Lord Fauntleroy is the finest and most upstanding gentlemen you'll ever meet. The sole heir to the Earl of Dorincourt estate, he places the care and welfare of others before himself, speaking from a kind heart and with an honest voice that's as forthright as it is well-intentioned. Yet, he is of the rambunctious sort, wanting to experience all that life has to offer while also setting aside time enough for family and friends. He welcomes strangers with open arms and goodwill, reasonably expecting the same in return, easily disappointed when others prove to not share his outlook. Most surprising, the future Earl is actually a sprite nine-year-old boy from Brooklyn who can handle his own during a scrap.
You wouldn't know it by the title, but this story is based on an immensely celebrated children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is probably best remembered for The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The successful novel was widely read and grew to the cultural stature which Harry Potter and Twilight enjoy today, breaking records during its 1886 publication and setting several trends. This 1936 comedic drama from legendary producer David O. Selznick and directed by John Cromwell is only one of seven different adaptations available worldwide. This film features popular kid actors Freddie Bartholomew in the titular role and Mickey Rooney as his best pal. Dolores Costello, grandmother of Drew Barrymore, also stars as Bartholomew's mother.
The wonderful cast is one part of the film's enjoyment and continued popularity, especially Bartholomew's portrayal of the gleefully flamboyant Ceddie Errol. The character is a precocious kid with a very urbane manner and a baroque sense of fashion, but the child actor, who was twelve at the time, makes him a delight to watch with a mild air of plausibility. Rooney's New York scamp is equally entertaining and memorable, despite not having much screen time. The great stock actor Guy Kibbee ('Mr. Smith Goes to Washington') is notable as the neighborly grocer with a distrust of the British monarchy Mr. Hobbs. This is matched by the amusing C. Aubrey Smith as the aging Earl of Dorincourt with a prejudice of Americans.
What I enjoy best is seeing a plot that envisages a royalty, or the upper class as a whole, with a social conscience, as represented by little Lord Fauntleroy and his influence of compassion on his stern, apathetic grandfather. Since the story originates from the Victorian Era with clear sympathies of immigrants and the lower classes, this flight of fancy underlining the story is part of the novel as well. The trusting and amiable innocence of the child hints at a more generous and thoughtful possibility for the future of British aristocracy. And again, thanks to Bartholomew's charming performance, none of it feels obligatory or like pandering to viewers. There's this strange hope of a better future from the boy's point of view that's infectious as well as encouraging.
Unfortunately, the story is also somewhat encumbered by an unnecessary aspect, feeling unnatural to the flow of the narrative and as if tacked on purely for a dramatic element. This is the same fault which can be read in Burnett's novel, so we can't side with one over the other. It is simply a portion of the tale which fails to complement its other strengths. The filmmakers of 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' try to incorporate this small piece of melodrama nonetheless, but it only succeeds at ruining the movie's already jovial pace, creating an unexpected spot of boredom. It even seems a bit rushed in some areas because Cromwell clearly aims to fit the entire book in less than two hours. The end result is an enjoyable movie made memorable by a wonderful cast of actors, but is also easily forgotten because of a story that overstays its royal welcome.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Kino Classics: The Selznick Collection" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD25 disc goes straight to the main menu with a still photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
'Little Lord Fauntleroy' arrives with a passable but nevertheless problematic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. In its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the picture comes riddled with scratches, dirt and white specks. There's hardly a moment when the image isn't interrupted by such distractions — deep scuffs, cracks and superficial tears inherent to the print used. Still, the few positives available make the film watchable. Fine object and textural details are attractive with excellent, clear definition in the clothing and the many interior shots. Contrast and brightness are often exceptionally well-balanced with many beautiful, deep blacks and first-rate gradations in the grayscale.
In the end, the source used for this high-def transfer is in need of a full restoration and new master.
The audio further demonstrates the print's poor state of repair and the extent of damage present within. The noise and endless hissing in the background is pretty much a given and clear evidence of a movie treated with a less than satisfactory effort. Vocals are intelligible and pleasantly warm, but only heard in the center of the screen on occasion rather than consistently. There are large portions of this English uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack where voices weirdly shift to the left side of the soundstage. When this happens, the lossless mix exhibits lots of popping and dialogue is accompanied by an ugly rasp. Higher frequencies clip and distort, which sadly ruin the enjoyment of the music, while low bass is mildly audible but overall anemic.
Only special feature is a collection of three theatrical previews for other movies produced by the legendary David O. Selznick.
From legendary producer David O. Selznick, 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' is one of several adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's immensely celebrated children's book. Starring popular child actors Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney as well as Dolores Costello, the film is an amusing rags-to-riches tale with lots of heart, but the story also starts to drag towards the end and overstays its royal welcome. The Blu-ray arrives with a problematic audio and video presentation, thanks to a print that's in desperate need of a restoration. The release is a bare-bones package and likely to attract only those familiar with the film.