Unlike a lot of modern social dramas, Boys’ Town is neither gritty nor realistic. The colourised version was on television recently, and I watched it with the colour turned down.It’s not surprising that donations to the real Boys' Town and the real Father Flanagan dropped in 1938 after this film was a hit - Spencer Tracy and the film-makers make it all seem effortless to turn hundreds of homeless and delinquent boys into fine, upstanding American citizens, as if no more money was necessary. You're left with the sense that all the social problems of the time could be easily solved if only Spencer Tracy (aided by the story and screen-writers) was on-hand.
Boys’ Town will always be remembered as the film to win Spencer Tracy his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar. He is solid and likeable in the lead role, but it's a force-of-personality performance rather than a great show of acting. Mickey Rooney plays a young punk gangster, and remains irritating throughout the film (even after his redemption). The score was ingratiating, the plot points easily predictable and the insertion of the dramatic bank robbery to push things to a resolution particularly crude.But I'm making Boys' Town sound less enjoyable than it was. Watchable and fairly fast moving (always a relief in a sentimental movie), it at least has its heart in the right place. Difficult to take seriously now.