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Movie Review

Wild Boys of the Road

(23 December 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 56, 23 December 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

First National’s Wild Boys of the Road is the first socially serious picture to be made since the crisis hit us like one of Moses’ plagues. It tells the story of the tens of thousands of boys of all ages who are driven from home by the pressure of the crisis on their families; how they live; and the brutal treatment capitalist society gives them.

The break-up of working class families is faithfully recorded, but the scenes on the freight trains as the boys fight with and lick the railroad bulls by throwing fruit at them were written to order in the studio, not copied from life. None the less some effort was made to paint the police as the brutal ruffians they are. They are shown in action swinging clubs against kids. For once they don’t appear as moralizing protectors of society.

In the last scene the boys who are hailed up before a juvenile court judge explain how they came to hit the road. They fix the blame on society and make themselves out to be its victims. The words they use are obviously put into their mouths. The sentiments they express are way beyond their understanding. On the other hand this is a new kind of talk for the moving pictures.

The producers vitiated their indictment of capitalist society by their treatment throughout the picture and, particularly, by its conclusion. Whenever a scene threatens to carry a biting sting and reach the spot in a man’s heart where outrage lives the producers put in some light touch to set the audience laughing. The audience we sat with did just that.

Most of them that got by this trick fell for the end. The juvenile court judge turned out to be a kind hearted gent who let the boys off, got them jobs, and told them everything was going to be alright and their folks would get jobs so they could go back home. They left out only the American flag and F.D.’s face. In this way the picture made the whole thing out to be one of those temporary dislocations in society which recovery will set straight. And in this sense the picture is false.

On the other hand the faithful presentation of much of the brutality and suffering which these young workers and workers’ children are made to experience by the breakdown of the profit system gives the picture a positive value.

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Last updated: 4 January 2016