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Mr. and Mrs. Maitland invite Whitey to their home on a trial basis. Whitey tries to visit a friend in reform school and inmate Flip is hiding in car as Whitey leaves. Flip steals money and both boys go to reform school. Father Flanagan exposes the conditions in the school and the boys are released to him. Ted's dog is killed but Ted can walk. The Maitlands work to pay off the debts threatening Boys Town. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MEN OF BOYS TOWN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1941), directed by Norman Taurog, is a worthy offering to the highly successful BOYS TOWN (1938), that reunites its original cast consisting of Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Sidney Miller. Aside from the difference in time frame where some of the boys have now grown to become the men of Boys Town, only the Dave Morris character, originally enacted by the thin, middle-aged Henry Hull, now played by the younger yet studier Lee J. Cobb. Taken from an original screenplay by James K. McGuinness, the theory of "There's no such thing as a bad boy" continues as Father Flanagan resumes his mission through faith in miracles while helping troubled youths with the assistance of a former delinquent himself, Whitey Marsh.
The sequel unfolds as Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), newspaper editor, shortwave radio operator and mayor of Boys Town, arranges a welcoming home committee for Dave Morris (Lee J. Cobb), the pawnbroker responsible for helping Father Edward Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) financially in making Boys Town for him a reality. Being away a year, Dave finds the only thing that remains consistent is Father Flanagan's financial problems, now being heavily in debt of $200,000 for the construction of extra dormitories. Good deeds continue as Father Flanagan attends the murder trial of Ted Martley (Larry Nunn - in a sensitive performance), now paralyzed with a broken back thanks to the brutal guard he shot in the reformatory. With the prison sentence suspended by the judge (Addison Richards) Father Flanagan assumes responsibility for the troubled teen by taking him to where there are no high walls or guards to hold anyone prisoner, that being Boys Town. Due to Ted's bitter attitude, Father Flanagan's only hope by making the boy to at least smile actually comes not from the boys but from a do (belonging to the visiting Mrs. Maitland (Mary Nash), chairman of the State Parole Board, and her husband (Henry O'Neill)) given to him by Whitey. The Maitlands agree to offer the dog ("Beau Hunk" ) to Ted with the possibility of adopting a boy of their own, their selection being Whitey. Whitey leaves Boys Town on a trial basis for the high living with the Maitlands. Changes occur when Whitey, as a favor to Ted, comes to Marysports Reform School to visit with his friend, Miles Fenley. Because of his association with Flip Dwyer (Darryl Hickman), a juvenile reform school escapee he tries to help, rather than being a visitor, Whitey ends up as the reform school's inmate instead under the clutches of a corrupt cigar smoking superintendent (Ben Weldon) and brutal guard (Arthur Hohl) handy with the wooden club.
Regardless of Spencer Tracy's second go-round as the kind-hearted Father Flanagan, it is Mickey Rooney, in between film roles of the "Andy Hardy" film series and Judy Garland musicals, who's honored with the most screen time. No longer the delinquent introduced in BOYS TOWN, his Whitey Marsh becomes more beneficial to Father Flanagan's cause and teachings. On the amusing side, Rooney does a "Slow Motion Wrestling Match" done in slapstick violence with cartoonish sound effects in the tradition of The Three Stooges. This particular sequence was often edited from television broadcasts in the 1960s and 70s so to fit in the commercial breaks during a two hour time slot of a 107 minute movie presentation.
While the third-billed moon-faced Bobs Watson (Pee-Wee) continues the tradition by playing "find the candy in my office" game with Father Flanagan, it is Darryl Hickman's junior tough guy performance who draws most of the attention from the cast. As a juvenile delinquent who marvels in performing stick-ups, talking tough, and reading crime magazines, he goes on with his bad boy reputation at Boys Town by "taking candy from a baby," the "baby" being Pee-Wee. In a cross between humor and tear inducing sentiment, there's plenty more scene stealing antics provided by Hickman, Paaa-lenty!
As much as the situations provided in the screenplay might come across as contrived, a moral message is brought out through some of its passages, mainly that "things happen for a reason, and how even the most tragic results do resolve into something positive." Although there was no third installment to Father Flanagan's story of Boys Town, RKO Radio did attempt its own similar theme of FIGHTING FATHER DUNNE (1948) featuring Pat O'Brien as the kindly priest who takes in and cares for homeless boys, one played by non-other than the teen-aged Darryl Hickman.
Distributed to home video in the 1990s, MEN OF BOYS TOWN can be found on DVD as a flip side package to its predecessor, BOYS TOWN, or through occasional cable broadcasts on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
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