Thursday, September 08, 2016

cinema obscura: George Seaton's "Little Boy Lost" (1953)

George Seaton's hugely affecting "Little Boy Lost," one of the most impressive and personal films in star Bing Crosby's screen career, remains lost.  It is one of several black-&-white Paramount titles from the 1950s that have remained neglected on some shelf at the studio.

Shot on location in Paris in 1953 with a gritty feel for the place, Seaton's film - based on a novel of the same title by Marghanita Laski - is a wartime drama of dislocation, loss and regret, all of which are summed up in Crosby's poignant performance as Bill Wainwright, a star journalist - a major American correspondent (think Edward R. Murrow) stationed in Paris during World War II.

While there, he meets a singer Lisa Garret, played by Nicole Maurey, and they marry and have a son, named Jean.

Bill's work takes him to Dunkirk for a long stretch and, when he returns to Paris, neither his wife nor his little boy (Christian Fourcade) is there. Lisa has been murdered by the Nazis and Jean is homeless, stranded somewhere. Perhaps in an orphanage. After a stressful seach, that's exactly where Bill finds Jean but too much time has gone by.  He's uncertain if this Jean is his son or another sad little lost boy.

This remains a question that haunts Bill, one exacerbated by his grief over the loss of his wife. The boy needs a family.  Bill needs a son.  Does it matter that this little boy may not be his?  Writer-director Seaton is sensitive to this idea and his movie's resolution of it is entirely satisfying without ever pandering or being contrived.

 "Little Lost Boy" earns its tears.

And it certainly helps that the film feels more like a European production than a shiny big-studio effort - a quality that Seaton, as writer-director, brought to another compelling WW 2 film from Parmount, 1962's "The Counterfeit Traitor," starring William Holden and Lili Palmer.

Note in Passing: Crosby and Maury would be romantically teamed again seven years later in Blake Edwards' campus lark, "High Time" of 1960.


Dorothea said...

I remember this film and I remember admiring it but I saw it so long ago on a small TV set decades ago that my memory of it is dim. I'd like to see it again.

Denise said...

sounds incredible. Where can I find it?

kiki said...

I am stunned about Little Boy Lost which I have never seen/heard of, I have long felt that Crosby was one of the world's major talents -- as it was mentioned in a PBS doc "the first white man to sing jazz." Yes, he may have been a son of a bitch, done stupid movies with Hope (who never made me laugh) but, gracious me, he had IT.

Daryl Chin said...

LITTLE BOY LOST was one of those Paramount productions which somehow has not seen the light of day in the last few decades, but in the 1960s, it was on TV quite a lot (another Paramount film similarly unavailable is HOT SPELL, with Shirley Booth, Anthony Quinn, and Shirley MacLaine). LITTLE BOY LOST is one of those films where you know the ending is going to be wrenching (reminiscent of the ending of THE SEARCH, and pointing to the climax of Ford's TWO RODE TOGETHER), but it's still effective.

The only note is that the leading lady is Nicole Maurey was one of the stars of Bresson's DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST. Bresson always claimed that DIARY was the film in which he started to work with non-professionals, but that was always a lie. The three women (the Countess, her daughter Chantal, and the governess Louise) were all played by professional actresses - Nicole Maurey played Louise. Bresson had such an exalted reputation that he would make pronouncements on his films, and people would take him at his word. Why this is, i don't know, since it's obvious that he liked to stretch the truth.

joe baltake said...

Daryl- Funny that you should reference Paramount's "Hot Spell." I've been meaning to write about it for quite some time. What's odd is that, of all of Shirley MacLaine films, it was the one that was showcased in Garry Marshall's "Valentine's Day." In it, she plays a retired movie actress who attends an outdoor screening of one of her old films - and it's "Hot Spell." Why that film, which hasn't been seen or available for years? Even odder is that Paramount was not involved in "Valentine's Day" in any capacity whatsoever. -J

Marvin said...

I hope one day to see Little Boy Lost. Loved loved loved your description/analysis of the film.

By the way, Nicole Maurey never achieved the "fame" some people thought that she would achieve, did she? I know she was in both ME AND THE COLONEL and THE BOLD AND THE DRIVE (two more lost films).

And too bad HOT SPELL is also lost.

a.n. said...

During the search for the boy, I believe he refers to the orphan as "Boo-Boo" at one point! Great inside joke!

jbryant said...

I always meant to catch LITTLE BOY LOST when it was on TV fairly often years ago, but never made the time. Nicole Maurey was so gorgeous in DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST that I would welcome any opportunity to see her again (I think the only other times I saw her were in THE SCAPEGOAT and THE VERY EDGE). Best performance in COUNTRY PRIEST though was by Nicole Ladmiral, who sadly committed suicide in 1958 while still in her '20s.