[Harp-L] movie review

Mick Zaklan mzaklan@xxxxx
Wed Feb 22 16:49:57 EST 2017

   Noticed my cable TV provider was offering "The Little Fugitive" as a
free movie (Turner Classic Movies), so I punched it up on the remote last
week.  Harmonica aficionados know the film for its musical soundtrack
consisting entirely of solo chromatic harmonica.  In fact, there could be
more harmonica in this motion picture than spoken dialogue!
   Now normally I wouldn't want to sit through 90 minutes of a frightened 7
year-old lost in Coney Island amusement park.  The budget for this 1953
movie was so minimal that they couldn't afford microphones or a sound
crew.  The film was shot with non-actors and every piece of dialogue, sound
effects, and harmonica was dubbed in later.
   But two things held my attention.  First off, the thing looked like
someone had given the brilliant street photographer Vivian Maier a motion
picture camera and turned her loose in 1950's New York City.  Secondly, the
Eddie Manson chromatic playing was spot-on in supporting the action being
shown and occasionally virtuosic in technique.  Most of these tiny
compositions were written by Eddie; probably off the chromatic
harmonica and played in a style you don't hear much of these days.  Lots of
rhythmic chording, lever embellishments, hand cupping, and thick vibrato.
The tones and colors Mr. Manson coaxed out of his instrument were, well,
gorgeous.  And some of the compositions made me think Eddie could have
penned a nice, extended piece if he had wanted.  Maybe he did and I don't
know about it.
   Historically, the film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Story) and is
cited by the legendary director Francois Truffaut as an inspiration for the
slew of low budget, self-financed art films know as the French New Wave.
Which in turn influenced a new group of American film directors.
   In short, a prestigious thing to have your name attached to.  Part of
Eddie's harmonica legacy to the rest of us.  If you get an opportunity;
give the movie a view and listen, even if only for a few minutes.
Especially if the chromatic harmonica is your main squeeze.  Mr. Manson is
largely forgotten today; overshadowed by names like Larry Adler, Blackie
Schackner, Tommy Reilly, and Tommy Morgan.  But he was a very impressive
player and I think his long-ago SPAH performance is still out there on
YouTube somewhere.

Mick Zaklan

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