Monday, January 3, 2011

Boys Town

I finally got around to ordering Christmas in Connecticut (1945) with Barbara Stanwyck.  Great film, don't miss it.  The DVD package I ordered included the 1938 movies A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen, and Boys Town starring Spencer Tracy.  Little did I know that Boys Town was on a double sided DVD and Men of Boys Town (1941) was on the flip side. 

Just to freshen your memory, Boys Town is the story of Father Flanagan (1886 - 1948) who started an orphanage in Nebraska.  I guess that doesn't sound very exciting, does it?  Mickey Rooney adds plenty of excitement.  The movie depicts Rooney as a boy on his way to delinquency, and Flanagan's attempt to save him.

The energy that Rooney brought to the role is amazing.  Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, and I believe he deserved it, but you should see the way Rooney handles his part.  Boys Town also won the Oscar for Best Writing and was nominated for three others, including Best Picture and Best Director.

It is said that some of the residents of Boys Town were actors in the film.  The main roles were played by actors, and Rooney wasn't the only standout.  The real Boys Town A Cappella Choir does appear in concert.

I particularly liked Pee Wee played by Bobs Watson (1930 - 1999).  Bobs was his father's nickname for him, so he wouldn't be confused with Bobby Watson (1888 - 1965) another actor of the era.  Bobs has 54 titles on film and TV, and he eventually became a minister, while continuing to act.  In 1941 he reprised his role as Pee Wee in the sequel, Men of Boys Town

Rooney's older brother (and bank robber) Joe Marsh was played by veteran actor Edward Norris (1911 - 2002).  Norris' first movie was Queen Christina (1933) starring Greta Garbo.  Norris went on to play in 87 titles through the 1950s and on TV into the early 1960s.  Most of his movie roles were in B pictures.  He was a solid Bit Actor. 

Another wonderful actor is Henry Hull (1890 - 1977) who played Flanagan's friend, Dave Morris.  Hull has 111 titles on his list.  I knew I had seen him before, and then I saw some of his titles; Stanley and Livingston (1939), Babes in Arms (1939), High Sierra (1941), and Lifeboat (1944).  All great movies with great leading stars. 

Maybe there was a little over acting in Boys Town, but it was made in 1938, when drama was very important and there were a lot of child actors to use.  Tracy excels in his understated performance, a complete opposite to the frenetic performance by Rooney.  No matter, you should see this film.

Boys Town is still in existence in Nebraska and other locations around the country, serving over 21,000 boys and girls directly, and helping over 1.4 million every year through their services.  In 1984 the Village of Boys Town was designated a National Historic Landmark District.

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