AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Boys Town
Director: Norman Taurog (Dir)
Release Date:   9 Sep 1938
Production Date:   6 Jun--8 Aug 1938
Duration (in mins):   93
Duration (in reels):   9
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Cast:   Spencer Tracy (Father [Edward] Flanagan)  
    Mickey Rooney (Whitey Marsh)  
    Henry Hull (Dave Morris)  
    Leslie Fenton (Dan Farrow)  
    Gene Reynolds (Tony Ponessa)  
    Edward Norris (Joe Marsh)  
    Addison Richards (The judge)  
    Minor Watson (The bishop)  
    Jonathan Hale (John Hargraves)  
    Bobs Watson (Pee Wee)  
    Martin Spellman (Skinny)  
    Mickey Rentschler (Tommy Anderson)  
    Frankie Thomas (Freddy Fuller)  
    Jimmy Butler (Paul Ferguson)  
    Sidney Miller (Mo Kahn)  
    Robert Emmett Keane (Burton)  
    Victor Killian (The sheriff)  
    Boys Town A Capella Choir (The choir)  
    John Hamilton (The warden)  
    Jay Novello (Member of Joe's gang)  
    Murray Harris (Hill Billy)  
    Tom Noonan (Red)  
    Al Hill (Apples)  
    Donald Haines (Alabama)  
    Bennie Chorre (Young Thunder)  
    John Wray (Weasel)  
    Ronald Paige (Jimmy)  
    Stanley Blystone (Guard)  
    Edward Hearn (Train guard)  
    Kent Rogers (Tailor)  
    Barbara Bedford (Nun)  
    Gladden James (Doctor)  
    Phillip Terry (Reporter)  
    Jimmy Sommerville (Newsboy)  
    Donald Hull (Newsboy)  
    Billy Hazard (Newsboy)  
    Chuck Stubbs (Slats (Prologue))  
    A. W. Sweatt (Jackie (Prologue))  
    Billy McCullough (Boy)  
    Edwin Brian (Boy)  
    Don Latorre (Boy)  
    Jackie Morrow (Boy)  
    Raymond Kelly (Boy)  
    Nelson Scott (Commissioner)  
    Sonny Boy Williams (Boy on bannister)  
    Helen Dickson (Second sister)  
    Claire McDowell (Third sister)  
    Nell Craig (Nun)  
    Johnny Walsh (Charley Haines)  
    Robert Gleckler (Mr. Reynolds)  
    Orville Caldwell (Warden)  
    Arthur Aylsworth (Tim)  
    Al Hill (Rod)  
    Roger Converse (Lane, "Reporter")  
    Walter Young (Judge)  
    Everett Brown (Darky)  
    George Cooper (Tramp)  
    Charles Ramos (Mex)  
    William Worthington (Governor)  
    James G. Blaine (Court officer)  
    George Humbert (Calateri)  
    Kane Richmond (Jackson, "Reporter")  
    St. Luke's Choristers    

Summary: As Dan Farrow prepares to go to the electric chair, he indicts society for its part in his crimes. As he tells Father Edward Flanagan, "If I had only had one friend at twelve, I wouldn't be here." Dan's words haunt Flanagan and when he returns to Omaha he decides that he will open a home for boys in trouble. With a small stake from kindhearted pawnbroker Dave Morris, Flanagan starts the home but constantly must sway people who think that his philosophy "there's no such thing as a bad boy" is naive. He wins the reluctant support of newspaper publisher John Hargraves and donations start to mount. With Dave's help, he builds a city for wayward boys, called Boys Town, which operates on the honor system. One day, he is summoned to the penitentiary where he receives money from convict Joe Marsh who wants Flanagan to help his kid brother Whitey. Whitey is a cocky kid who wants no part of Boys Town. He stays, though, and runs for mayor of Boys Town, determined to win with his "don't be a sucker" campaign slogan. When the boys instead elect handicapped Tony Ponessa and reject Whitey's shoddy campaigning, Whitey decides to leave. Only little Pee Wee, the Boys Town mascot, begs him to stay. When Pee Wee is hit by a car, Whitey leaves, feeling guilty and hurt. He accidentally comes upon a bank robbery in Omaha and runs into Joe, who mistakenly shoots him in the leg. Joe takes Whitey to a church and calls Flanagan anonymously, after which Whitey is taken back to Boys Town. The sheriff comes to get Whitey, but Flanagan offers to take full responsibility for the boy. Whitey refuses to tell Flanagan about the robbery, because he has promised not to inform on Joe, but when he realizes that his silence could result in the end of Boys Town, he goes to Joe's hideout. Joe, realizing with Whitey that Boys Town is more important than themselves, releases his brother from his promise. His cohorts want to kill Whitey, but Joe protects him until Flanagan and the boys arrive at their hideout. The criminals are recaptured and Boys Town's reward is a flood of donations. A now committed Whitey is elected the new mayor of Boys Town by acclamation and Dave resigns himself to go into more debt as Flanagan tells him of his new ideas for expanding the facility. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Norman Taurog (Dir)
  Horace Hough (Asst dir)
Producer: John W. Considine Jr. (Prod)
  O. O. Dull (Prod assoc)
Writer: John Meehan (Scr)
  Dore Schary (Scr)
  Eleanore Griffin (Orig story)
  Dore Schary (Orig story)
  Jack Mintz (Contr to scr const)
Photography: Sidney Wagner (Photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Urie McCleary (Art dir assoc)
  Edwin B. Willis (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Elmo Veron (Film ed)
Music: Edward Ward (Mus score)
  Leo Arnaud (Mus arr)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Special Effects: Slavko Vorkapich (Mont eff)
Make Up: John Dawn (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Joe Cooke (Unit mgr)
  Jay Marchand (Unit mgr)
  Father Edward J. Flanagan (Tech adv)
  Howard Dietz (Press rep)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 7/9/1938 dd/mm/yyyy LP8276 Yes

PCA NO: 4528
Physical Properties: b&w: sepia
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Boys Town (NE)
  Father Edward J. Flanagan
  Financial crisis
  Juvenile delinquents
Subjects (Minor): Bank robberies
  Gunshot wounds
  Omaha (NE)

Note: The film opens with the following inscription: "This picture is dedicated to him [Father Edward Flanagan] and his splendid work for homeless, abandoned boys, regardless of race, creed or color." Portions of the film were shot at the site of the real Boys Town near Omaha, Nebraska. According to a pre-production news item in Jul 1937, William Rankin was one of the screenwriters who went to Omaha to scout locations for the film. Rankin's name was not listed in any other source, and it is not known whether he actually contributed to the screenplay. At the time of the scouting trip, M-G-M child stars Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew were being considered for roles in the film, in addition to Mickey Rooney. Other news items noted the J. Walter Ruben was initially set to direct the picture and John Miljan was being tested for a role. A news item in HR noted that actor Edward Norris replaced Donald Barry in the role of Joe Marsh several weeks after filming began. M-G-M's NBC radio program "Good News" began its 1939 season on 1 Sep 1938 with a brief preview of the film featuring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and the real Father Flanagan. M-G-M also made a fifteen minute promotional program for the film which was broadcast over local Los Angeles radio station KFI on 12 Sep 1938. Boys Town was one of the top money-making pictures of the year, won two Academy Awards, one for Tracy as Best Actor (his second in two years following 1937's Captains Courageous ) and one for Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary for Original Story. Additionally, the film was nominated for Best Picture and Norman Taurog was nominated for Best Direction. Rooney received a special Academy Award in 1938 for his unique contributions to the screen as a juvenile player. Boys Town finished fourth in the FD poll of critics and was on a number of "ten best" lists. Tracy was given a citation for his acting by the National Board of Review. After the success of this film, Tracy and Rooney became the fourth and fifth top box office stars of the year, according to a MPH poll of exhibitors. A news item in HR noted that Rooney shot Boys Town and Love Finds Andy Hardy simultaneously for about ten days.
       A sequel to Boys Town , called Men of Boys Town , was directed by Taurog for M-G-M in 1941 and also starred Tracy, Rooney and others from the original cast. According to news items in MPD , M-G-M started discussing the sequel shortly after the release of Boys Town because the $5,000 paid to the institution for the rights to the Boys Town story was almost all used by the home to cover costs incurred during the film's production. Modern sources note that donations to Boys Town decreased after the release of the 1938 picture, ostensibly because the ending gave the impression that its financial standing was stronger than it actually was. According to a news item in the film's press pack, actor Leslie Fenton, who was a friend of Taurog's and about to embark on his own directing career, agreed to act in the film only after Taurog convinced him that he was the only person right for the part. Boys Town was the last film in which Fenton acted. According to modern sources, after Tracy won the Oscar for this film, he gave it to Father Flanagan with an inscription dedicating his performance to the founder of Boys Town. The statue was put on display in a museum in Boys Town, where it has remained since that time. Some modern sources say that the statue was originally incorrectly inscribed with the name "Dick Tracy" instead of Spencer Tracy; however, no contemporary information has been located to corroborate this. In Jul 1988 Boys Town hosted a fiftieth anniversary celebration for the film. Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Sid Miller attended the celebration. Modern sources note that the film cost $800,000 to produce. The 1958 M-G-M release Girl Town , directed by Charles Haas and starring Mamie Van Doran and Maggie Hayes, was very loosely based on Boys Town

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   10 Sep 1938.   
Daily Variety   3 Sep 38   p. 3.
Film Daily   9 Jul 37   p. 7.
Film Daily   6 Sep 38   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Apr 38   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   16 May 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 May 38   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jun 38   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jun 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 38   p. 3, 8
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jul 38   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jul 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jul 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Sep 38   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Sep 38   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jun 88   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   13 Jul 88   Sec. VI, p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   2 Sep 38   p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   22 Sep 38   p. 7.
Motion Picture Daily   11 Nov 38   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   30 Jul 38   p. 43.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Sep 38   p. 55.
Motion Picture Herald   24 Dec 38   p. 13.
New York Times   9 Sep 38   p. 25.
Variety   7 Sep 38   p. 12.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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