Little Fugitive

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Little Fugitive Movie Poster Image
Lovingly realistic coming-of-age story is a classic.
  • NR
  • 1953
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Despite starting off with a terribly cruel practical joke, Lennie realizes the error of his ways and tries to correct his unethical behavior. In the end, the brothers learn a new kind of love and respect for one another.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lennie eventually stops thinking of himself and becomes concerned for his brother. He acts responsibly for most of the movie, but only after his terrible mistake. The pony ride man is also somewhat admirable, trying to help Joey as much as he can in his limited capacity.

Violence

The major plot device concerns a mean practical joke, making a 7-year-old believe that he has shot and killed his 12-year-old brother with a real gun. One of the older boys scares the younger boy with: "You'll fry.... you'll burn!" The younger boy runs around for the entire film with a toy gun, and the older boy gets into a fight with his friend (mostly wrestling, pushing, and pulling). There's also a reference to the boys' father being dead. At the carnival, there's a quick montage of scary images.

Sex

We see several older couples kissing on the beach. One little boy's naked bottom is on view.

Language

The kids say mild, 1950s-era things like "drop dead," and "pest" and "shut up, you dope."

Consumerism

Coke and Pepsi bottles are on view throughout the movie, but not prominently. (The younger boy collects all kinds of empty bottles for the deposit money.) Also, some billboards for Pepsi and Seagrams are visible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Fugitive is an influential 1953 coming-of-age film where the main characters are two brothers, 7 and 12, who end up in some fairly grown-up situations. The movie revolves around a cruel practical joke in which the younger brother is made to believe that he has shot and killed his older brother with a real gun (it's actually a toy). The younger boy runs away and is on his own for most of the movie. In addition to the practical joke and the use of toy guns, we see kids fighting; couples on the beach kissing, and language includes phrases like "shut up, you dope."

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Lennie (Richard Brewster) is looking forward to spending his birthday at Coney Island, but when his single mother is called away on an emergency, he must instead spend the day looking after his 7-year-old brother Joey (Richie Andrusco). Angry and upset, Lennie and his pals cook up a plan: They will make Joey believe that he has shot and killed Lennie with a real gun. The plan works, but the distraught Joey runs away to Coney Island by himself, eventually finding solace in the pony rides. When Lennie realizes the error of his ways, he begins a frantic search for his little brother, but can Lennie find him and get back home to Brooklyn before mom returns?

Is it any good?

This is one of the finest and most vivid coming-of-age movies ever made. Co-directed by photographer/cinematographer Morris Engel, his photographer wife Ruth Orkin, and writer Ray Ashley, LITTLE FUGITIVE is nothing less than a landmark in the history of American independent cinema. It takes its time, building toward a memorable conclusion. It captures a remarkably intense summer carnival atmosphere, with crowds, grit, litter, heat, and noise as well as the wonders that are there for young eyes to discover. 

 
There are long stretches with no dialogue, featuring nothing but a haunting harmonica score (Lennie's prize possession is a harmonica, so the music ties the brothers together). The movie may be a bit rough for younger kids (as well as for protective parents), but it has a good heart, and most viewers will be on board by the end. Little Fugitive was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar and was inducted into the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1997. 
 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the cruel, violent practical joke that Lennie and his friends play on Joey. What are the consequences of this joke? What would cause kids to do such a thing?

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  • Can you imagine this movie being made today? What are some differences between what kids did or played with in the 1950s as compared to today?

  • Lennie gets the short end of the stick here: it's his birthday, but he doesn't get much of a chance to be a kid. Does he have a right to be upset? What would be a better way he could express this?

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Movie details

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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