Boys Town

1938, Movie, NR, 96 mins


One of the more overrated films of its era. Not surprisingly one of MGM tyrant Louis B. Mayer's favorite films, this sentimental wallow dramatizes the real-life story of Father Edward Flanagan, founder of the famous Boys Town for errant youths. What sounds like ideal "truth is stranger than fiction" material, with inspiration to boot, comes across as stilted, overly sanctimonious moralizing. Father Flanagan's efforts against incredible obstacles vanish with a magic flourish of the scriptwriter's pen, and the generally reliable Tracy, one of the most talented and engaging actors of his day, compounds these errors with a performance dripping with piety. Tracy always claimed that his Oscar for Best Actor here belonged to Flanagan (he even sent the priest his statuette); the Academy should have bypassed the actor entirely and simply donated the crockery to Flanagan for his humanitarian activities. The soft-focus closeups of the film's star weren't needed to soften Tracy's likably craggy features; they were there to canonize the film's hero with a phony cinematic halo. Director Taurog, a competent but unimaginative contract man, was chosen for this epic because of his past success with child actors. Credit the electrifying 18-year-old Mickey Rooney with lending some edge to a picture that is soft, soft, soft. Also highly effective is the genuinely sweet child actor Bobs Watson, able to turn on the tears without batting an eyelid. Too respectful of its subject matter, BOYS TOWN is well-crafted and smoothly paced, probably most entertaining for those who can down maple syrup without benefit of pancakes. Nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, the film won an Oscar for Best Original Story. leave a comment

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