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Already in trouble with the law, Arthur and his friend Nutty break into a drugstore to get medicine for Nutty's grandmother. The druggist's wife, Mrs. Doray, asks for custody. When he hears them arguing over him, Arthur runs away. When he returns Mr. Doray is being held up by bandits at the drugstore. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Washington, I'm going to let you go, but I want you to promice me never to take anything that doesn't belong to you. And I don't want to see you ever in this courtroom again.
Washington Lincoln Jackson:
How come, Judge? You gonna quit?
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YOUNG America (Fox, 1932), directed by Frank Borzage, is not a motion picture about early American settlers in the days prior to George Washington becoming the first United States president. It's basically a Depression era story not so much about "boys from all walks of life," or "young America at the crossroads," but on one individual teen with the stigma of being "the worst kid in town." Though the film stars Spencer Tracy in his pre-MGM days (1935-1954)during his five years (1930-1935) at the Fox Studios, YOUNG America very much belongs to a young American youth by the name of Tommy Conlon, who not only resembles a teenage Johnny Sheffield (Boy from the "Tarzan" movie series of the 1940s), but does such a remarkable job with his performance. Quite amazing that Conlon didn't follow this one with further leading roles or possibly loan-out assignments to Warner Brothers where similar films of this nature (1933s "The Mayor of Hell") were produced. Then again, not every kid actor gets to have an extended movie career lasting several decades in the manner of a Mickey Rooney for instance, but here's a look back at Tommy Conlon as the worst kid in town and how environment of a broken home is said to be the reason boys become the way they are.
"Young America" opens with a ten minute segment set in juvenile court where the much laid-back Judge Blake (Ralph Bellamy), sans his dark robe, sitting in a very relaxing manner, while individually listening to testimonies on what took place leading to such boys as Charlie, Freddie O'Neil, Washington Lincoln Jenkins, and Sam, in his courtroom. Seated next to the judge is Edith Doray (Doris Kenyon), gathering information for the Woman's Club. The last boy to face Judge Blake is Arthur Simpson (Tommy Conlon), an orphan raised by his unsympathetic aunt, Mary Taylor (Sarah Padden, raising three younger children of her own. Because Arthur is constantly in trouble, whether being his fault or not, his aunt later address the judge as he being a "worthless good-for-nothing brat," and would have nothing more to do with him. Aside from getting into an after school fight with a bully, "Bull" Butler (Spec O'Donnell) for annoying Mabel Saunders (Dawn O'Day, later Anne Shirley), and for calling his friend, Edward "Nutty" Beamish (Raymond Borzage) "four eyes" for wearing glasses, Arthur gets suspended from school by his teacher (Jane Darwell). Arthur, age 13, who steals cars as well as driving them around town, finds comfort in the home of Nutty's grandmother (Beryl Mercer), who cares for him as if he were her own grandson. Of the boys she's seen in the courtroom, Mrs, Doray takes a special interest in Arthur, especially after he saves her dog from getting run over by a truck. As a reward, she talks her husband, John (Spencer Tracy), into giving him a job in his drug store after school for $6 a week. As much as Mr. Doray dislikes Arthur, treating him as all the others as a juvenile delinquent who'll never amount to anything but jail, he finds himself taking custody of the now homeless teen in his home at the request of his wife who feels "there's no such thing as a bad boy." Because of this, their once happy marriage becomes a troubled one. With one thing leading to another, and going against the judge's probation period, it becomes an uncertainty whether Arthur will ever be placed in a loving home or in a reform school.
Based on a play by John Frederick Ballard, YOUNG America was reportedly filmed before in the silent era sometime in 1918 and theatrically released around 1922 featuring Charles Frohman-Everett as Arthur Simpson. 20th Century-Fox would reuse the title of YOUNG America for its 1942 second feature release starring Jane Withers and Jane Darwell, but with a different storyline entirely. Yet, this edition of YOUNG America is made interesting largely due to the lead casting of Spencer Tracy and/or direction of Frank Borzage, possibly the reason for it being taken from film vaults and distributed to DVD (with Borzage's other 1932 release of AFTER TOMORROW starring Charles Farrell and Marion Nixon on its flip side).
For its notable quote of "There's no such thing as a bad boy," used much later by Spencer Tracy for his Academy Award winning performance as Father Flanagan in BOYS TOWN (MGM, 1938) and its sequel, MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941), indicates that line did not originate from BOYS TOWN after all. With Tracy's Father Flanagan being sympathetic and helping troubled youths of America in those films, he's quite the opposite here, with his wife, lovingly played by Doris Kenyon, who sticks to her principles. An honorable mention goes to Raymond Borzage, the director's son, in a believable and most natural performance as Arthur's pal, "Nutty," an intellectual with weak eyes (hence the thick glasses) whose hobby is inventing things. Others in the cast include Robert Homans (Patrolman Weems); William Pawley and Eddie Sturgis. Look quickly for Louise Beavers briefly spotted in a non-speaking role as the Doray maid.
Sentimental and at times melodramatic in the Frank Borzage tradition, YOUNG America is definitely worth seeking, and certainly one for the time capsule from Hollywood's golden age. (**1/2)
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