Director Norman Taurog’s Boy’s Town (1938) is the poignant tribute and inspirational story of Catholic priest, Father Edward J. Flanagan (Spencer Tracy). His inherent believe in the goodness of all boys compels him to create a hallowed place for wayward youth. As dramatically satisfying and all encompassing an entertainment as this film is, it pales in comparison to the hardships of the real Father Flanagan, though Slavko Vorkapich’s skilled use of montage helps to succinctly illustrate what some of those difficulties might have been.
The story opens with Flanagan attending an execution as the condemned’s spiritual guide. Flanagan cannot help but think how different this man might have turned out to if only his youth had been more satisfying. Flannigan’s resolve is further strengthened when he observes a small horde of boys brawling in the street. Three are apprehended by the police and sentenced to juvenile detention. But Flanagan pleads for the boys’ release into his custody.
Renting a broken down home with the aid of his friend, Dave Morris (Henry Hull), Flannigan begins developing a formula for turning demoralized youth into proud citizens. His task is not an easy one. Editor of the leading newspaper, John Hargraves (Jonathan Hale) thinks Flanagan big-hearted and empty-headed. He resolves to topple the priest’s ambitions at the first hint that the project is a failure.
That failure manifests itself in pint size roughneck, Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney). Having been sentence to life in prison, Whitey’s brother, Joe (Edward Norris) agrees to donate his entire life savings to Flanagan’s mission if he takes in his brother. But Whitey is defiant.
He quickly makes a nuisance of himself to everyone but the school’s youngest recruit, Pee-Wee (Bob Watson). However, when Pee-Wee is accidentally side-swiped by an automobile, Whitey blames himself and wanders away from Boy’s Town, inadvertently giving Hargraves the ammunition required to end Flannigan’s dream for a better tomorrow.
The story, maudlin in spots, is nevertheless galvanic entertainment. It succeeds in celebrating blind optimism within a world abysmally mired in its own rank cynicism.
Warner Home Entertainment gives us a fairly respectable DVD transfer. The gray scale exhibits deep blacks, excellent contrast levels and a minimal amount of age related artifacts. Grain can be excessive at times. There’s also the ever so slight hint of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details.
On the flip side of this disc is the sequel, Men of Boys Town (1941) an inconsequential, sloppy and syrupy film that reunites much of the cast. But Warner Home Video has done precious little to make this extra a welcomed one. The image quality throughout is well below Warner’s usual commitment to the classics – riddled in a barrage of distracting age related and digital artifacts that render the image virtually unwatchable. Extras also included an infomercial for the real Boy’s & Girl’s Towns of America and a vintage short subject on the real Father Flanagan.
This disc comes recommended for the original movie – not its sequel.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Boy's Town 4
Men of Boy's Town 3
Boy's Town 3.5
Men of Boy's Town 1.5