Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boys Town (1938)

Director: Norman Taurog


There are people that want desperately to help others and will dedicate their lives to the betterment of those in need. Boys Town celebrates one such man. Inspired by founder of the real life boys’ orphanage of Boys Town comes the tale of how a single person worked tirelessly at serving others. A sentimental tale about the goodness of men, Boys Town stars Spence Tracy and Mickey Rooney, aiding Tracy to achieving his second consecutive Oscar for Best Actor.

Boys Town is a dramatization of the founding of Boys Town, the orphanage for juvenile boys in Nebraska, and its pious leader who believes there is no such thing as a bad boy in the world. The humble and very sacrificial Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) is inspired to make a home for troubled boys, guiding these young individuals into the right direction in life before the evils of the world can corrupt there ways. Ever taking risks and with the charity of others Flanagan is able to found Boys Town, and lead it as a respected institution for growing boys.

Flanagan and Whitey butt heads as Pee Wee watches on.
Determined to help all such juveniles in need Flanagan is given the task of Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney) a streetwise teenager who refuses to accept the neat and clean ways of Boys Town. In tragedy Whitey believes his actions may have caused the death of a very young and well liked boy at the orphanage as he runs off and joins his criminal brother, Joe (Edward Norris) on the streets. Things become bleak for Boys Town financially and for Whitey as he is put in peril with Joe’s dangerous gang, but Flanagan and all of the other boys fight to rescue Whitey, saving both Whitey and Boys Town with the publicity of stopping the gang

A loosely inspired story of Boys Town is the muse of this tale as it becomes more of a semimetal film about a boy coming to terms with knowledge of what direction in life he must take. The feature is a fine picture which consists of large number of young actors in this moral play. Spencer Tracy’s Father Flanangan is the central character to the entire story, but it is Mickey Rooney whose performance of Whitey that becomes the focus of the real drama. The central core of the story is the founding of the institution of Boys Town and overcoming the deep finical trouble that hindered its existence. In all this somehow that focus turns to the idea that Father Flanagan finding his white whale in Whitey Marsh as he attempts to manifest that there is no such thing as a bad boy.

Little Pee Wee becomes a major part of the plot.
This sentimental movie stars Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney in the heights of their time with MGM. Directed by Norman Taurog these actors needed little inspiration to performing their role in the picture. Rooney was the biggest money draw in Hollywood at the time, and though his acting can be seen as over-the-top, his proper dramatic emotion was present when appropriately needed. His performance is somewhat overshadowed at times by the role of Pee Wee, played by 7 year old child actor Bob Watson, whose boyish innocence captured the essence of pure childish innocence. It is the near death of Pee Wee that creates the most drama for Whitey as he and the audience cry together over the tragedy of Pee Wee, who looked up to the flawed Whitey, being hit by a car in attempting to follow him.

Tracy’s stoic and guiding light as Father Flanagan would be the driving force of the overall picture. His quite, yet stern demeanor would earn him his second consecutive Oscar for Best Actor, the first in Academy Award history for that honor. In his acceptance speech Tracy dedicated the award to Father Flanagan, which the studio took upon itself, in publicity, to donate the statue to Boys Town in loving memory of the kind man that inspired the role. However Tracy still received a duplicate of the statue to keep, because, after all, he did earn it.

As Father Flanagan, Tracy wins his second Academy Award.
Critics loved the feature as the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture. Norman Taurog was nominated for best director, an award he won before in 1931 at the age of 37, which made him the youngest director to win the prize. Though he would not take home the statue, Taurog work on this picture earned him his next job as director of MGM’s mega-spectacle The Wizard of Oz. The new gig was shorted lived for the filmmaker, for after displaying poor film tests in early production Taurog was quickly removed from the director’s chair to make room for Victor Fleming as Taurog was reassigned to The Adventures of Tom Sawye,r displaying his skill at make juvenile pictures. Apart from Tracy’s Oscar, Boys Town also took home the award for Best Original Story, but failed to do so for Best Screenplay. (These two categories in the future would be replaced by the categories of Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.)

Not as recognizable is his supporting role is Henry Hull as the charitable pawn salesman that helps back Father Flanagan in his early days of Boys Town. Hull would be best recognized by his portrayal of the title character in the Universal horror Werewolf in London.

A successful motion picture at the box office Boys Town would grow to become a somewhat sentimental classic for some. In 1941 MGM would try their luck at a sequel bringing bake Tracy and Rooney as Father Flanagan and Whitey in Men of Boys Town. This film takes on a darker tone as it delves into the world of homelessness and the condition of the boys reform school. The sequel would be far less memorable despite being a large draw for 1941.

Contemporary audience watch Boys Town for its over-romanticizing of life as a young boy growing up, learning to co-exist with others, and coming to make choices that would set themselves down important paths in life. Spencer Tracy becomes the most notable part of the picture for becoming the first consecutive winner of an Academy Award for Best Actor. Ultimately the film is a tribute to those that want to make a difference and will do everything in their power to make the world a better place for those that are dealt a worse hand in life, believing every person deserves a good chance.

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