#194) Wild Boys of the Road (1933)


#194) Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

OR “The Boxcar Children”

Directed by William Wellman

Written by Earl Baldwin. Based on the story “Desperate Youth” by Daniel Ahern.

Class of 2013

No trailer, but here is a dramatic clip. Truly, these are the most wild boys of the road.

The Plot: In the midst of the Great Depression, a quarter of a million children were on the streets; abandoned by their families, riding the rails from city to city in search of a job. “Wild Boys of the Road” is a dramatic recreation of this time. After their parents lose their jobs, friends Eddie and Tommy (Frankie Darro and Edwin Phillips), jump on a train bound for Chicago in hopes of work. Joining them is Sally (Dorothy Coonan), a tomboy who hopes to reside with her aunt (Minna Gombell). There are setbacks, personal struggles, and cops around every corner in this stark, dangerous tale.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Wellman and the cast, and calls the film an “exemplary model of the gritty ‘social conscience’ dramas popularized by Warner Bros. in the early 1930s.” There’s also a thorough essay by film studies Professor Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.

But Does It Really?: I must say this film grew on me. Films that are 100 percent a reflection of their time either age very well or not at all. I’m happy to say this film is the former. “Wild Boys” showcases a small section of the Great Depression in an honest, realistic way and holds your interest the whole time. It never gets mentioned among the classics, but it is definitely worth a viewing and I’m glad the NFR brought it to my attention.

Shout Outs: Most of the incidental music heard throughout is from “Gold Diggers of 1933”. The film Eddie runs into at the end is “Footlight Parade”. Like this film, both “Gold Diggers” and “Footlight” were Warner Bros. releases. Turns out synergy is almost as old as the movies themselves!

Everybody Gets One: Earl Baldwin was under contract as a screenwriter for Warner Bros., and “Wild Boys of the Road” was just another assignment. He switched over to United Artists later in his career, penning the script for the Abbott & Costello vehicle “Africa Screams”.

Wow, That’s Dated: The entire thing – but in a good way.

Title Track: No exact matches, but Sally tells her Aunt Carrie that she “picked up these boys on the road”. Close-ish.

Seriously, Oscars?: Nothing. It must have been too real for the Academy. William Wellman would soon become an Oscar favorite, receiving three nominations for directing and a win for the screenplay of the original 1937 “A Star is Born”.

Other notes

  • This Sophomore Frolic is giving me some “Andy Hardy” flashbacks.
  • Ah yes, back in the days when you could lift a car!
  • This strikes me as a “TCM, 4am on a Wednesday” kind of movie.
  • That’s Charley Grapewin (aka Uncle Henry) as the junk dealer. Life was tough after the twister.
  • Dad kinda looks like James Cagney (who coincidentally shows up in the “Footlight Parade” clip at the end).
  • The scene between Eddie and his dad is very sweet. Well done, everyone.
  • I don’t know why Eddie and Tommy didn’t just tell their folks they were going to a Grammar Rodeo.
  • Eddie, your nosebleed looks like you have a Hitler moustache.
  • Another Sterling Holloway sighting! He was 28 when he filmed this. Seems a little out of place amongst the mostly teenage cast.
  • Did Sterling just call milk “cow juice”? I’ll have to remember that one.
  • Why is everyone making fun of Sally’s squint smile?
  • Another phrase I want to hang on to is “Railroad Dicks”.
  • A young woman in her bra. How scandalously Pre-Code of this film.
  • Speaking of Pre-Code, that’s an uncredited Ward Bond as the railroad worker who rapes Lola. It’s done off-camera, and no one says the actual word or a synonym, but you are fully aware of what happened.
  • I’m pretty sure that’s the actual kids jumping out of the moving train. So much for child labor laws.
  • Traveling by montage is the fastest way to get across country.
  • The ending lays on the message pretty thick (and Wellman was allegedly against it), but it helps encapsulate the feelings of the eras. Besides, you can’t be too dour with a National Recovery Act poster right behind you.
  • Apparently Alan Hale Jr. is in this film somewhere. Some sources say he is “one of the boys” whose role was deleted from the final cut, others say his photo is the one seen on the judge’s desk at the end. Further research is needed, little buddy.


  • Dorothy Coonan retired from films not too long after this picture’s release to marry her director, William Wellman. She made occasional appearances in his subsequent work. Although Wellman had been married three times prior (all of them brief unions), he and Coonan were married for 40 years, and had seven kids together!
  • Sadly, Eddie resorted to a life of crime after this. Under the alias “Lampwick”, his last known whereabouts were at the amusement park Pleasure Island.

4 thoughts on “#194) Wild Boys of the Road (1933)”

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