The film was critically well received and is now in the public domain. In 2012 it was released on Blu-ray Disc by Kino Lorber, following a restoration by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.
Young Cedric "Ceddie" Errol (Freddie Bartholomew) and his widowed mother, whom he calls "Dearest" (Dolores Costello), live frugally in 1880s Brooklyn after the death of his father. Cedric's prejudiced English grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith), had long ago disowned his son for marrying an American.
The earl sends his lawyer Havisham (Henry Stephenson) to bring Ceddie to England. As the earl's sons are all dead, Ceddie is the heir to the title. Mrs. Errol accompanies her son to England, but is not allowed to live at Dorincourt castle. For Cedric's happiness, she does not tell him it is because of his grandfather's bigotry. The earl's lawyer is impressed with the young widow's wisdom. However, the earl expresses skepticism when Mr. Havisham informs him that Cedric's mother will not accept an allowance from him.
Cedric soon wins the hearts of his stern grandfather and everyone else. The earl hosts a grand party to proudly introduce his grandson to British society, notably his sister Lady Constantia Lorridaile (Constance Collier).
After the party, Havisham informs the Earl that Cedric is not the heir apparent after all. American Minna Tipton (Helen Flint) insists her son Tom (Jackie Searl) is the offspring of her late husband, the earl's eldest son. Heartbroken, the earl accepts her apparently valid claim, though Tom proves to be a rather obnoxious lad.
Fortunately for Ceddie, his friend Dick Tipton (Mickey Rooney) recognises Minna from her newspaper picture. He takes his brother Ben, Tom's real father, to England and disproves Minna's claim. The earl apologises to Ceddie's mother and invites her to live with the delighted Ceddie on his estate.
The cast of Little Lord Fauntleroy is listed at the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films.Freddie Bartholomew as Cedric "Ceddie" Errol, Lord Fauntleroy
Dolores Costello Barrymore as "Dearest" Errol
C. Aubrey Smith as the Earl of Dorincourt
Guy Kibbee as Mister Silas Hobbs
Henry Stephenson as Mister Havisham
Mickey Rooney as Dick Tipton, a Brooklyn bootblack
Una O'Connor as Mary, the Errols' servant
Constance Collier as Lady Constantia Lorridaile, Dorincourt's sister
Jackie Searl as Tom Tipton
Jessie Ralph as the Applewoman from Brooklyn
Helen Flint as Minna Tipton
Walter Kingsford as Mister Joshua Snade, Minna's lawyer
E. E. Clive as Sir Harry Lorridaile, Constancia's husband
Ivan F. Simpson as Reverend Mordaunt
Virginia Field as Miss Herbert, singer at party
Eric Alden as Ben Tipton, Dick's brother
UncreditedReginald Barlow as Mr. Newick, Dorincourt's debt collector
Lionel Belmore as Mr. Higgins, the farmer
Tempe Pigott as Mrs. Dibble, village woman
Gilbert Emery as Purvis, doorman of the castle
Joseph Tozer as Thomas, servant of the castle
May Beatty as Mrs. Mellon, chambermaid of the castle
Lawrence Grant as Chief of the Lord Justice
Robert Emmett O'Connor as the Policeman in Brooklyn
Elsa Buchanan as Susan, the parlor maid
Little Lord Fauntleroy was the first film produced by Selznick International Pictures, created by David O. Selznick when he left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While he was still at MGM Selznick purchased the rights to the story from Mary Pickford for $11,500 and secured the performance of his David Copperfield discovery, Freddie Bartholomew.
Ben Hecht, Richard Schayer and Selznick himself polished the screenplay commissioned from Hugh Walpole. Directed by John Cromwell, the film was shot during the last two months of 1935. Made within its budget of $500,000, the film's final cost was $590,000.
The film was released through United Artists after a world premiere March 4, 1936, at Foundation Hospital in Warm Springs, Georgia.
By 1939, Little Lord Fauntleroy earned an estimated profit of $447,000. It was Selznick International Pictures' most profitable film until Gone With the Wind.
Frank S. Nugent reviewed the film for the New York Times on April 3, 1936:
There is a benign aura about the photoplay, a mellow haze of things long past which should lull even the most adamant anti-Fauntlerite into a state of restful receptivity. This may be due to the period settings which have been contrived so handsomely, or to the performance of a perfectly attuned cast, or to Hugh Walpole's adaptation, or to John Cromwell's sentient direction. Whatever the cause, and it probably was the combination of all four, the picture has a way with it and, unless we are very much in error, you will be pleased."
Long in the public domain, Little Lord Fauntleroy was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc by Kino Lorber in 2012. The film was remastered by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, from Selznick's personal print.
"This Kino Classics release, while far from perfect, sources an original 35mm nitrate print resulting in a better than acceptable presentation," wrote DVD Talk. "And unless original film elements turn up, this is probably the best Little Lord Fauntleroy is going to look for the foreseeable future. Highly Recommended."2012: Kino Classics K914, UPC 738329091422