The right ‘Engel’

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It might be the last summer for Astroland, but certain parts of Coney Island will live on forever. With the release of “The Films of Morris Engel with Ruth Orkin” earlier this month, Engel’s timeless film “Little Fugitive,” can be embraced by a new generation of fans.

Originally released in 1953, “Little Fugitive” (starring Richie Andrusco, at left) follows the adventures of a seven-year-old who runs away to Coney for a day and night of exploration and adventure. Engel, a Williamsburg-born filmmaker, and Orkin, his wife and collaborator — who sometimes worked as his editor — were notable figures in independent film, known for shooting films outside of the studio system and in real surroundings, often New York City.

“Going back to Coney Island for 80 minutes through the film, it’s magical,” said Park Sloper Mary Engel, the couple’s daughter. “It’s always mistaken for being a kids movie and it’s not. The story of the little boy and the magic of, back then, being able to be alone in Coney Island, people long for that.”

The film has been packed in a boxed set with two other Engel-Orkin classics, 1955’s “Lovers and Lollipops” and 1958’s “Weddings and Babies,” as well as two of Mary Engel’s short films — one looking at the life of each of her parents.

“I think both my parents would have been thrilled,” said Engel. “[The films] are wonderful, historical jewels of New York in the 1950s.”

“It’s just amazing. My father always thought people were confused about whether he was a photographer or a filmmaker, but he would say his life as a filmmaker couldn’t get any better,” said Engel. “Because ‘Little Fugitive’ had such an impact on people, the interest in it is just endless.”

“The Films of Morris Engel with Ruth Orkin” is available for rent at Video Forum (133 Seventh Ave. at Carroll Street in Park Slope). For information, or to purchase a copy of the film, $39.95, visit

Updated 4:01 pm, November 10, 2010
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