powered by AFI
Pat O'Brien was Hollywood's top Irishman, excelling particularly as fast-talking newspapermen and priests who, though more reflective, could pull off the rapid palaver when the situation demanded it. He certainly got to exercise his Hibernian charms in this fact-based story about a St. Louis priest who created a home for newsboys, many of them living on their own and in poverty. Reviewers were quick to point out similarities to MGM's Boy's Town (1938), which had brought Spencer Tracy a Best Actor Oscar, but the O'Brien vehicle has its own charms, O'Brien chief among them. The story starts in 1905, when he first encounters a trio of newsboys (including Billy Gray, who would go on to star in Father Knows Best), whose hard lives are threatening to kill them. Over time, O'Brien fights to provide decent living conditions for the boys and end the bullying and violence fostered by the newspapers for whom they work. Like Tracy in Boy's Town, O'Brien has one special boy (Darryl Hickman) who proves the hardest to reform. This was probably the young Hickman's best role, as he gets to display braggadocio in his dealings with the other boys and abject terror when confronted with his abusive father (Joe Sawyer).
By Frank Miller