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Boys Town (1938)

Passed | | Biography, Drama | 9 September 1938 (USA)
When a death row prisoner tells him he wouldn't have led a life of crime if only he had had one friend as a child, Father Edward Flanagan decides to do something about. An advocate of child... See full summary »

Director:

Norman Taurog

Writers:

John Meehan (screenplay), Dore Schary (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
Reviews
Won 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Spencer Tracy ... Father Flanagan
Mickey Rooney ... Whitey Marsh
Henry Hull ... Dave Morris
Leslie Fenton ... Dan Farrow
Gene Reynolds ... Tony Ponessa
Edward Norris ... Joe Marsh
Addison Richards ... The Judge
Minor Watson ... The Bishop
Jonathan Hale ... John Hargraves
Bobs Watson ... Pee Wee
Martin Spellman ... Skinny
Mickey Rentschler ... Tommy Anderson
Frankie Thomas ... Freddie Fuller
Jimmy Butler ... Paul Ferguson
Sidney Miller ... Mo Kahn
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Storyline

When a death row prisoner tells him he wouldn't have led a life of crime if only he had had one friend as a child, Father Edward Flanagan decides to do something about. An advocate of child rights and an opponent of the severe approach to juvenile delinquency at the time, Flanagan genuinely believed that there is no such thing as a bad boy. Starting with just a few boys in a rented house, Father Flanagan eventually establishes Boys Town on 200 acres of land 10 miles outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Much of the film focuses on Flanagan's attempts to influence one boy, Whitey Marsh, who will become a hoodlum if he doesn't change his ways. When Whitey is implicated in a bank robbery, it puts all of Boys Town at risk. Throughout it all Flanagan has to fight prejudice in those who believe delinquents should just be locked up and the never ending shortage of money to accomplish his goals. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The greatest heart drama of the year. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Hebrew

Release Date:

9 September 1938 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Boys' Town See more »

Filming Locations:

Boys Town, Nebraska, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (DVD)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Color:

Black and White (Sepiatone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

There is rumored to be an alternative version of the Spencer Tracy Oscar story: "In February 1939, when he accepted his Oscar for the role, Spencer Tracy responded graciously by spending all of his acceptance speech talking about [Father Edward Flanagan]. 'If you have seen him through me, then I thank you'." An overzealous MGM publicity representative announced that Tracy was donating his Oscar to Flanagan, but did not confer with Tracy about it. Tracy's response was: "I earned the [*beep*] thing. I want it." The Academy hastily struck another inscription, Tracy kept his statuette, and Boys Town got one, too. It read: "To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy."" See more »

Goofs

In the march to the tavern, Tony is to the left in all but two shots when he is to the right. See more »

Quotes

Father Edward J. Flanagan: There is no such thing as a bad boy.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Valerie: A Night to Remember (1987) See more »

Soundtracks

A Hot Time in the Old Town
(1896) (uncredited)
Music by Theodore A. Metz
Played by the Boys Town Band
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Mickey Rooney saves the day
16 October 2004 | by mik-19See all my reviews

A lot of especially younger people today are going to despise 'Boys Town' for its unashamed sentimentality, and the objection is hard to contradict. Even the director Lasse Hallström who doesn't shy away from overt emotion in his movies would, I hope, steer away from some of the grosser clichés of this picture.

Having said that, I found 'Boys Town' truly engrossing. It is, of course, about Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) who sets up a self-governed community for wayward, homeless boys in Nebraska, a sort of humanitarian answer to the often brutal and authoritarian reformatories. Flanagan's biggest challenge proves to be Whitey (Mickey Rooney), tough and self-serving kid brother of a convicted felon. Though Flanagan repeatedly claims 'I only know one thing, There's no such thing as a bad boy", Whitey's surely testing his patience and ends up endangering the whole future of the enterprise.

Actually, and that came as a shock to me, Rooney's Whitey was the surprise of the movie. Whereas Tracy is going through the motions as the archetypal priest with a heart of gold, and whereas too many of the boys are acted with the sort of saccharine sweetness that must have been grating even in the mid- or late 1930s, Rooney is perfect. I myself never gave him credit for his versatility, his instinct and his willingness to take risks. From his initial streetwise swagger (when told that "On a clear day you can see all the way to Omaha", he retorts, "Yeah? THEN whadda ya got?") he gradually, so gradually as to be believable, evolves into a decent young chap. The scene in which he falls apart, because he believes he has caused the death of a hero-worshiping little boy, rings very true in its sobbing and crying earnestness. The director, alas, ends up destroying the honesty of the scene by applying scores of boys kneeling in fervent prayer, with a soprano soaring above them all.

All in all, 'Boys Town' ought to have been a whole lot better. Another director would have helped. It's a nice touch, though, to have the scrawny destitute kid hitch for a week to get to Boys Town only the night before it is destined to foreclose.

So, watch it for Rooney and the occasional touching ensemble scene.


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