film was shot on location in Brooklyn and at Coney Island, NY. Co-directors Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin were married at the time of production. According to a 1954 interview with filmmakers Ray Ashley and Orkin, production costs were $87,000, of which $1,000 was spent on music; lead performer Richie Andrusco, who had never acted before, was paid $250 per week. An unidentified, but contemporary magazine article in the AMPAS Library file on the film, noted that Andrusco was “discovered” by Orkin and Engel while the boy was riding a carousel at Coney Island.
       According to an article in SatRev , the filmmakers consulted with child psychologists at the Bank Street School in order to evoke the most natural responses from their child actors. Little Fugitive was awarded the Silver Lion of St. Mark at the 1953 International Venice Film Festival and a Silver Ribbon for best non-Italian film of the year. The picture received nominations for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story and Best Written Drama by the Screen Writers’ Guild. A modern source quoted French filmmaker François Truffaut as stating that “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young Morris Engel…with his fine Little Fugitive .” In a 1979 interview in NYDN , Engel said that Little Fugitive marked the first theatrical release of a film shot with a handheld 35mm movie ... More Less

Onscreen credits include the following written acknowledgments: "We wish to thank STEEPLECHASE and the CONEY ISLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE for their cooperation." This film was shot on location in Brooklyn and at Coney Island, NY. Co-directors Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin were married at the time of production. According to a 1954 interview with filmmakers Ray Ashley and Orkin, production costs were $87,000, of which $1,000 was spent on music; lead performer Richie Andrusco, who had never acted before, was paid $250 per week. An unidentified, but contemporary magazine article in the AMPAS Library file on the film, noted that Andrusco was “discovered” by Orkin and Engel while the boy was riding a carousel at Coney Island.
       According to an article in SatRev , the filmmakers consulted with child psychologists at the Bank Street School in order to evoke the most natural responses from their child actors. Little Fugitive was awarded the Silver Lion of St. Mark at the 1953 International Venice Film Festival and a Silver Ribbon for best non-Italian film of the year. The picture received nominations for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story and Best Written Drama by the Screen Writers’ Guild. A modern source quoted French filmmaker François Truffaut as stating that “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young Morris Engel…with his fine Little Fugitive .” In a 1979 interview in NYDN , Engel said that Little Fugitive marked the first theatrical release of a film shot with a handheld 35mm movie camera.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Dec 1953.
---
Film Daily
14 Oct 53
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 53
p. 3.
Life
5 Oct 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Oct 53
p. 2021.
New York Daily News
21 Feb 1979.
---
New York Times
7 Oct 53
p. 35.
New York Times
18 Oct 53
sec. II, p. 1.
Saturday Review
7 Nov 1953.
---
The Exhibitor
21 Oct 1953
p. 3630.
Variety
23 Sep 53
p. 24.
DETAILS
Release Date:
6 October 1953
Premiere Information:
World premiere at Venice Film Festival, Italy: 8 September 1953
New York opening: 6 October 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Little Fugitive Productions Co.
Copyright Date:
7 October 1953
Copyright Number:
LP3584
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
75
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Brooklyn, New York, seven-year-old Joey Norton is upset that his older brother, twelve-year-old Lennie, teases him and will not let him play the harmonica Lennie just received for his birthday. Lennie complains to his friends about having to look after his little brother during the summer while his mother works. Joey attempts to join Lennie and his friends, Charley and Harry, in a baseball game in the street, but they refuse to give Joey the bat. That afternoon in the apartment, the boys’s mother receives a telephone call informing her that her mother is ill. As a result, she is forced to leave her sons alone overnight so that she can take the train to see their grandmother. This ruins Lennie’s plans to go to the carnival at Coney Island the next day, as his mother insists that he look after Joey instead. Lennie and Joey’s mother departs, leaving behind six dollars for groceries. Although Lennie agrees to play hide-and-seek with Joey, he only does this so he can slip away to be with his buddies. Lennie, Harry and Charley then read comic books to come up with ideas about how to get rid of Joey. A little while later, Lennie takes Joey to a field where Harry is showing off his father’s rifle. Harry lets Joey hold the gun, which he lies is loaded with real bullets. After pointing the weapon in Lennie’s direction, Harry allows Joey to fire the gun. Lennie pretends to be shot, an effect aided by Charley’s use of ketchup to simulate blood. Terrified that he has killed his brother, Joey ... +


In Brooklyn, New York, seven-year-old Joey Norton is upset that his older brother, twelve-year-old Lennie, teases him and will not let him play the harmonica Lennie just received for his birthday. Lennie complains to his friends about having to look after his little brother during the summer while his mother works. Joey attempts to join Lennie and his friends, Charley and Harry, in a baseball game in the street, but they refuse to give Joey the bat. That afternoon in the apartment, the boys’s mother receives a telephone call informing her that her mother is ill. As a result, she is forced to leave her sons alone overnight so that she can take the train to see their grandmother. This ruins Lennie’s plans to go to the carnival at Coney Island the next day, as his mother insists that he look after Joey instead. Lennie and Joey’s mother departs, leaving behind six dollars for groceries. Although Lennie agrees to play hide-and-seek with Joey, he only does this so he can slip away to be with his buddies. Lennie, Harry and Charley then read comic books to come up with ideas about how to get rid of Joey. A little while later, Lennie takes Joey to a field where Harry is showing off his father’s rifle. Harry lets Joey hold the gun, which he lies is loaded with real bullets. After pointing the weapon in Lennie’s direction, Harry allows Joey to fire the gun. Lennie pretends to be shot, an effect aided by Charley’s use of ketchup to simulate blood. Terrified that he has killed his brother, Joey is warned by Harry to hide from the police. After Harry gives him Lennie’s harmonica as solace, Joey runs home, dons his toy gunbelt, takes the grocery money and runs away, eventually ending up at the Coney Island carnival. Joey is immediately entranced by the carnival and rides the merry-go-round, but when it plays the tune “Home on the Range,” which Lennie had played on the harmonica earlier that day, he becomes disconsolate. Joey is then drawn to a photography booth where he thrusts his head through a cardboard cutout of a cowboy and has his picture taken. Joey dines on hot dogs, watermelon and cotton candy, perfects his swing at a batting cage and practices throwing a ball at milk bottles until he finally wins a prize. He is soon drawn to a pony ride but no longer has the money to pay, so he wanders onto the crowded beach and meets another boy, Hank, who is collecting bottles to exchange for money. Joey helps Hank but the boy is soon drawn away by his brother, John. Joey continues collecting bottles until he earns twenty-five cents. He immediately uses this for his first pony ride, which is supervised by a man named Jay. Jay teaches Joey how to ride and entertains him with stories. Joey then returns to the beach to collect more bottles to pay for pony rides. He continues the process all afternoon until he becomes so adept that Jay allows him to ride the biggest pony on his own. When Jay asks Joey if he has any companions at the beach, the boy runs away. Some time later, Joey falls asleep under the wooden boardwalk and awakens in the morning to find the beach and carnival deserted. Joey wanders over to the pony ride again, where Jay pretends to hire him in order to get his name and address. Jay then telephones the apartment and informs a worried Lennie where to find his brother. Joey runs away, however, after he sees Jay conversing with a policeman. Upon arriving at the carnival, Lennie writes notes to Joey in chalk everywhere there is blank space, instructing him to meet him at the parachute ride. Lennie decides to go on the ride and just as his parachute lifts, he sees Joey carrying a spotted balloon. When the ride is over, Lennie runs onto the crowded beach to follow the balloon and is disappointed when it rises into the sky. By the end of the day, a storm blows in and heavy rain starts to fall. This clears the beach and when the rain stops, Lennie finds Joey collecting bottles. Lennie tells Joey that his death was only a joke, and agrees to let his brother keep the harmonica until they get home. Lennie is greatly relieved to arrive just before his mother, and neither boy tells her what happened. She is so pleased to find them safe and sound that she promises to take them to Coney Island the next weekend. The brothers, now bonded by their experience, turn to each other and smile. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.