In the late 1800′s, there was one book that was so popular, it led to the popularity of velvet. The book was "Little Lord Fauntleroy", written by English playwright and author Frances Hodgson Burnett and was originally published in St. Nicholas Magazine between Nov. 1885 through Oct. 1886 and later followed as a book.
The book was quite elaborate when it came to the details of the young Fauntleroy's clothing that its impact on American fashion, primarily with children as parents would dress their kids in suits and away from skirted garments which were favored at the time.
Considered as the ultimate "rags to riches" story at the time, the book would receive several film adaptations from 1914-1995. The best known versions were the 1921 film starring Mary Pickford, a 1980 version starring Alec Guiness, Rick Schroder and Eric Porter but the best known adaptation is the 1936 film starring Freddie Bartholomew and Dolores Costello.
The film was directed by John Cromwell ("Of Human Bondage", "Since You Went Away", "Made For Each Other", "The Prisoner of Zenda") and a screenplay by Hugh Walpole ("David Copperfield", "Vanessa: Her Love Story", "Kind Lady") and the film would make Freddie Bartholomew as one of the most highly sought after child actors and also the second paid child actor after Shirley Temple. Which unfortunately, also became a double-edged sword for Bartholomew as the success of the film would lead to his long-estranged birth parents trying to gain custody and control of his fortune, a seven-year-battle which took a toll on Barthlomew and his career.
But despite the legal troubles and hardships that Bartholomew would experience after 1936, he will forever be remembered for his performance in the film "Lord Little Fauntleroy". And now, the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012 courtesy of Kino Lorber.
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" is presented in 1080p High Definition and was mastered in HD from an original nitrate 35 mm print, preserved by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department. With that being said, first thing I need to remind those who are not familiar to Kino Blu-rays is that unlike other companies that spend a lot of money on restoration (which is very expensive), Kino does not do the restoration, they release the original transfer on Blu-ray in the best quality possible.
And when it comes to films that were originally on nitrate, I'm usually expecting worse for wear. Primarily because most films filmed on nitrate are now lost (because they were highly flammable and would spontaneously catch on fire) or was severely damaged. Fortunately there are films that were taken care of, transferred to a better medium but during that time, the priority was saving the film not removing defects, specks, etc. They were direct transfers that were not cleaned up.
With the release of "Little Lord Fauntleroy", one can expect to see scenes with white specks, scenes that have some aging. That is a given! But the positive news is that for a film that was derived from an original 35 mm nitrate print, despite the specks and aging, this film looks very good on Blu-ray. It looks like the original negative was not tampered as much, thus less damage. I didn't notice any acid or nitrate burns or excessive flickering or darkening. If anything, this film looks very good for its age and considering where it was taken from.
While the video quality may not be as good as some of Kino's Buster Keaton titles on Blu-ray, for those who have followed the David O. Selznick collection releases, should be happy with the overall release. Especially since this is the best version of the film out on video to date.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
While "Little Lord Fauntleroy" does look good for a film nearly 80-years-old, sound-wise, it's a different story. The film is presented in 2.0 monaural and while the dialogue can be heard quite well, there is also quite a few moments of pops and clicks and during the musical moments of the film, especially for the intro or ending of the film, the sound seems a bit too loud and loses its clarity. But those scenes are short and the good news is that the film does sound good and dialogue is clear for the majority of the film.
There are no subtitles.
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" comes with no special features.
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" is a heartwarming classic that showcases American pride but also love for family. In many ways, this is the kind of film that would be commonplace in America for the next two decades despite the focus on the middle-class family, we have a proper middleclass family with a boy with the heart of gold.
John Cromwell's 1936 version of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is probably the best film adaptation for the mere fact that Freddie Bartholomew plays the character of Ceddie Errol with complete efficacy. He embodies the style and mannerisms of what one would think of Little Lord Fauntleroy that even Frances Hodgson Burnett would have been happy with his performance.
One has to bare in mind that 1930′s, many child stars depicted on the big screen were kids who managed to get in a bit of trouble but yet they were fun to watch and full of spunk. May it be Hal Roach's Little Rascals (Our Gang) to The East End Kids, even Little Rascals star Sid Kibrick makes an appearance in this film, as did a younger Mickey Rooney.
But one can see why the storyline was so popular when the novel was released in the late 1800′s. This was a rags-to-riches story but also an inspiring story of love between a young boy and his mother, but yet treated everyone with kindness and respect. Many parents can hope their kids could be as happy, kind like Ceddie and even in Cromwell's film, Ceddie is the boy that many parents would love to have (or hope their kids could as well-mannered).
And then you have the pro-American, not-yet apple pie mentality with Ceddie telling his English grandfather that he is American, because he was born in America, despite his grandfather insisting that he is English. And of course to show that even this little angel has his tough side as the local kids gang up on him and call him a "sissy" because of his clothes and he speaks proper English, and we see how this young boy is not afraid to defend himself and fight.
But as you have a film with so much humor, what literally wins you over is the film's heart. It's relationships from Ceddie and his mother, as any one can understand the pain it is for a young boy to be separated from his mother but yet, he is able to keep a brave face for his grandfather. And of course, to see his grandfather change with being around Ceddie and we see the transformation of this "grinch" who eventually becomes more and more compassionate.
With solid costume design and impressive performances by its cast, John Cromwell and Hugh Walpole were able to give incredible life to Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved novel. But once again, it's Freddie Bartholomew who makes this film work. As Jackie Cooper was able to bring this heartwarming emotion to his character Dink in the 1931 film "The Champ", Freddie Bartholomew was able to knock the ball out of the ballpark with this performance that featured grace but fine attention to subtlety. He embodies the character of Little Lord Fauntleroy and once you see him perform, you can understand why he was one of Hollywood's most popular and famous child actors at that time.
And while Mickey Rooney was child actor who had appeared in many films by 1936 and was already well-known, for silent film fans, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" would also feature silent film actress Dolores Costello (who was married to silent actor John Barrymore) in one of her few talking films and the film would also star C. Aubrey Smith, who was an actor in Hollywood during the '30s and '40s, also best known for creating the Hollywood Cricket Club and also for his height at 6'4″.
As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned earlier, you're not going to find anything pristine for this film and for how good it looks considering it was mastered in HD from an original nitrate 35 mm print and is nearly 80-years-old. While I wish there were special features such as audio commentary or even an interview with Mickey Rooney, then again, not many film from the 1930′s on Blu-ray or DVD come with any.
Overall, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is a charming, heartwarming film that showcases an amazing performance from its cast, especially from the young Freddie Bartholomew. If you enjoy positive, upbeat, classic Hollywood films from the 1930′s, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is recommended!