Wild Boys of the Road

Harvey Smith has worked as a carpenter, public health worker, radio journalist, horse rancher, and teacher. He is an advisor to California's Living New Deal Project and a board member of the National New Deal Preservation Association.

The most familiar images of the Great Depression are of the men, uprooted and unemployed. But those men were often fathers as well, so what of their children? William Wellman's bleakly realistic Wild Boys of the Road follows several “juvenile hoboes” from their carefree college idylls to their castaway misfortunes hopping the rails. Eddie (played by Sean Penn precursor Frankie Darro), Tommy (Edwin Philips), and Sally (Wellman's soon-to-be-wife Dorothy Coonan) travel the tracks, evading the yard bulls while they scavenge for work. All around them other kids accumulate like a transient army, eventually forming a mass encampment in a field of sewer pipes. Wellman's documentary style keeps the sentimentality at bay while these disenfranchised youth struggle mightily beyond the bounds of family. Pulled into court for delinquency, an outraged Eddie declares, “You don't want to see us. You want to forget us.” But who could?

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