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The juvenile delinquent film goes western in Boys' Ranch (1946). Following in the footsteps of Boys Town (1938), all that stands between the naughty boys in this story and redemption is a little understanding and some hard work. That's where baseball player James Craig comes in. Having washed out of the league, Craig retires to his Texas ranch and decides to help some down-on-their-luck kids by creating a working ranch retreat for delinquents with the help of the local community. Among the young hired hands are Darryl Hickman and Skippy Homeier. But the real scene stealer in Boys' Ranch is Jackie 'Butch' Jenkins.
Jenkins plays a kid named Butch in the film. A dog-loving orphan, Jenkins's character is more of a comic foil for his fellow troublemakers. As Variety put it, "[Jenkins'] every appearance is a guaranteed chuckle." Boys Ranch was the seventh film Jenkins appeared in and is right at the halfway mark of his twelve film career. Jenkins' mother was an actress (Doris Dudley), but he was not an aspiring child star. Instead, the profession came looking for him; Jenkins was first discovered by an MGM talent scout while playing on a Los Angeles Beach. His first film was The Human Comedy (1943) where he played little brother to Mickey Rooney.
After that, Jenkins played the brother of Angela Lansbury in National Velvet (1944). He also took a turn opposite Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O'Brien in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). He then earned the lead role in the weeper Little Mister Jim (1946), where he played a boy dealing with his mother's death. This was also the fourth film Jenkins would make with James Craig, his Boys' Ranch co-star. Jenkins and Craig were also teamed in The Human Comedy and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes.
As for Boys' Ranch, Jenkins held his own with the cast of mostly older kids. There's Darryl Hickman as the trying-to-go-straight Hank, and Skip Homeier as the rebellious Skippy. Homeier would go on to appear in a number of westerns after his childhood movie days were behind him. He is perhaps best remembered for his villainous role in The Gunfighter (1950) where he vows to kill Gregory Peck. Boys' Ranch was filmed on location at a ranch near Amarillo, Texas. And Jenkins even got to sing a bit for the film he tunes up round the campfire with "Blood on the Saddle."
The high point of Jenkins' career came in 1947 with My Brother Talks to Horses. In another leading role, he played a boy who is able to communicate with horses, acquiring inside information on the races. After that, Jenkins made just four more films, including the Van Johnson-June Allyson comedy The Bride Goes Wild (1948) and Summer Holiday (1948), where he would again play Mickey Rooney's younger brother, his career coming full circle.
In 1948, Jenkins' mother removed her son from the industry, believing the pressure was too much for him. Jenkins had developed a nervous stutter that would stay with him into adulthood. Looking back, Jenkins had no regrets. In a 1970 interview, he confessed, "I have never regretted leaving the picture business and am very grateful to my mother for taking me away from it. I enjoyed the first few years of acting in movies but I certainly don't miss it. In fact, when I've had offers to return a few times, I wasn't even tempted. There may be a better way to live than on a lake with a couple of cows, a wife, and children but being a movie star is not one."
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: William Ludwig
Cinematography: Charles Salerno, Jr.
Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Nathaniel Shilkret
Cast: Jackie 'Butch' Jenkins (Butch), James Craig (Dan Walker), Skip Homeier (Skippy), Dorothy Patrick (Susan Walker), Ray Collins (Davis Banton), Darryl Hickman (Hank).
by Stephanie Thames