So you can imagine that during my formative years, my understanding of what the 1938 film Boys Town was about was pretty far from the mark.
Boys Town is the true-ish story of a real man, Father Edward Flanagan (Spencer Tracy), a penniless Catholic priest who -- through an incredibly shrewd combination of bargaining and guilt-tripping -- scrounges money, furniture, food, and just about everything else in order to start a progressive orphanage called Boys Town, prompted from a death row inmate's final words about his youth.
It's a far cry from the grim institutions of the day. Boys Town is built on the idea that young people are people first, and they just need a little guidance and help. Everyone is free to leave whenever they want. They even elect a mayor from their midst, and they have a working penal system, too. Into this mix comes Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), a gangster wannabe who throws the biggest wrench into Boys Town yet. Flanagan has a difficult time reaching Whitey, but eventually he'll come around... or will he?
Boys Town is a very warm movie full of emotion and -- plain and simple -- good advice for anyone dealing with a problem child. Tracy is the father figure -- and the father -- that everyone will wish they'd had. He's also just a great actor who turns in a perfect performance here; in fact, he won the Oscar for the role, his second (and final) win, despite a career that would span another 30 years.
Rooney is less impressive. He's frankly a nuisance, and though the character calls for some of that, Rooney hadn't matured enough as an actor to handle this tricky role. In fact, he's the worst of the dozens of kids who have speaking parts in the film, all overacting and emoting that's straight outta summer stock.
Still, Boys Town is a watershed film that discusses an important societal development. The DVD includes the 1941 sequel, Men of Boys Town, as well as a promo about the real Boys Town -- now called, of course, Girls and Boys Town.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th September 1938
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Norman Taurog
Producer: John W. Considine Jr.
Screenwriter: John Meehan, Dore Schary
Starring: Mickey Rooney as Whitey Marsh, Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Henry Hull as Dave Morris, Bobs Watson as Pee Wee, Edward Norris as Joe Marsh, Leslie Fenton as Dan Farrow, Gene Reynolds as Tony Ponessa, Addison Richards as The Judge, Minor Watson as The Bishop, Jonathan Hale as John Hargraves, Martin Spellman as Skinny, Mickey Rentschler as Tommy Anderson, Frankie Thomas as Freddie Fuller, Jimmy Butler as Paul Ferguson, Sidney Miller as Mo Kahn
Also starring: Dore Schary
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