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Wild Boys of the Road
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10 from APPROVED votes
Release: 07 Oct 1933 /

Wild Boys of the Road

Genre: Adventure, Drama
Director: William A. Wellman,
Stars: ,
Synopsis: In the depths of the Depression, two teenage boys strike out on their own in order to help their struggling parents and find life on the road tougher than expected.

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Critic Reviews

Mention the Great Depression and most folks draw a blank or nod off. After all, who wants to be reminded of soup kitchens, dour old men, and dust bowls. Seventy years later and it's a closed book, forgotten and unlamented. Now and again, however, that dusty book needs re-opening. Because, in spite of the best efforts of the best of us, the past is not alway past. This edgy little Warner Bros. production provides a brief picture of the youth of that day, a harrowing story of survival amidst economic collapse.

The movie wouldn't work so well without the contrast the first half-hour provides. Darro and friends are typical middle-class teens, fun-loving and care-free. It's a world of proms, necking parties, and harmless pranks. Then without warning things change. Why they change is never really explained which is the way it should be. For most kids knew nothing of stock markets and dis-investment. They only knew that suddenly Dad doesn't go to work anymore and mom cries a lot, bills pile up, and no one gets a job, anywhere. Middle-class privilege plunges into no-income poverty, and Darro and his buddy do like millions of others. They hop a freight, hoping the next town, the next state, the next someplace, will give them a chance to make a living. What they get instead are private armies, battalions of cops, and a forest of billy clubs. They're driven on to the next jurisdiction and the next welcoming committee. Nobody wants the footloose unemployed adding to their own local problems. Maybe the attitude's not charitable, but it makes practical sense.

The battles atop freight cars and in hobo jungles are expertly filmed and dynamically staged, a stark panorama of social desperation. These scenes make up the movie's centerpiece. If anything they're mildly presented compared to the actual blood-letting that surrounded the desperate and up-rooted. Union organizing was especially bloody and bitterly fought-- an explosive topic Hollywood has only timidly touched on over the years. Nonetheless, the nail-biting episode on the train track stands-in for at least some of the actual pain and suffering caused by those crisis years.

Darro may be small, but he's energetic, something of a younger Cagney. His determined spirit to keep going no matter what is convincing, and helps drive the others on. I expect it also had that effect on audiences of the day. I like the way director Wellman suggests the kids can set up their own constructive community, if given half-a-chance. Some reviewers complain about the final scene with the understanding judge. Yes, it is pretty contrived, but it wasn't unrealistic given the package of New Deal reforms then in the works. If those measures didn't exactly solve the economic crisis (only WWII did that), they at least offered hope that the problems would no longer be kicked down the road to the next jurisdiction.

Wild Boys may not be the most honest or best movie on those tumultuous years. Still, it does furnish a provocative and entertaining glimpse. In any event, some books should not remain closed. After all, who knows when the unfortunate history of that era may again repeat itself.

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