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 biographical and sentimental melodrama:

  • the opening sequence - 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 his corruption within a 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, the revelatory sequence of Flanagan's remembrance of the haunting (and echoing) words of Dan Farrow: "12 years old. One friend. Starving kid. Never had a chance. Reformatory"
  • the scene of Father Flanagan's pitch to skeptical, begrudging newspaper magnate John Hargraves (Jonathan Hale) for funding and support: "I want your help for homeless boys. I want you to let the world know what I'm trying to do" - but was met with opposition: "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
  • the subsequent montage of the building of Boys Town - 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, although there were three mortgages on the property that threatened its survival; benefactor and financier Dave Morris (Henry Hull), Flanagan's business partner, 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!")
Boys Home Building Montage
  • the memorable scene in which Father Flanagan first met with rebellious, cocky, tough-talking wise-guy punk teen Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), the volatile kid brother of convicted murderer Joe Marsh (Edward Norris), who had requested that Flanagan care for him, for $280; Whitey 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?"
  • the further scenes of Father Flanagan's discussion with Whitey (involved in a bank robbery), when he refused to give up vital information that might incriminate his father - and also threatened to close Boys Town forever: ("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?")

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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