Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Boys Town (1938)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Boys Town (1938)

In director Norman Taurog's and MGM's biographical and sentimental drama - an esteemed, heart-warming, formulaic story to portray real-life, pious and dedicated Catholic Father Edward Flanagan - who became committed to developing a model community project known as Boys Town near Omaha, Nebraska. It would bring wayward orphans and juvenile delinquents from reform schools or gangs to an environment for a second chance where they could truly be educated in school and reformed:

  • in the opening sequence - bitter and condemned convict Dan Farrow (Leslie Fenton), shortly on his way to the electric chair, asked Father Edward J. Flanagan (Oscar-winning Spencer Tracy) in his cell: "How much time do I got?" and he heard the reply: "Eternity begins in 45 minutes, Dan"; Farrow confessed his horrible and wayward upbringing, including the corrupting influences within a state institution or reformatory: "When I went in, copping a loaf of bread was a job. When I come out, I could rob a bank!...Where was the State when a Ionely, starvin' kid cried himself to sleep in a flophouse with a bunch of drunks, tramps, and hoboes?...The only pals I had a chance at were the kids in the alley. I had to be tough to string along"; and he spoke his last haunting (and inspiring) words about how his life might have been different if he had a friend at age 12: "One friend when I'm 12 years old - and I don't stand here like this!" - he then ordered everyone (except Flanagan) out of his cell: "Now, go on, get out of here, you bunch of mush-brained saps!"
  • while riding on a train back to Omaha, during a revelatory sequence, Flanagan remembered the haunting (and echoing) words of Dan Farrow: "12 years old. One friend. Starving kid. Never had a chance. Reformatory"
  • Father Flanagan pitched his idea for a home for boys, first to skeptical Jewish pawnbroker and friend Dave Morris (Henry Hull), who offered him some financial assistance of $100 for a rented house and furniture; Flanagan's main message and philosophy to prospective donors was: "There's no such thing as a bad boy," although some doubted him and refused his naive expectations
  • skeptical, begrudging newspaper magnate John Hargraves (Jonathan Hale) spoke with Flanagan when he was requesting funding and support for expansion: ("I want your help for homeless boys. I want you to let the world know what I'm trying to do"); Hargrave expressed opposition and some doubt about his ability to run a facility full of delinquents: "No, I'm afraid I can't do that....Because I don't believe in what you're trying to do. The very foundation is false. 'No such thing as a bad boy.' That's just a catch phrase, sentimental nonsense. Of course you know you're flying in the face of the very best of public opinion...A whole lot of good people feel just as I do and we're not un-Christian monsters"; Flanagan persuasively continued: "I want a home for them where they can stay and where they can learn. A town for boys governed by boys. It's worth a shot, isn't it?" - Hargraves reluctantly agreed to support Flanagan's sincere and "unselfish" plan - to build a boys home for troubled teens in Omaha, Nebraska, known ultimately as Boys Town
  • a montage illustrated the building of Boys Town - including the collection of funds, architectural blueprints, staking of the property, the digging of the foundation and the use of heavy machinery, carpentry, concrete mixing and brick-laying, all culminating in a view of the finished product - FATHER FLANAGAN'S BOYS HOME. A ceremony marked the completion of three buildings (using the boys' labor), a US flag was raised, a band played, and boys cheered and devoured a food table
Boys Home Building Montage
  • Flanagan's business partner, benefactor and financier Dave Morris reminded that there were three mortgages on the property that threatened its survival; he worried about the mounting debt: ("Look at the sweating you've done to raise nickels, dimes, quarters, penny contributions. Now you've got to get dollars, hundreds, thousands!")
  • Father Flanagan was initially challenged when he came up against one of the new arrivals - rebellious, cocky, tough-talking wise-guy punk teen and poolhall shark Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), the volatile kid brother of convicted and imprisoned gangster-murderer Joe Marsh (Edward Norris), who had requested that Flanagan care for him, for $280. Whitey was a loveable but difficult and disruptive bad boy delinquent. He was found playing cards and smoking with his gang of friends. After dismissing the others, Flanagan removed Whitey's feet from the top of the table, knocked the cigarette out of his mouth, pulled him up by the collar and introduced himself: "I'm Father Flanagan. I saw your brother Joe just a little while ago. We had a long talk about you, Whitey. Joe wants you to come with me to Boys Town" - when Whitey refused and mouthed off, Flanagan struck back: "Now, look, Whitey, in a pinch I can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch. You're coming with me to Boys Town because that's the way your brother wants it. And that's the way I want it" - he then reprimanded Whitey who was faking an arm injury: "Now, why don't you stop acting like a kid, Whitey?"
  • Whitey remained at Boys Town but then suffered a number of setbacks to his ego - he lost an election for the high position of the community's Mayor (with his campaign slogan: "Don't be a sucker!") to handicapped Tony Ponessa (Gene Reynolds), and was defeated in a boxing match against Freddie Fuller (Frankie Thomas).
  • spitefully, Whitey left Boys Town, and was involved in a car accident that injured his pal Pee Wee (Bobs Watson) who had followed after him. Whitey also came into contact with his older brother who had escaped custody and was robbing a bank in Omaha (and Whitey was accidentally shot in the leg). Whitey promised to not squeal and refused to give up vital information that might incriminate his brother - something that threatened to close Boys Town forever: (Flanagan: "You're shielding someone. Are you going to see these boys turned out into the streets, into the alleys, into reformatories, and worse, lose their home?")
  • Whitey was ultimately reformed and redeemed by Flanagan's patient efforts, when he helped in the recapture of his brother and was returned to Boys Town, where he was acclaimed as the new Mayor

Father Flanagan:
"Eternity begins in 45 minutes, Dan"

Flanagan Remembering Dan's Words: "12 Years Old, One Friend"

Flanagan with Newspaper Magnate John Hargraves

Flanagan Meeting Tough-Talking Whitey (Mickey Rooney)


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