Based on the 1886 classic children’s novel of the same name, the 1936 adaptation of Little Lord Fauntleroy is considered by many to be a classic itself. It's the most known adaptation and the most praised adaptation by far, with both great performances from the cast and a well adapted story from the writing team.
Ceddie (Freddie Bartholomew) and his mother, “Dearest” (Dolores Costello) as he calls her, have adjusted to a rather frugal lifestyle after the recent passing of his father. His grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith), is wealthy but has long since disowned the family due to his son marrying an American born woman. Knowing the family is struggling, and the fact that Ceddie is now the heir to the title, the Earl sends for his grandson so he can raise him appropriately as a wealthy Englishman. Dearest goes with Ceddie to England but is not allowed in Dorincourt’s castle. Even with the many negatives stacked upon her she refuses the Earl’s money for herself.
As Ceddie impresses his grandfather and the others, they soon find out that he isn’t the sole heir apparent as another American woman claims that her son is the elder grandson in the family. Of course, with Ceddie being the good and deserving child, and Tom (Jackie Searl) being the obnoxious brat, things aren’t as they seem and Dick Tipton (Rooney) helps Ceddie prove that he's not only deserving of being the heir by his behavior but also is the true heir by blood.
A fairly played out plot, but with Little Lord Fauntleroy being from 1936 it’s hard to call it a copycat (even harder when you see the novel is from 1886). The idea of a well behaved young child who gets what he deserves in the end is often a solid plot line as it sends a message to dilenquent minors. Do what's right, and your rich grandfather will reward you greatly. Sadly, my good behavior never got me a wealthy English grandfather’s fortune, castle, and title but that’s an entirely different story.
Little Lord Fauntleroy is a fun, golden age movie that has plenty going for it with a few flaws that keep it from being an elite classic. The movie has a solid cast with the young actors delivering fantastic performances. Bartholomew is believable in his role, and he remains a standup character throughout. His friend, Dick (portrayed by Mickey Rooney) is great too and gives us an early glimpse at the great Rooney. Smith’s performance as the rich Earl is typical, especially for that era, but he doesn’t do anything to ruin the movie. He’s a bit of a scrooge who finds joy in his grandson and of course breaks from his hard shell.
As a classic movie fan I’ll admit that for every Casablanca and Gone With the Wind there’s another hundred films that don’t have the pacing, don’t have the acting, and definitely don’t have the production to be something I can readily enjoy time and time again. The biggest contributing factor to that is the fact that the movie studios were pumping out as much content as they could and the game of acting was an entirely different world back then. Thankfully, Little Lord Fauntleroy delivers in many ways that the great movies of yester-year did. The flow of the movie was good, with consistent movement and a developing (yet predictable) plot. The runtime is right around an hour and a half, which is great considering the target audience.
Frank Nugent of the New York Times (in 1936) said it best. “Whatever the cause the picture has a way with it and, unless we are very much in error, you will be pleased.” Little Lord Fauntleroy is a solid film for your family to use to visit an entirely different era of Hollywood. The production value is there, with some wonderful acting, well done adaptation of the story and some solid directing from the highly praised John Cromwell.
Now here’s where the real questions come in, can Little Lord Fauntleroy look and sound good enough on Blu-ray to warrant a Kino sized price tag? I wasn’t aware that Little Lord Fauntleroy was a public domain title until after my initial viewing of this Blu-ray. Usually movies fitting into this category get pumped out by the dozens in the lowest quality as studios just try to make a quick buck off of them. Thankfully, Kino isn’t that kind of studio (and I’m not that kind of movie goer) as the movie got the same proper treatment the rest of their releases do.
The 1080p AVC encode for Little Lord Fauntleroy is very impressive for a movie from 1936. Clearly, it’s not at the level a new release filmed for high definition is, but if you were to compare it next to some of Kino’s other classic releases you’d probably favor this title. The movie is black and white, but very rarely suffers from black levels crushing and removing detail. The image does a great job of maintaining a wide range of shading keeping the image very clear and incredibly three-dimensional. Beyond the shading, the movie shows its age. There are plenty of scratches, scuffs, bits of dirt and marks from beginning to end on this one, yet grain is consistent which helps cut down on it being a nuisance. The movie’s print remains in decent shape though for how old it is. It's very evident that Kino did what it did here without causing any additional problems or complaints.
With the video looking great for a movie of this age, I can’t say that the audio for Little Lord Fauntleroy held up as strong. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track has a few issues of its own, with some feedback or other noise consistently singing in the background. However, dialogue is clear even though it’s not always crisp. Some conversations suffer from the rice crispies (you know… crack, snapple, pop) but overall they are very audible. The track does feel very much like a mono track (as it was most likely converted from one) with both speakers consistently putting out equal power and equal noise. In regards to the audio, there’s nothing here to hurt the movie but it definitely doesn’t make this Blu-ray release any more golden.
Even with the classic status, Kino didn’t do much in the way of extra features for Little Lord Fauntleroy. Now, I understand it's hard to have the amount of extras you have for movies of this age; clearly there was no market for it without any kind of home release. It would have been nice to have had something in the way of a historical documentary, a recently recorded commentary from the ninety-plus year old Rooney, or maybe even a photo gallery. Just my suggestions, but I’ll make do with some trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.
When you look at the limited and fantastic catalogue of Kino’s classic titles there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, they aren’t releasing the epic blockbusters from back in the day but more of the golden gems that might have never seen a release if it wasn’t for Kino Lorber. Second, Kino is very particular about not doing any kind of work beyond the typical restoration. No smoothing of the print, no adding of grain, and absolutely no digital reduction of anything on these wonderful, yet aged, old prints. Little Lord Fauntleroy is a prime example of both of those; a solid movie that might have sat on the public domain shelf until the Blu-ray format was past its prime, and a wonderful Blu-ray release that still shows its age and flaws. The release is great and warrants a purchase from anybody who has enjoyed it in the past or is looking to discover another classic.