The movie was based on the real-life experiences of an Irish-born Nebraska priest, Father Edward J.Flanagan, whose life's ministry was championing the cause of abandoned and delinquent boys. Flanagan was still very much alive and working as the film was made and Tracy spent a week with him before production to watch how he interacted with the boys.
The movie tells the story of Father Flanagan's struggle to get Boys Town set up, with the parallel storyline of the rehabilitation of Whitey, played by Mickey Rooney, the younger brother of a convicted criminal. At first a cocky rebel, Whitey gains respect and rises to a position of responsibility within Boys Town's sel-contained world.
Spencer Tracy as Flanagan gives a masterclass in film acting. He never indulges in overacting and is the solid, reassuring center of the film. When he speaks his words carry weight and his presence commands attention. Mickey Rooney, on the other hand, could very easily overplay his hand and his portrayal of the tough delinquent, Whitey Marsh, occasionally comes close to ham acting but overall is very believable. All the other roles are well played, particularly Bobs Watson as the endearing Pee Wee.
MGM made a successful sequel in 1941, 'Men of Boys Town' with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney reprising their roles from the earlier film.
The 'Boys Town' movie gave the real-life orphanage a major boost, and it eventually became a successful multi-million dollar organization, helping boys (and girls) throughout America.
Main CastSpencer Tracy ... Father Flanagan
Mickey Rooney ... Whitey Marsh
Henry Hull ... Dave Morris
Leslie Fenton ... Dan Farrow
Gene Reynolds ... Tony Ponessa
Edward Norris ... Joe Marsh
Addison Richards ... The Judge
Minor Watson ... The Bishop
Jonathan Hale ... John Hargraves
Bobs Watson ... Pee Wee
Martin Spellman ... Skinny
Mickey Rentschler ... Tommy Anderson
Frankie Thomas ... Freddie Fuller
Jimmy Butler ... Paul Ferguson
Sidney Miller ... Mo Kahn
Janet Beecher ... Mrs. Graves
CreditsDirector ... Norman Taurog
Producer ... John W. Considine Jr.
Screenplay ... John Meehan, Dore Schary
Music ... Edward Ward
Cinematography ... Sidney Wagner
Format ... B & W
Production Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Release date ... September 9, 1938
Running time ... 96 minutes
Academy AwardsTwo Wins:
Best Actor ... Spencer Tracy
Best Writing (Original Story) ... Dore Schary, Eleanore Griffin
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Director ... Norman Taurog
Best Writing (Screenplay) ... John Meehan, Dore Schary