The Way of Beauty 'Little Boy Lost'

85a71fae 93a9 4418 a9df 416367aabd43

In September 1953, the movie "Little Boy Lost" starring Bing Crosby had its New York premiere to benefit the Overseas Press Club. 

Bosley Crowther wrote about it in the New York Times: ". . . [H]ere Mr. Crosby is playing a straight dramatic role in a picture of deep emotional content and genuinely tragic overtones.  Except for two or three songs that are worked in consistently, there are few other points of contact with the bright and chipper Bingle of old.  And yet it must be said for Mr. Crosby that he manages to convey a strong sense of real emotional torment in a tragically wracked character and that he serves as a credible buffer in a candidly heart-socking film. . ."

Glowing words, these.  But how many movie goers or even film buffs have heard of "Little Boy Lost," based on the Marghanita Laski novel by the same title.  It concerns a father in search of his young son from whom he was separated during World War II?  The black and white movie is very difficult to find in any format but is worth the search.  Owing to its outstanding cast, with Mr. Crosby's voice adding greater pleasure, it satisfies far more than the book.

Summary of "Little Boy Lost"

Bing Crosby plays William Wainwright, a World War II correspondent stationed in Paris.  There he meets, falls in love with, and marries a French singer, Lisa Garret (Nicole Maurey), a popular singer and, unknown to her husband,  a secret member of the French Resistance. Soon a boy, Jean, is born to them.  Assigned to report on the Battle of Dunkirk, Wainwright reluctantly leaves Lisa and the infant to cover the story.  

Red tape prevents his early return to Paris.  When he does, months later, he is stunned to learn that the Nazis executed Lisa. Many lyrics of her songs were encoded with secret messages to the Resistance, for example, "Mon Coeur est un violon."  Finding it impossible to accept her violent death, he goes into denial, descends into bitterness, and returns to America. 

The audience is given this information in a flashback as Wainwright, after the war, flies back to Paris in an effort to find his six-year old son (Christian Fourcade) who is reportedly living in a Catholic orphanage for young boys. The Mother Superior points out a scrawny-looking child, shy but intelligent, and he does resemble his mother. 

A skeptical Wainwright takes the word of the crusty Mother Superior (Gabrielle Dorziat) who conveys certitude the boy is his son. She cautions however that he ought not become too attached to Jean. Wainwright begins to test Jean's memory through a series of experiences aimed at arousing his very early childhood memories.  To advance the cause along, Mother Superior and others begin to create for the boy wrong memories about his childhood. 

On discovering this trick, Wainwright registers anger at all concerned, including Jean.  He arranges his return home to America without the boy.  Embarrassed by his own silly deceptions, the youngster abandons hope of ever coming to America with "Monsieur" Wainwright and has rejoined his class at the orphanage. 

Before departing Paris, Bill goes to the orphanage to leave for Jean a little stuffed dog he won at a local shooting gallery.  Little does he realize that, before Jean's tragic loss of his mother, he had played with a copy of this very same toy he named Binky. Wainwright leaves the package on Mother Superior's desk and tells her it's for Jean.  She sends for him.   "Pour moi," he asks?  She nods for him to open. He unties the string and sees the stuffed dog inside the brown paper. Instantly he cries out: "Binky, Binky!" He hugs and kisses the stuffed animal as he thinks that "Monsieur" Wainwright has found his long lost toy.  Jean's automatic recall brings the film to an emotional and happy conclusion with the certainty that Jean is Bill Wainwright's son. Happily, gratefully, father and son leave the orphanage hand in hand.

The Movie's Contemporary Application

The story has its modern counterpart for youngsters who have lost their fathers in war or in terrorism, in work-related tragedies, or divorce. Others have never known their absentee fathers. The details and times may be different, but the sentiments are the same.  Though the narrative may give some children an emotional outlet for grieving, it may be too painful to show those children whose fathers have been derelict in their paternal responsibilities. Discretion is advised.

Production of "Little Boy Lost"

In the Crosby constellation of accolades and awards, his many movies, radio and television programs, and vocal successes, "Little Boy Lost" shows the audience a side of him, not present elsewhere. He does sing a few songs-the familiar "Darktown Strutters' Ball" sung in French, "The Magic Window," and "Frère Jacques" and "Sur la Pont d'Avignon" with Jean. Delightful, all.

Here there is no avuncular, easy-going performance as Father Chuck O'Malley.  Neither do we see him as the straight man in the "Road" comedies nor as a wealthy "juke box" jazz composer in "High Society" nor even as an alcoholic in "The Country Girl." 

The making of "Little Boy Lost" assumed a dark coloration because it coincided with Crosby's drama in real life.  In September 1952, while filming the movie in Paris, he received the news that his wife Dixie Lee was terminally ill.  He returned to California to be with her and the family.  She died two months later.  

The grieving actor now attempted to complete the Paramount movie not in Paris but in Hollywood.  He had to face some of the most intense and painful scenes of the movie.  As the war correspondent, Bill Wainwright, he had not accepted his wife's death at the hands of the Nazis.  And Bill Wainwright was forced to listen to the official and brutal account of Lisa's murder read by a friend.  

More in The Way of Beauty

Bing Crosby wasn't simply playing the role of Bill Wainwright. In essence, he became Bill Wainwright. His taut facial features reveal intense, almost unbearable pain. But of course the audience has no clue of the drama that is taking place away from the camera.  Bing Crosby brought to this performance a new depth of penetrating emotion.


"Little Boy Lost" received the Golden Globe Award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding.  It was also entered into the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. 

Bing Crosby enjoyed a long and successful career on the America's screen, radio, and television, not to mention his sports and golf endeavors.  His teaming up with Bob Hope to entertain our troops fighting overseas is a matter of record.  "Little Boy Lost" ranks among Bing Crosby's unforgettable performances, and it shine an incandescent glow on his illustrious career as a star among the stars.

Image Credit: © Paramount Pictures. Non-free use rationale/fair use? via Wikipedia.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.