Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Road Movie, Social Problem Film  |   Release Date - Oct 7, 1933 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 77 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Despite some flaws, William Wellman's bitingly realistic depiction of the bleak prospects awaiting the hordes of teenagers who took to the road in search of work during the Depression remains one of the most memorably affecting features on that era. While talented tough-kid Frankie Darro (as Eddie Smith) is the ostensible star, the film is episodically structured around a group of these rail-riding kids and the ease with which characters are dropped and picked up underlines the randomness of their lives. The film is permeated by the director's characteristic mixture of harshness and tenderness, as comic interludes alternate with scenes of abject desperation. As usual, Wellman was testing the limits of censorship, with a then-shocking suggestion of rape, and in the film's best-known scene, a mutilation which still has the power to disturb. The initial naïveté of these kids may seem incredible in a far more cynical age, but Wellman, who had taken to the road himself 20 years earlier, imbues their disillusionment with a depth that feels personal. Although the film is bereft of any political or economic analysis of the causes of the Depression, and the unbelievably positive tacked-on ending seems to bely everything that's gone before, it's difficult to imagine how it could have been otherwise in the Hollywood of the period. It also seems possible that the ubiquitous figure of the cop-as-obstacle spoke to contemporary audiences more eloquently than any analysis.