The sequel remains pretty much as it is today: repeat box office receipts with the same formula. That itself is passable in the day of the studio system when film output to fill the theaters with product was required. Sometimes it works as in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and sometimes it doesn’t, as in ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES (1939). MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941) is stuck in between for running the gambit of good and solid to not working at all. It depends in what you look for in a sequel.
MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941) was the sequel to the massive hit BOYS TOWN (1938). The picture featured Spencer Tracy in one of his most endearing roles as Father Flanagan. Author James Curtis, in his exhaustive biography of Tracy, mentioned that the actor hated the role and thought he looked ridiculous in the collar. Tracy was a devout Catholic himself, and was racked with guilt about his son being born deaf and prone to drink. Tracy felt that he was a failure as man for not having a healthy child as he still loved his son deeply. Tracy also wondered if he was doing the real Father Flanagan justice with his portrayal of him in the film as he himself was so inadequate.
Mickey Rooney takes a break from ANDY HARDY series and musicals with Judy Garland to reprise the role of the grown up Whitey Marsh who in the first film was the smart, wise cracking tough guy that changes over the film to a compassionate person that helps others.
Bobs Watson, or the ‘Hollywood cry baby,’ as he was known, was gifted with the ability to shed buckets of tears on cue and is back as the cherubic faced, happy , smiling Pee Wee.
The picture opens with Whitey (Mickey Rooney), who has now grown to be the mayor of Boys Town, announcing to the throng that Father Flanagan is returning. The school has reached a financial crisis as Father Flanagan reveals that he has borrowed the money to build the new school facilities and all the loans are about to come due to his partner and financial officer of the school, David Morris (Lee J. Cobb). The new facilities are needed because of the policy to help every boy that comes to them as a result. This fact is wonderfully illustrated in a moment with Whitey and two runaways from a brutal reform school that find themselves with no place to go, only to be taken in by Father Flanagan.
Flanagan is called away to the criminal trial of a boy, Ted Martley (Larry Nunn), who stands accused of killing a guard at a nearby reform school. Ted is unable to rise to hear his verdict as he is confined to a gurney due to paralyzed legs inflicted by the guards’ treatment.
Martley is taken to the infirmary of Boys Town where he broods and does not smile, no matter how hard the other boys try to cheer him up. Whitley, Pee Wee and the gang try everything to make Martley smile, including a personally staged show with comic skits featuring a very inventive slow motion wrestling duo. All are met by stone cold silence.
Later, when a older couple, M.r and Mrs. Maitland ( Henry O’Neill and Mary Nash) come to Boys Town they bring a dog that Whitey mistakenly brings to Martley that breaks his brooding. Marley calls the dog Bohunk, yet doesn’t know it already has a home.
Moments in MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941) link up similar to the first film as boys are adopted. Miracles happen in the infirmary. The brutal reform school is found out. Whitey is adopted by the Maitlands, who have lost a son. His exit from Boys Town comes complete with Auld Lang Syn sung by the actual Boys Chorale group. It goes for the tears, which happen in full buckets from Rooney, Bobs Watson and others. The Maitlands’ life of parties and clothes does not work out. Rooney gets to dance at school dances in a sequence as he feigns not having the ability to hoof. He rebels and gets tangled up with a young pint sized thug, Flip Brier (Darryl Hickman). Interesting dialogue and actions as Whitey tries to deal with and reform and a smaller version of himself complete with gangster one liners and guns.
MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941) was directed by Norman Taurog, who went on later to direct mainly teen beach musicals and some Elvis Presley films. Some sequences were shot at the real Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska.
MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941) delivers the same sentimental feeling as the first film without the novelty. Tracy is steady in the role, offering a soothing voice, even enjoying a game of handball in full robes. The cast had grown up and abilities had changed. The ham radio technology is evident and plays a crucial part in the picture. Many little sequences of fun like Flanagan hiding chocolates from Pee Wee and leading him on a game of ‘hot and cold,’ only to amusingly ask him to empty his pockets when he takes too much. Justice is served as Father Flanagan’s line, ‘There is no such thing as a bad boy,” sets the pattern for enjoyable if not sentimental fun.