The story of Father Flanagan’s struggle to make a successful boy’s home and then an entire community near Omaha, Neb, is the motivating theme throughout. Producers shrewdly have not made it entirely a paean of praise for Boys Town, but rather a realistic portrayal of Father Flanagan’s untiring efforts to make something of wayward youngsters who otherwise might wind up in the electric chair.
With Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney as the priest and the incorrigible lad, in tailor-made roles, Boys Town is a tear-jerker of the first water. Yet it has equal distribution of humorous and bitter moments. Rooney virtually takes the production away from the capable and veteran Tracy, though not appearing until feature is half-finished.
Rooney is the toughie whose repartee is as laughable as his cocky walk and mannerisms. Slow curbing of his desires as he bucks Boys Town customs and rules is a transition of character that is logically worked out. Tracy, showing necessary restraint, makes his portrayal of Flanagan sincere and human. It is not the first time he has played the role of a priest on the screen.
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Henry Hull, the money-supplying pawnbroker who makes possible the boys home, builds this comparatively minor role into an impressive assignment.
1938: Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Original Story (Eleanore Griffin, Dore Schary).
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay