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Boys Town (1938)

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 »
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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:

Greater than the imagination of the best writers! 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

Production Co:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) See more »
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

Father Edward Flanagan, who died almost ten years after this movie was released, was the first person ever to live to see somebody win an Oscar for portraying him. 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

Dan Farrow: [panicky, about to die in the electric chair] How much time have I got, Father?
Father Edward J. Flanagan: Eternity begins in forty-five minutes, Dan.
Dan Farrow: What happens then?
Father Edward J. Flanagan: Oh, a bad minute or two.
Dan Farrow: And after that?
Father Edward J. Flanagan: Well, Dan, that's a question that scientists and philosophers have been asking for a million years.
See more »

Connections

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

Soundtracks

Silent Night, Holy Night
(1818) (uncredited)
Music by Franz Xaver Gruber
Lyrics by Joseph Mohr
In the score at Christmas
Sung a cappella by the Boys Town Acapella Choir
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A little too saintly to be entertaining
28 February 2002 | by Igenlode WordsmithSee all my reviews

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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