Back in 1953, when Little Fugitive was a brand-new movie, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther (for almost thirty years writing (often-enlightening) reviews encased in quaint tut-tuts and dry observations) ended his review with "All hail to 'Little Fugitive' and to those who made it. But count it a photographer's triumph with a limited theme." And he was mostly right, especially for us watching today: the triumph is the film's preservation of early-'50s NYC, particularly Coney Island, as the little boy--tricked by his older brother into thinking the little "tad," as Crowther put it, had murdered him--makes his way through a series of mild adventures, his fears forgotten in a world of shooting galleries, pony rides, and merry-go-rounds--after he collects empties and cashes them in. His adventures are slight, but that's the point: The Little Fugitive is one of a handful of movies that lowers the camera to see kidhood without condescension or (too much ) sentiment.
Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin wrote, photographed, directed and produced; the little boy, Joey, is played by a non-actor, Richie Andrusco (as was his brother). And aside from a few NYC stage actors, the rest of the cast plays itself: New York City, that is, and that Island that's as eager to please as Pinocchio's, but without donkeys.