Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Isn’t it interesting how the theme of self-sacrifice crops up in most of the films in this set? In this film, it manifests in the shape of two boys in a presumably small town, struggling through the depths of the Depression (which only really hits at the end of Heroes for Sale, whereas this is pretty much all about it); Eddie sells his car to provide his family with a bit of money while Tommy looks for work, and then they hit on the idea of running away from home to, you know, not be a burden on what’s left of their respective families. What ensues is a somewhat episodic narrative as the two boys form a trio with a girl who rides the rails with them, and gradually form a little community with dozens of literal fellow travellers. Unfortunately for them all, society at large doesn’t have any gainful work for them, nor indeed much use for them in general, and there’s some pretty startling scenes (of which the infamous scene of Tommy getting run over by a train arguably isn’t the harshest); though it was toned down some before release, it’s still quite bracing at times. Unfortunately the studio-mandated ending again kind of undermines things (Wellman was apparently unhappy with it, as were reviewers at the time), substituting a bit of weak feel-good for what would’ve been a markedly more realistic and bleak conclusion. Shame, cos until then the film’s full of emotional power, and it’s pulled off remarkably well by the three kids; Dorothy Coonan, later Mrs Wellman, was a chorus girl who’d never acted before and made exactly one more film 12 years later, while Edwin Phillips (Tommy) didn’t do much better. Frankie Darro, though, flourished as an actor; while watching the film I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that he would later be Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. Pretty good stuff on the whole.

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