Monday, October 5, 2009

Children of the Depression

Wild Boys of the Road!  We laughed about the title for weeks. We were sure it would be quite silly We were WRONG.  This is a fascinating movie.  It focuses on three children - two boys and a girl, about age 15 - who set off on the road because the depression has made them a burden to their families. The boys, Eddie (Frankie Darrow) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips) are friends; Tommy's family is already feeling the poverty of the era, when Eddie's father loses his job. Eddie tries to help by selling his car, but it is not enough, so the two boys determine to leave home in order to find work.  Of course, they can't.  They meet other children in the same predicament and are chased from place to place, as their numbers grow and town citizenry become disenchanted with this gang of impoverished children.

The unique thing about Wild Boys of the Road is that none of the children are mean-spirited or cruel.  When Sally (Dorothy Coonan, who would become Wellman's wife) is raped, it is by an adult - her companions rush to her defense. When Eddie loses a leg in an accident, all the children work to support him.   Here's that scene:

The beauty of this film is the fact that director Wellman makes sure that the children are seen in a positive light.  Their existence is almost communal, with all the children staying together, all contributing to the support of the group.  Though they seem to lose track of their original goal, to support their impoverished families, we later discover they still hold that goal close to their heart.  It is just that the crushing poverty in which they find themselves make survival become the priority. The performances, especially Frankie Darrow, are a joy. 

We watched a few  minutes of the commentary (and I look forward to watching the rest of it at a later date); what we heard was fascinating. The ending is a positive one, but we learned that Welllman had wanted a far more downbeat ending.  We agreed with the commentator who said that we preferred the positive ending.  Had the film ended differently, I think it would have been unbearable.  [And - an aside - look at the picture on the desk of NYC judge. He will become famous as a TV actor in later life. The answer is in the commentary].

Don't let the title turn you off. Do watch this. We think you will agree with us, that Wild Boys of the Road is a forgotten gem.

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