Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) is a man on a mission, to help the troubled and disadvantaged young men in his community. He starts a home to give them shelter, food, and guidance, which eventually grows into Boys Town — a self-sufficient town run by the boys, where they can gain leadership skills and stay on the right path.
Based on the true story of Father Flanagan’s efforts, Boys Town was directed by Norman Taurog. For DVD viewers, a short documentary is included as a special feature showing the real Father Flanagan and his community.
Spencer Tracy is absolutely the heart and soul of this film. It’s a film about Father Flanagan’s work, his quest to help others, so naturally much of the focus is on him as a character. But that’s not all. Tracy is perfectly cast in the role, a man determined to devote his life to those who have nowhere else to turn. He comes off as very distinguished — an honest, trustworthy, persevering, and genuinely good man.
Attention is paid to several of Flanagan’s students/residents, including Mickey Rooney’s character of Whitey, but the emphasis remains focused on Flanagan’s work and the organization he created.
Boys Town itself — the real place — is a fascinating concept, and comes across as such on film. Set up like a city, it has an elected resident mayor, its own judicial process, assigned jobs, and commerce. It’s an innovative idea for bettering the futures of at-risk children. Children of the Corn‘s “kids-only town” concept gone right!
Speaking of corn, there is a little bit to be had here, Rooney’s performance being over-the-top at times. However, the story is engaging, keeping the viewer drawn in with hope that the children will have bright futures and that Flanagan will succeed in his mission. The film does a great job of capturing Flanagan’s dedication and the Boys Town environment. Boys Town is a great watch for the holiday season, not only because it partially takes place during the Christmas season but also because it reminds us to direct our thoughts, care, and effort to helping those less fortunate.