Kino Lorber // 1936 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 25th, 2012
I always detested children...my own more than the rest.
Child acting hell. It's that dark place in cinema where obviously miserable adult performers act next to dreadfully stilted children in roles far less important than their juvenile amateur counterparts. I won't claim that there's a direct relationship here, but it seems like the farther back we look, the worse it gets. When we go all the way back to the early sound years, it's a truly hellish place, and it doesn't get much worse than Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Ceddie (Freddie Bartholomew, Captains Courageous) is a poor boy growing up in Brooklyn with his mother (Dolores Costello, The Magnificent Ambersons), whom he calls "Dearest." He loves her with all his heart and, one day, a lawyer arrives with a letter informing them that, after the death of his father, he has claim to the Fauntleroy estate in England, but he must come forthwith to live with his grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt. Though the Earl is a villainous landlord, Dearest has convinced Ceddie that the Earl is benevolent, and upon meeting his grandfather, treats him like the best thing ever. Ceddie's charm and wit slowly melt the Earl's heart, but when a pretender to the estate shows up with a credible claim, the Earl faces the prospect of losing the little lord forever.
The most disheartening thing about watching Little Lord Fauntleroy was the realization a minute or so in that I had seen the movie before. Suddenly, I knew exactly what kind of road I was about to travel. I'd love to claim that my memory was wrong; it wasn't, and it may actually be more obnoxious than I remembered.
For all his popularity, Freddie Bartholomew was an awful performer who I can only assume had his contract because he looked smart in a suit. His talent is virtually nonexistent. The adults don't help matter, either; each one looks regretful at having been cast in the role, as it turns out their only responsibility was to dote on this child and it's profoundly irritating to watch. The only actor who doesn't appear to hate himself is Mickey Rooney (Pete's Dragon) who plays Ceddie's shoeshine buddy back in Brooklyn, but he always seemed happy to be there, no matter what role he played.
Nothing is made better by the production, either. Director John Cromwell (Of Human Bondage) made a number of interesting, high quality films during his career, but this is a low point. It's not only bland and style-free, but it's poorly written and sloppily edited, as well. The story isn't bad and has been done well (most notably in a 1921 silent starring Mary Pickford as both Ceddie and his mother), but that's not the case here, yet it remains the most celebrated adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1885 novel. People seem taken by Bartholomew's performance as the little lord, and while I don't understand even the first thing about why that could be, it endures.
Kino International's Blu-ray releases of their Selznick Collection continues with Little Lord Fauntleroy, and it suffers many of the same problems as the others in the set. There have been many poor releases of the film and this high-definition transfer is certainly an upgrade over them all, but it is far from perfect. There is plenty of damage to the print, with dust and scratching prevalent throughout. The crisp, error-free transfer is the best available, but it is clear that no restoration work at all was done for it. The sound mix is a 2-channel LPCM mix and, again, is a big upgrade from previous releases. It's clean and the dialog is bright, though I'm not sure that hearing Freddie Bartholomew so much better is actually a benefit. There are no extras on the disc.
I recognize that Little Lord Fauntleroy is a kiddie movie that is not made for me, but certain standards of quality should still apply. Little ones might still get a kick out of Freddie Bartholomew's antics, and some might accept it as cute and move on, but it is a truly obnoxious experience that I can't recommend to anybody.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1936
MPAA Rating: Not Rated