“My Dad used to say his veins were full of sand from Coney Island,” said Mary Engel of her film-maker father Morris Engel at last night’s 60th anniversary screening of “Little Fugitive.” A new print of the Coney Island classic released by APD/Cinema Conservancy is screening at Film Forum through February 7th and a Blu-Ray is forthcoming from KINO. In the meantime, the film will be shown in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and other cities over the next two months. (See schedule at the end of this post.)
On Friday night at Film Forum, Richie Andrusco, who played 7-year-old Joey in the 1953 film, participated in a Q & A after the screenings and signed posters for fans. Asked how he won the role, Andrusco recalled being in Coney Island with his brother when he was spotted by Morris Engel. The boy was riding the Steeplechase carousel and trying to catch the brass ring just as he does in a scene in “Little Fugitive.” When Engel phoned his mom to ask if he could be in the film, she replied, “How much is it gonna cost me?” Engel had to tell her, no, no, no, we’re going to pay you.
The 1950’s as well as the early ’60s were a remarkably innocent time. Back then, a child could have the run of the midway and not be bothered by grown-ups. That’s the way it used be with carnivals and at fairs, too! In “Little Fugitive,” Joey spends 24 hours on the lam in Coney after being tricked into believing he’d shot and killed his brother Lennie. He rides the rides, plays the games, and gorges on food until his money runs out. Then he learns to collect empty soda bottles to earn the deposit money to buy more ride tickets.
“Little Fugitive” was nominated for an Academy Award for best motion picture story and won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. French film director Francois Truffaut said of the film: “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for Morris Engel’s fine movie ‘The Little Fugitive.’ It showed us the way.” It is also treasured by Coney Island enthusiasts for its child’s-eye view of their lost paradise: the carousel with its brass ring machine, the Parachute Jump as an operating ride, the view from under the Boardwalk. In this nightfall scene from the film, you’ll catch a glimpse of the vanished Tornado, Gyro Globe and World in Wax Musee, as well as the landmark Wonder Wheel, one of the few attractions in “Little Fugitive” which still operates today. It was wonderful seeing this classic film on the big screen!
Through February 7th – Film Forum, New York City
February 5th – Cinema Arts Center, Huntington, NY
February 16th – Los Angeles County Museum of Art
February 23, 25th, 28th – Charles Theater, Baltimore, MD
February 22 – 28 – Siskel Center, Chicago, IL
March 6-10 – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
March 29, 30 – Cleveland Cinematieque
March 29 – April 4 – Northwest Film Forum, Seattle, Washington
Related posts on ATZ…
December 28, 2012: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island Videos of 2012
August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island
July 26, 2012: Film Trailer: Zipper, Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride
September 27, 2010: Video: The Museum of Wax by Charles Ludlam