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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY (1936)

David O. Selznick started his independent production company with the same child star (Freddie Bartholomew) and British author (Hugh Walpole) he used back at M-G-M on his wildly successful adaptation of DAVID COPPERFIELD/’35. This book was no COPPERFIELD, but it’s mix of character & sentiment has been remarkably lucky on screen. John Cromwell was a new director for Selznick, and the film has little of the stylized flair George Cukor brought to the Dickens work, but he was a solid craftsman and had the insurance of lenser Charles Rosher backing him up. (Rosher had made his rep on Mary Pickford’s famous 1921 silent version, the one where Mary played the little Lord and the boy’s mother. Talk about a Freudian nightmare!) The story, considered slight & old-fashioned, even in ‘36, tells what happens when an American kid goes to England as the new Lord Fauntleroy and meets up with his curmudgeonly Granddad. Hearts melt, forgiveness, sweetness & light . . . until someone else shows up as the rightful claimant! Sentiment threatens to sink the ship, but Bartholomew was truly an enchanting little gentleman (the Audrey Hepburn of child actors), getting huge effects without stepping over the line. And his restraint proves contagious. Mickey Rooney & Guy Kibbee (in full stage Irish get up) are swell as his American pals and all the British archetypes (including more COPPERFIELD alums) are buffed up in the true Hollywood meets ex-pat fashion. C. Aubrey Smith has a field day as the crusty old Lord and shows off his tone-deaf singing in Church. Of course, the class condescension is something fierce, but with Selznick, Anglophilia was more like Anglo-lust. NOTE: Long available in indifferent Public Domain DVDs, the new Selznick Estate Approved edition out on KINO has a better image of the complete 102 minute cut, but the audio remains subfusc.

DOUBLE-BILL: The Pickford version comes on a good DVD from Milestone, but the unexpectedly fine tv adaptation of 1980 with Ricky Schroeder & Alec Guinness is only available in Italy. Gluttons for punishment can watch a young Jody Foster play a modernized variant of Fauntleroy in CANDLESHOE, a typical Disney pacifier from 1977.

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