Freddie Bartholomew Lords it up
I remember as a young boy being given a book with the story of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" in it, I only read a couple of pages as it didn't appeal to me. And to be honest I expected to feel the same when I sat down to watch the 1936 version of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" but strangely and I do mean strangely I found it quite captivating. Being an old movie there are tendencies for overly melodramatic acting and it feels a little hammy at times but get past that and I have to say not only is the story of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" entertaining but so is the movie.
Following the death of his English father Cedric 'Ceddie' Erroll (Freddie Bartholomew) lives with his mother in Brooklyn where despite his very posh voice has befriended boot boy Dicky Tipton (Mickey Rooney - Night at the Museum) and local grocer Mr. Hobbs (Guy Kibbee). Unbeknown to Ceddie his grandfather is the Earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith - The Four Feathers) who disowned Ceddie's father when he married an American but with the Earl's remaining son dieing he sends for Ceddie and his mother to come and live in England where the young boy will become his heir Lord Fauntleroy. Despite Dorincourt being a cantankerous old man who won't even speak to Ceddie's mother the young boy soon brings out a nicer side in his grandfather who adores his new grandson. But will a fly in the ointment end up spoiling things.
So "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1886 novel and is just one of a few movies which have been made from this story. Now part of the reason why when I was given the story to read that I didn't enjoy it was that the name Fauntleroy meant to be a toffee nosed kid in a purple outfit and that just wasn't my sort of thing. But the movie is much more than that and is a charming tale of this ever so nice, in fact sickly nice young boy called Ceddie whose pleasantness has an amazing reaction on those he meets. That reaction extends to his cantankerous grandfather he's never met but goes through a transformation in the company of this young man. This half of the story is rather idealistic as we watch the Earl of Dorincourt basically become a kind hearted man but it is so sweet and charming that you end up not minding.
Of course Ceddie's amazing effect on those around him isn't the whole of the story as due to the death of his father and no other heirs he is to be the next Lord Fauntleroy and as his grandfather doesn't like his mother it causes issues. But there are more issues including the sudden appearance of another young boy who it appears has more right to claim the title. For those who don't know the story will find it quite easy to work out what will happen and most likely workout how but it doesn't actually hurt it being quite obvious because it still maintains that level of charm especially as we end up warming to the relationship which forms between Ceddie and his grandfather.
As for the acting well initially I disliked Freddie Bartholomew as Ceddie partly because he sounded too posh and was just too polite, as well as the fact he calls his mother dearest was just creepy, but Bartholomew grew on me and like the storyline he delivers plenty of charm but also gets us to sympathise with his character. It is in fact a rather good performance from the young actor delivering the over the top niceness but also the child behind it even if he does resort to some serious melodramatic acting.
And to be honest everyone puts in a good performance from Mickey Rooney as boot boy Dick Tipton through to Dolores Costello Barrymore who plays Dearest even if every single actor resorts to over acting. But it is C. Aubrey Smith as Earl of Dorincourt who really impresses because his characterisation of a grumpy old man is amusing but still manages to bring us into him allowing us to like him especially as we watch him bond with his grandson. It's a wonderful performance which whilst not a great performance really stands out.
What this all boils down to is that "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is a surprisingly charming little movie which on paper doesn't sound that appealing but ends up remarkably entertaining. It is all rather obvious whether you know the story or not and it is blighted by far too much melodramatic acting but the warmth it delivers and the charm is what carries it and turns it into a pleasant experience rather than the painful one expected.