Tag Archives: Dore Schary

Boys Town (1938, Norman Taurog)

I can’t figure out–past being an inspiring melodrama–if the filmmakers were trying for anything with Boys Town. The question of its success as that inspiring melodrama is easily answered… it fails. The first act of the film deals with Spencer Tracy trying to get Boys Town, starting just as a home, started. It works pretty well, especially since there’s the heavily comedic interplay between Tracy and grudging benefactor Henry Hull. The Tracy and Hull relationship keeps up throughout the movie, which is nice, since Hull’s occasional presence in the late second act makes a lot of difference.

The problems start with the arrival of Mickey Rooney. It isn’t just Rooney, whose performance is affected and exaggerated (at times, it seems like he inspired Jack Nicholson’s Joker performance), but the present action’s lapse as well. An indeterminate period of time passes from the first act to the second and after the public service tour of Boys Town, the movie centers itself entirely around Rooney. Oh, there are some scenes with Tracy in there, worrying about the finances (which would have made a far more interesting story), but mostly Tracy’s just around to try to reform Rooney.

There’s also a significant problem with neon foreshadowing. When Edward Norris shows up what ought to be a brief presence, it’s very clear he’ll be important later on, so there’s nothing to do but wait for him to come back (and he does in an exceptionally contrived manner). Or precious Boys Town mascot Bobs Watson… he’s destined, from his second or third scene, to end up in a hospital bed for something.

A lot of the cheap storytelling undoes some fine acting. Tracy’s excellent, of course, though after a while, there’s nothing for him to do. Norris is good in his part and a number of the kids are good, particularly Frankie Thomas and Sidney Miller. There are no credited female performers (though some nuns eventually show up–another of the movie’s problems, establishing just how Boys Town actually runs) and their absence is felt.

Norman Taurog brings little in way of direction, but it doesn’t matter if he did, since editing miscreant Elmo Veron cut the film. Veron does an awful job, one so bad–even given Boys Town‘s other problems with artifice–he brings the production down a notch.

At some point in the film’s production timeline, it might have been a good idea (unless it was always just supposed to be a vehicle for Rooney) in addition to a well-intentioned one. But as it is, Boys Town is a failure. It misses telling the story it should and it doesn’t do a good job of telling the one it has (and shouldn’t bother telling).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Taurog; screenplay by John Meehan and Dore Schary, from a story by Schary and Eleanore Griffin; director of photography, Sidney Wagner; edited by Elmo Veron; music by Edward Ward; produced by John W. Considine Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Father 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 (Freddie Fuller), Jimmy Butler (Paul Ferguson), Sidney Miller (Mo Kahn), Robert Emmett Keane (Burton) and Victor Kilian (The Sheriff).


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Westward the Women (1951, William A. Wellman)

Robert Taylor leads over a hundred women from Missouri to California. It’s set in 1851, so California is the other side of world. I thought it was going to be cute from that description. Taylor’s films were often aware of being Robert Taylor films, but of those 100+ women, only one thinks Taylor’s good-looking, so Westward the Women isn’t one of those Taylor films. It’s a rough film. It has cute moments and funny moments, heart-warming moments too, I suppose–but it’s rough. It might even be mean. I’m not sure to what degree the filmmakers realized how mean the film was getting.

Some of Taylor’s work in the film is his best. At a certain point, the film runs out of things for him to do and concentrates on the romance, which is fine, but he ceases to be the focus. The rest of the performances are all right (except Taylor’s love interest, once the romance starts), but the script betrays the two best supporting ones. Hope Emerson is excellent in the role of a New Englander who talks exaggerated ship-speak for everything. There’s a poor Japanese guy–played by Henry Nakamura, who did little else–who’s got the worst stereotypical dialogue, but a rather important role in the film. Again, his character loses steam in the last part.

The romance shares the second half’s focus with the more interesting aspect of Westward the Women. At a certain point, the women are left alone with Taylor and have to toughen up for the journey. There’s a great scene–I can think of a good adjective for it–when a woman is in labor in a wagon and a wheel breaks off. A group of the other women hold up the wagon while she gives birth, which would not be an easy task, and then proceed to fawn over the newborn. There’s another great, similar scene at the end, but I can’t give that away.

When I said before the film was mean–it kills characters left and right. The only sympathetic character it doesn’t kill is the dog. In addition to showing the difficulty in crossing the country, it throws the audience off guard. You never know if a character is going to make it or not. Even with this tension, however, the film ambles a little too much. It’s got a long present action–at least four months, but it might be more like seven–and since only a handful of the women are realized, the film is mostly in summary. But it’s real pretty summary. Wellman’s direction of the desert landscape is wonderful. Not only is the scenery incorporated into the story (unlike the frequent Monument Valley backdrops) but his camera angles take full advantage of them.

However, the film doesn’t take place entirely in the desert, only thirty minutes of it does. So, you have those twenty or thirty minutes of great direction, an hour or so of a great Taylor performance, a half hour of the great relationship between Taylor and the Japanese guy, and Emerson only getting rid of the lame seafarer dialogue at the end. Still, it’s a good film–it might be the only widescreen academy ratio film I can think of.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Charles Schnee, based on a story by Frank Capra; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Buck), Denise Darcel (Danon), Hope Emerson (Patience), John McIntire (Roy Whitman), Julie Bishop (Laurie), Lenore Lonergan (Maggie), Marilyn Erskine (Jean), Beverly Dennis (Rose), Henry Nakamura (Ito) and Renata Vanni (Mrs. Maroni).


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