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October 21 - October 24, 2005

New York Stories: The Films of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin

During the interregnum between postwar Italian Neorealism and the late 1950s emergence of the French New Wave, two acclaimed New York-based photographers employed a simple, unobtrusive cinematic process to tell the story of a young boy who spends an eventful day at Coney Island.  The result, Little Fugitive, would have a monumental impact on directors such as John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese and François Truffaut, who credited Engel's independent production for laying the groundwork for the French New Wave. Like Engel and Orkin's photography, the films focus on ordinary people whose lives seem to unfold effortlessly yet reveal deep truths about the human condition.  As part of this tribute to Orkin and Engel, their daughter Mary will present a special screening of her parents' first feature, along with her own rarely screened documentary portrait of her mother.

Special thanks to Ray Carney.

Mary Engel In Person
October 21 (Friday) 7 pm
October 23 (Sunday) 7 pm

Little Fugitive

Directed by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin
US, 1953,  B&W, 80 min.
With Richie Andrusco, Richard Brewster, Winifred Cushing

When a family emergency sends a single mother out of town, her twelve-year-old son, Lenny (Brewster) is left in charge of his younger brother, Joey (Andrusco).  Lenny and his friends play a prank on Joey which convinces the naïve seven-year-old that he must leave town.  So begins an odyssey to Coney Island in which the better part of the film is spent following Joey through a series of escapades on the beaches and attractions of the famed site.  Engel and his friend Charlie Woodruff developed a small, portable camera for the production which allowed him to film his subjects from a wide range of locations and proximities.  The result is a moving, intimate, unsentimental portrait of youth.

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October 22 (Saturday) 7 pm
October 23 (Sunday) 9 pm

Lovers and Lollipops

Directed by Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin
US, 1956,  B&W, 81 min.
With Lori March, Cathy Dunn, Gerald S. O'Loughlin

A young widow (March) with a seven-year-old child (Dunn) faces new challenges when she strikes up a romance with an old friend (O'Loughlin).  The girl is reluctant to accept a new father figure in her life and finds imaginative ways of tormenting her mother's would-be suitor.  Like Little Fugitive, the film is presented primarily through the eyes of a precocious child and avoids the sentimental trappings that cinematic representations of children often engender.  New York emerges as the fourth character in this charming work with leisurely sequences set on the vibrant city streets.

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October 22 (Saturday) 9 pm
October 24 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Weddings and Babies

Directed by Morris Engel
US, 1958,  B&W, 81 min.
With Viveca Lindfors, John Myhers, Chiarina Barile

The character of the photographer was at the periphery of Engel's previous features – Little Fugitive and Lovers and Lollipops –  but here he takes center stage.  Myhers portrays Al, a commercial photographer who struggles with his failure to achieve creative success and feels pressure from his assistant (Lindfors) to marry and settle down.  The couple's relationship is challenged further with the arrival of Al's mother (Barile), an Italian immigrant who was evicted from her boarding house and speaks very little English.  Richard Leacock credited Engel with making the first theatrical feature which employed mobile sync sound (Engel's earlier films had been dubbed), creating a more lively and authentic portrait of city life.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700