Boys Town (film)

Boys Town (film)
Boys Town

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by John W. Considine Jr.
Written by Dore Schary
Eleanore Griffin
John Meehan
Starring Spencer Tracy
Mickey Rooney
Henry Hull
Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Editing by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) 9 September 1938 (1938-09-09)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Boys Town is a 1938 biographical drama film based on Father Edward J. Flanagan's work with a group of disadvantaged and delinquent boys in a home that he founded and named "Boys Town". It stars Spencer Tracy as Father Edward J. Flanagan, and Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, Gene Reynolds, Edward Norris, and Addison Richards.

The film was written by Dore Schary, Eleanore Griffin and John Meehan, and was directed by Norman Taurog.

Legendary MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer, who was a Ukrainian-American Jew, and known privately for his deep reservations regarding the Catholic Church, later called this his favorite film of his tenure at MGM.[1]

In 1941, MGM made a sequel, Men of Boys Town (see below), with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney reprising their roles from the earlier film.



Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) believes there is no such thing as a bad boy and spends his life attempting to prove it. He battles indifference, the legal system, and often the boys themselves, to build a sanctuary which he calls Boys Town. The boys have their own government, make their own rules, and dish out their own punishment. One boy, Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney) is as much as anyone can handle. His brother is in prison for murder, and Whitey himself is a poolroom shark and sometimes a hoodlum. Father Flanagan takes him to Boys Town. Whitey runs away three times, the third time because he hears his brother has escaped. Whitey joins his brother, but Father Flanagan rescues Whitey and helps capture the gang in the act of robbery. Whitey and Father Flanagan return to Boys Town.[1]


Factual basis

Although the story is largely fictional, it is based upon a real man and a real place. Boys Town is a community outside of Omaha, Nebraska.[1]


Award Result Winner
Outstanding Production Nominated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (John W. Considine, Jr, Producer)
Winner was Frank Capra (Columbia) - You Can't Take It With You
Best Director Nominated Norman Taurog
Winner was Frank Capra - You Can't Take It With You
Best Actor Won Spencer Tracy
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated John Meehan and Dore Schary
Winner was Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Arthur Lewis, W. P. Lipscomb, George Bernard Shaw - Pygmalion
Best Writing, Original Story Won Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary

In February 1939, when he accepted his Oscar for the role, Spencer Tracy responded graciously by spending all of his acceptance speech talking about Father Flanagan. "If you have seen him through me, then I thank you." An overzealous MGM publicity representative announced that Tracy was donating his Oscar to Flanagan without confirming it with Tracy. Tracy's response was: "I earned the damn thing. I want it." The Academy hastily struck another inscription, Tracy kept his statuette, and Boys Town got one, too. It read: "To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy."[2]

Home video releases

Boys Town was released on VHS by MGM on March 29, 1993 and re-released on VHS on March 7, 2000. On November 8, 2005, it was released on DVD as a part of the "Warner Brothers Classic Holiday Collection", a 3-DVD set which also contains Christmas in Connecticut and the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, and as an individual disc. The DVD release also includes the 1941 sequel "Men of Boys Town" as an extra feature.

Sequel: Men of Boys Town

Released in April 1941, Men of Boys Town takes a darker tone to the plight of homeless and troubled youth. Tracy and Rooney reprise their characters as Father Flanagan and Whitey Marsh as they expose the conditions in a boys reform school. This movie was released on VHS on December 23, 1993, but is now available only as an extra feature on Boys Town's DVD.


Mr. and Mrs. Maitland, a childless couple, invite Whitey to their home on a trial basis. Whitey tries to visit a friend in reform school and inmate Flip is hiding in car as Whitey leaves. Flip steals money and both boys go to reform school. (This is where the movie takes a darker tone as it depicts the physical abuse the boys suffer during their detention at the facility.) Father Flanagan exposes the conditions in the school and the boys are released to him. The Maitlands work to pay off the debts threatening Boys Town.


  1. ^ a b c Clooney, Nick (November 2002). The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. New York: Atria Books, a trademark of Simon & Schuster. p. 205. ISBN 0-7434-1043-2. 
  2. ^ Clooney, p. 212-213

External links

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