Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936)

“If I have to be an earl, I can try to be a good one.”

Synopsis:
The good-natured son (Freddie Bartholomew) of an American woman (Dolores Costello) and a deceased British father discovers he has become the new Lord of Fauntleroy, and moves to England to live with his crusty grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith) — but he finds his new status threatened by a woman (Helen Flint) claiming to be the mother of the rightful heir.

Genres:

Review:
John Cromwell’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel is — like its source material — a bit too twee and precious for its own good, but remains a reasonably enjoyable cinematic adaptation, thanks in large part to the fine central performance by Freddie Bartholomew. While Bartholomew’s Cedric comes across as simply too kindhearted and naively optimistic to be true, Bartholomew is such an intrinsically charismatic child actor that one can’t help watching him with a certain degree of investment and interest. Nearly every plot development is telegraphed far ahead of time — will Cedric melt the heart of his crusty old grandfather? will he convince his grandfather to open his arms and finally embrace Cedric’s “commoner” mother? will he lose his noble title to a dastardly imposter? what do you think? (!) — but it’s finely presented and directed, and Charles Rosher’s cinematography is nicely atmospheric. Watch for Mickey Rooney in a small (but ultimately pivotal) part as Cedric’s shoe-shining friend back in America. An interesting bit of trivia: “Dearest” (Cedric’s mother) is played by Drew Barrymore’s grandmother, wife of John Barrymore.

Note: As a public domain title, this film is available for free viewing at http://www.archive.org.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Freddie Bartholomew as Lord Fauntleroy
  • Charles Rosher’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.

Links:

One Response to “Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Yes, indeed…”twee” is the operative word here. It really gets to be a bit much – hearing the excessive number of times Bartholomew calls his mother “dearest”. I certainly have my sentimental side – but not when sentiment is so…gooey. Bartholomew’s character in general is bit too other-worldly to be all that believable. Other than the moment when he’s told he’s to be separated from his mother, does this kid *never* have a bad day emotionally?!

    Compare Ceddie to other children roughly of his age in film – say, Scout and Jem in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: two well-brought-up, sensitive kids who are rather good-natured but nevertheless still affected by the world around them. By comparison, Ceddie comes off as being almost entirely in an emotional bubble and his character appears to be an idealistic vision that doesn’t exactly ring true to human nature.

    That said…otherwise it’s not such a terrible film, esp. for younger ffs to watch with their ff parents or such. Overall, the cast is fine (there are some good character actors on-board here), and the film does have a worthy statement about the value of kindness.

    This isn’t a flick to make a point of seeing, but it’s not a horrible one to take in, for the sake of cinema history.

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