Little Fugitive

Morris Engel, Ray Ashley and Ruth Orkin, USA, 1953


Rain and storm are the true focus of this sequence in which the film-maker “deals with reality” in the least controllable of situations: what happens when bad weather arrives. Morris Engel waited to film this storm in wide shots, which would not have been possible in a studio. It is a very complex sequence that has been heavily edited and which has, most likely, not been shot continuously, but rather through a series of shots of the rain falling on the locations. The rain here takes on a physical presence which affects the very matter of the picture (close ups on the drops falling, the puddles, the curtain of rain), alternating with wider shots in which the film-maker isolates groups of people trying hard to find shelter. The fiction stops temporarily and opens up to the observation of reality: a brutal storm which makes a crowd flee and scattering. Even though the rapid, rhythmic editing clearly illustrates the protagonists’ rush and panic, the composition of shots doesn’t seem to be improvised at all: the film-maker knows the location, Coney Island beach, very well and knows exactly where to put the camera in order to best recording the crowd’s rush to shelter and wait for the rain to pass. In order to do this, Morris Engel uses a very light and nearly invisible camera, specially made for him by an engineer friend. This discretion of this device eases its total immersion within the groups, no one seems to be aware of being filmed. The progressive insertion of close-ups on the character of the big brother initiates the return to fiction: eye line mismatches in the runaway scenes bring the spectator to relate again to the aim of the film: the eldest must absolutely find his lost little brother, Joey. The storm, in its entirely uncontrollable reality also has a role to play in the plot: in the previous sequence, the big brother spotted Joey, but lost him in the crowd: the rain emptying the beach will enable him to find him again.