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One of my all time favorite flicks is 'Little Fugitive' which was a major
inspiration on the French New Wave. 'Lovers and Lollipops' is from the
filmmakers. It is not as immediately novel as 'Little Fugitive' but just as
satisfying overall. It is about the burgeouning romance between a
widow (Ann) and an old friend (Larry) and the angle from which Anne's 8
old daughter Peggy sees this significant event. Peggy becomes a force to
reckoned with, sometimes charming and often annoying the hell out of Larry,
who knows he has to win over the daughter's heart as well as the mother's.
This might seem cliche, but the way it is handled by Engel and Orkin, is
anything but, even to this day.
The semi-documentary style is absolutely fabulous and very much influenced by Italian Neo-Realism. The outlook of Engel and Orkin, however, is very far from Rossellini's or DeSica's. It is non-cynical and quintessentially 'American.' Yet for all that it is not fake and romantic in a harmful way. It is simply the other side of the coin without any mawkish embellishments and nonsense. There is, in addition, an authentic feel for the characters and what it was like to live in New York at this time. In fact, there are shots and scenes in this movie that are some of the most poetic I've ever seen anywhere. The long shot at the museum, for example, where the maxim 'comedy is life in long shot' is brought home so effectively; or the scene where Peggy is mouthing all the words Larry is reading her and Larry realizing this, speeds up his reading, making her laugh uncontrollably. The romance between Ann and Larry, though on the surface a perfect match, is handled with maximum care and made authentic at every turn. The seeds of what might become its undoing are made apparent at every stage, especially with regards to Peggy, who almost succeeds in breaking it up.
Overall, a definite MUST SEE, especially for anyone interested in authenticity in 1950s American films, something you will not find in 99.9% of period Hollywood product.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like their earlier "The Little Fugitive", this sweet family drama is
quite delightful exploration into "reality cinema". I had heard of this
film before, but other than the title and its stars (Lori March and
Gerald S. O'Laughlin) I knew nothing about it. I was delighted to find
it in the New York Public Library, released on DVD by Kino as part of a
double bill with another "reality cinema" film, "Weddings and Babies".
"Lovers and Lollipops" is undoubtedly the better of the two, but unlike
its predecessor by the same creators, "The Little Fugitive", featured
actors whose names may be familiar to those of us who study film,
television and theatre as a whole. I knew the name of Lori March from
my research on daytime soaps; She has appeared on a dozen New York
based serials, most notably "The Secret Storm" as matriarch Valarie
Ames, as well as regular, recurring or guest parts on other soaps. I
recalled her from "One Life to Live" during Vicki's 1987 trip to
heaven, playing the spirit of her mother, and later, in the recurring
role of Jackson Freemont's socialite mother on "Guiding Light". Her
beau is played by Gerald S. O'Laughlin, a busy character actor probably
best known from "The Rookies".
The story is a simple and often told one; An attractive widow (March) with a young daughter (Cathy Dunn) falls in love and faces issues with the daughter who is upset by the romance. But it's not for the usual reasons here. The child is no ordinary screen brat. She has had her mother to herself and now finds competition with this new man whom she likes but must get used to. He is desperate to get her love and buys her presents from all over the famous spots of New York City. She doesn't throw tantrums or act bratty; In fact, she seems to want attention from him as much as she wants it from her mother. They must try to balance out her desire for individual attention from each and convince her that nothing will change if the two marry.
The narrative is sweet and simple, and the New York photography, like in "The Little Fugitive", is another character in the story. They not only frequent Coney Island (the scene of "The Little Fugitive"), but go to the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty. This isn't some travelogue like MGM's old "Traveltalks" shorts. New York has millions of stories, and not all of them are about criminals or showgirls. Real people reside in every borough, and "Lovers and Lollipops" is about three of them who are truly human and real. March (in her only film role) is a beautiful and capable leading lady. She's much more believable than many other movie and TV mothers, not perfect, but yet human and loving. She's a widow worth pursuing, and O'Laughlin's character knows that the slight conflict with young Dunn is worth fighting in order to win her. Dunn, fortunately, is not grasping or annoying in any sense; I have many issues with how most children were (and still are) presented on screen. They are either too perfect or too bratty, and Dunn falls somewhere in between. She has a brief mood swing which makes her momentarily annoying but like most children, she falls out of that mood into doing what makes us love children all the more. In the year of "The Bad Seed", this is refreshing to see on film.
Some people might find the documentary style photography more appropriate for a TV anthology show, but it works here. It has the feel of what filmmakers were doing in Europe at the time, and adds to the artistry of its creators. Like "The Little Fugitive" was perfect for children in learning to love their siblings unconditionally, this is perfect for families, especially those with only one parent who might one day re-marry.
"Lovers and Lollipops" has some nice little moments and some terrific photography but, overall, this film pales in comparison to that other GREAT Morris Engel/Ruth Orkin collaboration, "Little Fugitive." "L&L" is the story of Ann, a widow, and her seven year old daughter, Peggy, living alone in New York City. Enter (or re-enter) Larry, "an old friend" of Ann. This film is their courtship leading up to marriage and the strains of this relationship on little Peggy. Engel and Orkin's approach to movie-making seems to be to take such a simple storyline as this and try to get some poignant moments in the simplicty. The method worked very well in "Little Fugitive," but here the "moments" are few. Perhaps because in "L&L" we're watching, for the most part, adults we need something more complex to make them interesting. "Little Fugitive," however, was almost entirely about a boy wandering through Coney Island: as simple a scenario as can be, and the results are brilliant. One of the great moments in "L&L": little Peggy eating a handful of lollipops in the sand at the beach. If you're a student of film, or a fan of photographer Ruth Orkin's work, this will appeal to you for study's sake. But if you're just a movie fan looking for entertainment, pass this one by. Rating: 5/10.
Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin were an odd team. Together they made "The
Little Fugitive" and "Lovers and Lollipops". The only other credit
either had was Engels' "Weddings and Babies". Their films appeared
rather rough compared to a Hollywood production--using actors who were
often non-professionals or budding actors in natural settings--much
like the Italian Neo-Realist films. While folks like Truffaut loved
their films and felt they helped lead to the French New Wave movement,
in the States they were less warmly received and their careers were
soon over in film.
"Lovers and Lollipops" is the less famous collaboration from this team. It stars two folks who later would be familiar faces on TV and in films (Lori March and Gerald S. O'Loughlin). The child was played by Cathy Dunn and it was her only screen appearance.
As for the look of the film, the camera-work has a decidedly non-professional look to it--like they are using a high quality home camera. The sound was okay, but it had a sound as if it was dubbed in, a bit rough, later. Now these really aren't complaints--more a explanation for how the film appeared technically--like a truly independent film. And the music, though not bad, is VERY repetitive.
The film involves a widow with a young child. She has met a nice man and is in love--but there is the child to think of. So, as the man and woman date, they take the child places with them in New York--and it looks like a home movie of some ordinary folks who, frankly, aren't that interesting. Nor, for that matter, is the child. The film just seems to go on and on...and my wife, who was watching it with me, started insisting that 'we'd seen ENOUGH of this dull film'. Well, I have a very high tolerance for all kinds of films, but after a while I agreed--the film was going no where and I didn't want my wife to leave me! So, we both agreed, just before the film ended, to turn it off, as life is too short to watch dull little films like this. I appreciate that the folks did a lot with what they had (which was almost nothing) but they needed more of a script. I say they should have kidnapped or killed the kid...SOMETHING to give the viewer a reason to stick with this one.
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