Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BOYS' RANCH (1946)

This MGM programmer seems largely inspired by their own earlier BOYS TOWN, and taken as as a B-movie version, it isn't bad, though the prime era for this kind of film was past by 1946 and it feels a little tired, like everyone's just going through the paces. Still, I guess I have a thing for B-lead James Craig who carries the day here as a smalltime baseball player who, knowing he'll never make first string, retires and heads off with his wife, Dorothy Patrick, to make a living on their Texas ranch. After his last game, two of his teenage fans, Skip Homeier and Darryl Hickman, get busted for delinquency and, rather than see them sent off to reform school, Craig takes legal custody of them and attempts to get them jobs on a nearby ranch. When that doesn't work out, and the boys are about to fall in with a local gang of delinquents, he works out a deal with a landowner (Ray Collins) to set up a ranch for wayward boys that he and his wife will run. They agree to operate it for a one-year trial period before Collins will permanently donate the land; things go well for most of the time, though Skip is a constant pain in the ass to both the adults and the other boys, and soon turns into an accomplished thief. Near the end of the trial period, the boys hold a community rodeo to show how successful the enterprise has been, but when a good chunk of prize money is stolen, all signs point to Homeier and the future of the ranch is in doubt. Hickman, who has been doing double duty to cover up for Homeier's slacking, winds up unconscious in the desert during a heavy rainstorm and Homeier, ready to hit the road with his loot, redeems himself by returning to help save his buddy. Craig and Hickman are particularly good, though Homeier doesn't quite cut it, sounding whiny and childish rather than tough and truly threatening. However, the weakest cast member is the top-billed child actor Jackie "Butch" Jenkins who hit it big as a 6-year-old playing Mickey Rooney's little brother in THE HUMAN COMEDY. At 9, his sleepy-eyed, slow-tongued shtick doesn't wear well and, though he improves has the film goes along, he still slows things down and the film would have played better if his part had been trimmed a bit. Craig grows a mustache halfway through the movie, supposedly to look more authoritative to the boys, but I suspect it had more to do with other films he was shooting. According to IMDb, the concept for the story was based on a real place, Cal Farley's Boys Ranch near Amarillo, which still exists. [TCM]

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