I want most to remember Spencer Tracy's soft-spoken, unyielding Fr. Flanagan--and so I should: Boys' Town is not just a movie. The place itself is an actual inspiration--and so few remain that I will not make any condescending noises at the mercies provided by that Town. It is simply an instance of Grace, one I cannot deny as my own children sleep in safety.
But Mickey Rooney, like a Nebraska twister, can not be ignored. He literally flings himself, arms and legs propelling the rest of him, across Boys' Town--and never mind where he lands; whether rocky or thorny, even the wayside, he's scooped up and planted, laughing and bawling, grinning at his own fearless self and crumpled up in agony. Of course, he is the movie's Arch-Boy, and his sins and redemption must be equally extravagant--after all, it's an MGM picture, so the heartstrings must play "Home, Sweet Home"--while the gangster subplot jostles in like an unwelcome party guest--and he seems to be in a different picture than Tracey's--less determined, but more defiant. Still, the two of them force each other to behave, and make a single movie by the end, carrying each other lightly, like brothers.