I have a younger brother, but I don’t think he’d ever fire a rifle round right into my chest, or at least I hope not. That’s more or less the story told throughout this piece from directing trio Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin. Credited as being a crucial inspiration for The 400 Blows and the subsequent period of French New-Wave, the historical merits of Little Fugitive are credible almost immediately. A love of New York and, more importantly, Coney Island, can be found immediately. As soon as the camera rumbles into action, and we’re graced with the innocent, working-class streets of Brooklyn, it’s clear how big an inspiration this minute coming-of-age story really is.
Innovation is present throughout, with Little Fugitive utilising handheld cameras for much of its running time. Using this style of directing and camerawork allows for intimate moments, closer shots that capture the childhood spirit of Coney Island and the rides it has to showcase. I’m no fan of theme parks, but it’s hard to discredit the energy and youthful optimism present in its leading characters, a lack of knowledge for what the future may hold present in every shot. We idly mingle with strangers in the street, on the pier, and those attending the carnival. Lucid and fluid, often wandering from stall to stall with no real aim in mind but to show our protagonist enjoying themselves.
A strong leading performance serves the film well. Considering our main character believes he has shot and killed his brother, he takes the news rather well. He treats himself to a day at the funfair. He throws balls at coconuts, riding merry-go-rounds, generally living in what the directors perceive to be a giddy, childhood fantasy. To be free at the funfair, it’s a nice visual accompaniment, one that does feel like closer to reality thanks to its close-ups and handheld camera use. Those expected, static shots of other films are turned into emotive, well-paced moments, ones that rely not just on the setting around our character, but the innovative handiwork of the trio behind it.
Little Fugitive may not elicit the whimsy and charm of childhood for those that didn’t grow up near Coney Island, I grew up near an Asda, so the two places are rather different. But it’s a nice slice of life piece, one that doesn’t strive to say or do anything outside of a familiar tale of family bonds and brothers fighting one another, vying for attention from their mother. It’s an odd little piece, very simplistic, but a wholly rewarding experience, a comfortable watch and a clear influencer on one of the most prominent movements of cinema.