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Little Lord Fauntleroy(1936)
Freddie Bartholomew plays Cedric Errol, a poor Brooklyn boy destined for greatness in this film based on the lovable story by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Although Ceddie doesn't know it, his deceased father was an English nobleman. When it becomes apparent that Ceddie is heir to an English title and an immense fortune, his mother (Dolores Costello Barrymore) takes him back to England, where they discover that her father-in-law, the earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith), despises Americans. To win his birthright, Ceddie must struggle against false claims to his title as well as his grandfather's cantankerous disposition.
For more about Little Lord Fauntleroy and the Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray release, see Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 11, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Freddie Bartholomew, Dolores Costello, C. Aubrey Smith, Guy Kibbee, Henry Stephenson, Mickey Rooney
Director: John Cromwell
» See full cast & crew
Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray Review
The Little Lord with the Heart of Gold
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 11, 2012
I always joke with my wife that if we had a son, he'd probably look exactly like Little Lord Fauntleroy—effete and prim, a pint-sized fop dolled up in a dainty blue suit. (I'm already saving to buy him karate lessons, 'cause he's gonna need 'em.) The Little Lord of English author Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1886 novel is as precious as a kid can be, and his rags-to-riches tale has always had a whiff of too-cuteness to it, more sentimental than even the gooiest Charles Dickens' story. The serialized novel was exceptionally popular—it's been called the Harry Potter of its day—and it also inspired the rather unfortunate fashion trend of dearest mothers dressing up their darling emasculated sons in velvet knee-breeches and jackets with floppy bows. For an entire generation, little American boys looked like curly-haired French dauphins.
There have been several adaptations of the story—including a 1921 silent where Mary Pickford played Fauntleroy and his mother—but the most acclaimed is probably this 1936 version, directed by John Cromwell (Of Human Bondage) and produced by David O. Selznick shortly after he left M.G.M to form Selznick International Pictures. Along with child star Freddie Bartholomew—who had previously been in Selznick's David Copperfield—the film features a young Mickey Rooney, English cricketer-turned-actor Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, and Dolores Costello, the grandmother of Drew Barrymore.
The story of Little Lord Fauntleroy is generally well-known by those of a certain age, but in case you're under seventy—or just not into kid-lit from the late nineteenth century—a synopsis is in order. Fatherless Cedric "Ceddie" Errol (Bartholomew) and his recently widowed mother (Costello) live and make due in a shabby quarter of 1880s Brooklyn. Ceddie is the most precocious nine-year-old imaginable. He calls his mommy "Dearest." He cruises around town on a ridiculous penny-farthing. And he dresses and speaks like a junior aristocrat, which he is, though he doesn't know it yet.
His royal bearing is evidently hereditary; the lawyer Mr. Havisham (Henry Stephenson) arrives on Ceddie's birthday to inform the boy that his aging grandfather, the crusty Earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith), wants him to move to England and prepare to inherit his title and estate. See, Ceddie's father was disowned when he married an American—the Earl hates Americans—but since Ceddie is the sole remaining family heir, the earldom is his by rights. There are complications, though. The Earl is obviously a grouch of the snobbiest sort, and he refuses to allow "Dearest" to live in the castle with him and Ceddie, who's now known as "Little Lord Fontleroy." Poor old mum has to shack up in the servant's house with the scullery maids.
The Little Lord doesn't let his newfound social status go to his head. If anything, he becomes even more of a sweetie. Before leaving for England, Ceddie is informed that he now has a great deal of wealth that he can use however he'd like. Instead of jamming his mouth with candies, he opts to buy parting presents for his nearest friends. The old apple-monger gets a sunshade, bootblack Dick Tifton (Mickey Rooney)—Ceddie's best friend—gets a new shoe-shining stand, and Mr. Hobbs (Guy Kibbee), an aristocrat-hating grocer, gets a gold watch inscribed with a bit o' poetry: "When this you see, think of me." What a guy! And yes, he will eventually reap the karma rewards for his kindness.
This is essentially a feel-good, Pollyanna-ish story about a kid who spreads cheer and positivity wherever he goes. In Ceddie's presence, the crotchety Earl's cold heart slowly warms until he feels a genuine grandfatherly affection for the the boy. Of course, if this was all that happened it wouldn't be much of a story, so for the sake of conflict we're introduced to the scheming Lady Fauntleroy (Helen Flint), her uncouth, chocolate-devouring son—whom she claims is the real heir to the Earl's fortune—and their obsequious lawyer, Mr. Snade (Walter Kingsford). Don't worry, though; a happy ending is inevitable.
The film may be short on drama, but it's long on lovable characters and endearing performances. Freddie Bartholomew, perhaps the best child actor of his generation, makes Home Alone-era Macaulay Culkin look like a total chump. Baby-faced Mickey Rooney and Guy Kibbee share some wonderful scenes together as 'mericans distrustful of the British upper crust, and Dolores Costello makes a fine fretting mother, eager to do what's best for her son. This is defiantly moist-eyed material, but it's done well. The story was adapted for the screen by Hugh Walpole, a prolific but critically overlooked English novelist who was largely written off as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, his style suits Little Lord Fauntleroy's quaint tale of good-natured nobility.
Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray, Video Quality
As a film in the public domain, Little Lord Fontleroy has been subjected to some truly awful home video releases—murky and beat-up and sometimes even recut—so it's good to see Kino-Lorber give the movie a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's comparatively clean and entirely complete. Don't expect an all-out restoration, though. Kino tends to track down the best possible prints, but also presents them as-is, with no effort to digitally clean up the image. Little Lord Fauntleroy simply isn't in the best shape. You'll notice frequent vertical scratches and flurries of white specks, along with occasional jitter and brightness flickering. This isn't unexpected, but it does make you wish that every film could be restored at the level of, say, Metropolis. The picture is rarely sharp in any strict sense, but the simple act of transferring the 35mm print in high definition yields a newfound degree of detail that certainly looks better than any of the film's DVD appearances. The black and white gradation is handled well too, with deep but not crushing shadows and bright but not overblown highlights. Grain looks entirely natural, there's no sign of DNR or edge enhancement, and no visible compression issues either. A solid all-around improvement for a film with a spotty history on home video.
Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 mono track doesn't fare quite as well, unfortunately. Audio damage is always harder to ignore than print damage, and here you'll hear peaky, occasionally cracking dialogue, music that's on the tinny side, and a low but persistent tape hiss. The issues never go to the extent that they make the film difficult to sit through, but the overall brashness definitely made me feel the need to turn down the volume on my receiver a few notches. (Also note that there are no subtitle options whatsoever for those that might need or want them.) The legendary Max Steiner—of Gone with the Wind, King Kong, and Casablanca fame—provided the film's score, but it's hardly his best work. The most frequently used cue is a riff off of "Auld Lang Syne," which adds to the movie's syrupy, sentimental tone.
Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only extras on the disc are high definition trailers for Nothing Sacred, A Star is Born, and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.
Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The first, but not nearly the best of Selznick International Pictures' productions—that would be Gone with the Wind or Rebecca— Little Lord Fauntleroy is a quaintly sentimental children's story with fine performances and an uplifting, family-friendly message. Modern kids will probably be bored to distraction by it, but nostalgic adults and Selznick fans will find it's probably worth a look. Kino-Lorber's Blu-ray is a solid improvement over previous DVD releases, but the lack of the special features makes it hard to recommend a purchase unless you've been collecting all of the releases from Kino's David O. Selznick collection.
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Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Little Lord Fauntleroy Blu-ray - March 14, 2012
In June, Kino Video will bring Little Lord Fauntleroy to Blu-ray. This adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel stars Freddie Bartholomew (Captains Courageous) as Cedric Errol, a child from Brooklyn who learns that he is heir to a British nobleman's ...
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