Cast & Crew
On the day that Dave Morris returns to Boys Town after a year-long rest, Father Edward J. Flanagan is forced to admit to his old friend that the facility's newly built dormitories do not have the $200,000 cash needed to support their $300,000 bank loan. Dave gruffly pretends to be disgusted, but immediately starts fundraising. Meanwhile, Flanagan is called away to the trial of Ted Martley, a bitter, bedridden young boy accused of murdering a guard at Marysport reformatory. Ted, who is found guilty because he will not defend himself, tells Flanagan that the guard broke his back, thus causing Ted's paralysis. Members of the parole board ask Flanagan to take Ted to Boys Town, and Flanagan promises Ted that he will never see a doctor unless he wants to. At Boys Town, Flanagan asks his protégé, Whitey Marsh, to befriend Ted and broods about the brutality of a place like Marysport. Ted doesn't respond to Whitey or the other boys until one afternoon when Whitey brings a little dog into Ted's infirmary room. Unknown to Whitey, the dog, "Beau Hunk," belongs to Mr & Mrs. Maitland, visiting members of the parole board. When Whitey finds out, he apologizes and offers to buy the dog, and the Maitlands are so impressed that they ask to adopt Whitey, who reminds them of their recently deceased son. Flanagan doesn't want Whitey to go, but insists on letting him make up his own mind. Thinking that Flanagan wants him to leave, Whitey sadly agrees to the adoption and promises Ted that he will look up Miles Feneley, a friend at the Marysport reformatory. At the Maitlands', Whitey is given everything a teenaged boy could want, but does not feel at home. Meanwhile, at Boys Town, Ted is examined by a specialist who advises a difficult and painful operation. Ted is reluctant until Flanagan promises that he will be at his side during the operation. The next day, Whitey tries to see Miles, but a cruel guard warns him to keep away. As Whitey drives off, tough little Flip Brier escapes from the reformatory by hiding on the running board of Whitey's car. After Flip shows Whitey scars he received from whippings by the guards, Whitey decides to hide him while he contacts Flanagan. When Whitey leaves Flip alone for a few minutes, Flip robs a gas station. As he is about to rob a pawnshop, Whitey finds him and makes the pawnbroker think that it is a joke until the man sees a gun that Whitey has taken away from Flip. When Whitey discovers that Flip had gotten the gun duriing the gas station robbery, he is furious and is about to return it when they are stopped by the police. Mr. Maitland is summoned to the police station and, although he is sympathetic to Whitey, he thinks that Flip is thoroughly bad. When Whitey invokes Flanagan's philosophy that there is no such thing as a bad boy, Maitland becomes angry, and Whitey accepts jail rather than go home. At Marysport, Flip and Whitey are confined to "solitary row," where they see a boy drop over dead. The superindendant tries to convince them that the boy, who they learn was Miles, died of heart failure and warns Whitey not to make trouble. A few days later, Flanagan arrives to see Whitey and convinces the superintendent that he will fight, if necessary, to see the boy. Flanagan tells Whitey that he is proud that he tried to help Flip and Miles' mother begs the priest not to leave until Marysport is cleaned up. After an impassioned plea to the parole board, Marysport is soon reformed and Flanagan is able to return to Boys Town with Flip and Whitey, who tells the Maitlands that he no longer wants to stay with them. At Boys Town, Ted refuses to speak to Flanagan because of his absence during the operation. Flanagan becomes even more discouraged when Dave tells him that the bank has padlocked the unfinished dormitories. Learning about the finaicial problems, Whitey calls Maitland on his ham radio set and begs to go back, thinking that Maitland can help Flanagan financially, but Maitland coldly refuses. At an assembly, Flanagan says that he is the only person ever to fail Boys Town, and while he is speaking, a truck accidentally hits and kills Beau Hunk. Flanagan then sadly relates the news to Ted, who haltingly walks to the dog's funeral, during which the Maitlands arrive and tell Flanagan about Whitey's self-sacrifice. Maitland says he now knows that Boys Town must be saved and offers to help. At graduation, Whitey receives his diploma as the Maitlands sit hand-in-hand with a recuperated Ted.
Lee J. Cobb
Robert Emmett Keane
St. Luke's Choristers
Frank Coghlan Jr.
John A. Butler
Harry C. Bradley
James Horne Jr.
Daniel O. Butterfield
John W. Considine Jr.
W. Ripley Dorr
O. O. Dull
James Kevin Mcguinness
Frederick Y. Smith
Edwin B. Willis
Men of Boys Town
Originally, Tracy had balked at playing the famous priest, partly because of his own guilt over not going into the priesthood as his parents had wished. When he met Flanagan, however, and learned that he was the priest's only choice to play him, he realized that he could capture the man's innate goodness with a pared down, simple performance that perfectly fit his own natural acting style. The film was such a hit, it actually led to a decline in donations for the real Boys Town. Tracy had to go on the radio to issue a personal appeal for donations just to keep the facility running..
A similar funding crisis provided the starting point for the sequel, with Tracy once again enlisting local businessmen like pawnbroker Lee J. Cobb to raise money at a time when Americans were feeling the financial crunch from the war in Europe. As if that weren't enough trouble for him, he also has to deal with corruption at a nearby reformatory, the arrest of protégé Whitey (Rooney) and an embittered boy crippled by a beating at the crooked reform school. Throw in a devoted dog and an aging couple in search of a child, and you have the perfect tearjerker.
Although Tracy knew the script for Men of Boys Town wasn't as good as the original, he could console himself with a lucrative new MGM contract. He had finally convinced the studio to limit him to two films per year -- like fellow stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Norma Shearer -- and guarantee him top billing in all of his pictures. Although that would spell the end of such profitable team-ups as his films with Gable and Joan Crawford, studio management now felt that his name alone was enough to draw in audiences. To start his new contract, they returned him to the role of Father Flanagan for Men of Boys Town. Location shooting at the real Boys Town in Nebraska gave him an added bonus, the chance to renew his connection with Flanagan.
Even with a lesser script, Tracy's integrity as an actor was impressive. When director Norman Taurog, who had helmed the original film, asked him to take his focus off co-star Sidney Miller's eyes to make a close-up easier, Tracy refused. Taurog would have to move the camera so the actor could continue playing the scene the only way he knew how -- by instinct.
For the younger actors in the film, working with Tracy was like getting paid to attend acting school. Rooney, of course, was already one of the studio's top box-office attractions and would continue in that position until after World War II. Miller would go on to become Donald O'Connor's dancing partner when the star moved into nightclub work. After years of acting at MGM and on television, where he was eventually eclipsed by younger brother Dwayne, Darryl Hickman would become a respected acting coach. Bobs Watson, who turned down an MGM contract in search of a normal childhood, followed a different career path, becoming a Methodist minister in the '60s. A friend took him to visit Tracy on the set of the star's last film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). The two shared a warm reunion, during which Watson told his former co-star that his decision to enter the ministry had been inspired by Tracy's performance as Father Flanagan.
Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: James Kevin McGuinness
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Harry McAfee
Score: Herbert Stothart Cast: Spencer Tracy (Father Flanagan), Mickey Rooney (Whitey Marsh), Bobs Watson (Pee Wee), Darryl Hickman (Flip), Henry O'Neill (Mr. Maitland), Mary Nash (Mrs. Maitland), Lee J. Cobb (Dave Morris), Anne Revere (Mrs. Fenely). BW-106m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
Men of Boys Town
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, actor Dennis Murphy was to have been in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Ben Lewis is listed as the film editor in all of the Hollywood Reporter production charts, but only Frederick Y. Smith is credited on the screen. Although some exteriors were shot on location at the real Boys Town near Omaha, NE, many of the exteriors and interiors of the facility were recreated on M-G-M's Stage 15. A special issue of the Boys Town Times newspaper was included in the film's presskit. Articles in the paper indicated that many of settings of the picture, including the auditorium, were recreated to emulate the originals as closely as possible. Another article noted that the character of "Flip," played by Darryl Hickman in the film, was based on an actual seven-year-old boy who committed several robberies before being rehabilitated at Boys Town. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that radio programs were aired coast-to-coast on April 2, 1941 to promote the film, and that "key city theaters" would also air the broadcast.
This film was a sequel to M-G-M's successful 1938 feature, Boys Town (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0465). According to news items in trade publications, M-G-M agreed to make a sequel after donations to Boys Town declined because the 1938 film gave the impression that the institution no longer had financial problems. Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and several of the "boys" in Men of Boys Town recreated their roles from the original, which was also directed by Norman Taurog. Lee J. Cobb took over the role of "Dave Morris" from Henry Hull. Though that character was supposed to be an older man, Cobb was only twenty-eight when he played the role. Reviews were mixed for the sequel, and many compared it disfavorably with the original.