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Against all odds Father Flanagan starts "Boys' Town" after hearing a convict's story. Whitey Marsh comes there. He runs away but, hungry, returns. He runs away again but, when friend Pee Wee is hit by a car, returns. He runs away and joins his brother's gang. Flanagan and the boys capture the crooks and the reward saves the town. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Theme Music of Boys Town
Music Traditional, from "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes"
Special Lyrics Anonymous
Played often in the Score
Sung by the Boys Town Acapella Choir at an Assembly See more »
The film takes a long time to get going - I almost gave up on it after the first half-hour. But mercifully, after the documentary-style and resolutely non-judgmental opening, "Boys Town" acquires a plot - and some sense of direction. The trigger for this is the introduction of the first character in the entire film who is allowed to be flawed. So far, everyone else has been shown to be either a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, a rascal with a heart of gold, or an unashamed saint; but Joe Marsh is a flashy and unrepentant young criminal.
He is not entirely beyond redemption, however. He loves his younger brother, who hero-worships him in turn and longs to emulate him; and it is doubtless a sad reflection on human nature that it is only with the arrival of strife in the Eden of Boys Town, in the shape of Joe and Whitey Marsh, that the film manages to become at all interesting.
What follows is a story that has been told many times before, from Louisa May Alcott's "Jo's Boys" onwards. This is the story of a rough boy who rebels against unaccustomed gentle surroundings and tries to corrupt his new world to match the one he knows, and whose ultimate saving grace is his protective love for a younger child.
The main problem for this film is the role of Father Flanagan, a thankless part for any actor. The man has - literally - no weaknesses, no human flaws, not even any self-doubt. His charm can apparently melt the hardest heart and conjure water out of a stone - or out of a hard-headed pawnbroker, which according to the script comes to the same thing. The man is too likeable to be 'insufferable'; but it was surely not the intention of the director that the audience should end up by willing Whitey to resist the priest's moral pressure, to shield his brother even at his own expense and that of his adopted community - and to be so pleased when the boy attempts to do so.
To be honest, I don't see that this part deserved to win an Oscar for Spencer Tracy - not because the actor played badly, but because the character as written simply doesn't present him with enough challenging material to demonstrate his craft. It is the child actors who play the various boys who deserved the real praise in this film. Ultimately I suspect Tracy's Oscar was an award aimed at rewarding the efforts of the *real* Father Flanagan rather than at his performance in this film.
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