Release year: 1938
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenwriter: John Meehan, Dore Schary
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, Leslie Fenton, Gene Reynolds, Minor Watson, Edward Norris
Ratings: 2 Oscars: Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Original Story. 3 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay
Sunday Classic #289, week 1 2020
After a death row prisoner tells Father Flanagan (Tracy) he never had a chance in life as he had no one as a child, he decides to establish Boys Town; a place where cares for homeless and troubled boys, trying to prove he is right when he says there is no such thing as a bad boy.
Based on a true story, Boys Town saw Tracy (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) win an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flanagan. The story is largely fictional, but Flanagan and his Boys Town were real, with the lather still existing and helping this day. Flanagan is a determined and kind man, winning you over with few words in the hands of the skilled Tracy. After the home is fully formed, he steps a bit in the background for a big part of the time, leaving the story to the kids. Halfway through the movie cleverly decides to focus on Rooney’s (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961) arrival at the place and through his introduction to the place let us know about the every day of Boys Town. Rooney is every bit as cheeky as expected by The Mickster but later on he shows a great skill for drama that surprised and touches deeply. Making a movie about Flanagan and his boys home would be good, adding the more personal touch of showing one characters way into the life and mindset of the place makes it great.
Father Edward Flanagan, who died almost ten years after this movie was released, was the first person ever to live to see somebody win an Oscar for portraying him.
“In February 1939, when he accepted his Oscar for the role, Spencer Tracy responded graciously by spending all of his acceptance speech talking about [Father Edward Flanagan]. ‘If you have seen him through me, then I thank you’.” An overzealous MGM publicity representative announced that Tracy was donating his Oscar to Flanagan, but did not confer with Tracy about it. Tracy’s response was: “I earned the [*beep*] thing. I want it.” The Academy hastily struck another inscription, Tracy kept his statuette, and Boys Town got one, too. It read: “To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy.””
The Boys Town organization hoped that the success of the movie would increase the amount of donations. In fact, the amount of donor money sharply decreased because many donors thought that the organization had made a huge profit due to the movie’s success. Father Flanagan was paid $5000 for the movie rights to his book; the movie made a profit of $2 million.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video