Just got through watching a DVD set called The Films of Morris Engel, to re-watch one of my all-time favorites and enjoy the other two in the "series." It was also nice to share with them with my family. Engel was a renowned WWII and candid "slice of life" photographer who decided to capture the same kind of little moments of New York City life he had in his photography in a feature film (apparently despite the best advice of friends and "experts").

The resulting feature, Little Fugitive, is a powerhouse in its simple and evocative capture of '50s New York, particularly Coney Island. It went from a film nobody seemed to want to one of the most acclaimed independent films of all time, cited by Francois Truffaut as a conduit for French new wave cinema and added to the National Film Registry.

Disney connection: the film was cowritten by Raymond Abraskin, who with Jay Williams (also played the pony ride man), wrote the "Danny Dunn" books, which are credited on Son of Flubber. Also, look for Will Lee -- the beloved Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street -- as a photographer.

Engel provides a delightful, wry commentary on his landmark work, along with video features by Mary Engel, daughter of the director and his wife, Fugitive editor Ruth Orkin.

Orkin directed the "female version" of Little Fugitive, a romantic dramedy called Lovers and Lollipops. Now a grownup story is added to the antics of a small girl, the musical score is more than a solo harmonica (but still supplied by session musician and children's record artist Eddy Manson). Playing an unlikely make romantic lead is Gerald O'Loughlin, best known as the crusty but benign chief on TV's The Rookies.

Engel (and Orkin's) last feature is Weddings and Babies, the most elaborate of the three, with a bonafide star in the lead -- the luminous Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Playing the male lead is again an unlikely choice: John Myhers, who you've seen on dozens of movies and TV shows usually as an administrative figure, most notably in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His performance, though not quite as adroit as Lindfors', is touching and restrained. The story takes place in Little Italy during the festival and sizzles with authenticity.

In a summer blaring with special effects extravaganzas, what a refreshing change to cool down with three unpretentious gems. Sometimes a lack of budget results in special degree of creativity and ingenuity.

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