Plot: Eddie (Frankie Darro) and his best friend Tommy (Edwin Phillips) love to chase girls and drive fast in Eddie’s ramshackle jalopy, but times are tough and soon, the two learn just how tough. Tommy is about to quit school in an effort to find work and help his mother, while Eddie discovers that his father had been laid off and his prospects are minimal at best. The two are determined to help their families, to the point that Eddie sells his beloved car and together, the friends decide to leave town and find work in a more prosperous locale. This prompts the two to hop aboard a train to head out, which leads to them meeting Sally (Dorothy Coonan Wellman), a young woman who is going to live with her aunt and find a better life for herself. But can these scrappy kids find the opportunities they’re after and help their families, or will they learn that things aren’t much better elsewhere?
Entertainment Value: This is a mostly bleak, but well performed look at desperate youth in the Depression era. A stark, realistic texture is constant here and the movie never feels melodramatic or forced, though the finale does come across as out of place compared to the rest of the duration. But this seems to be due to a studio mandated change, one which William Wellman disliked and critics bemoaned, as it compromised the movie’s believable tone. The narrative here is simple, letting the characters drive the experience and as the movie runs under 70 minutes, the pace is brisk, but never feels rushed in the least. The locations and overall atmosphere feel realistic and immersive, pulling us into this desperate world, which is crucial to help us relate to and understand our leads. The inclusion of Sally gives us an effective change of perspective, as well as some dark moments that are unique to her experiences as a female. I dislike how it all wraps up, but otherwise Wild Boys of the Road is a grim, well crafted movie that sheds light on a desperate time.
The cast here is quite good and keeps things grounded, while also letting personalities shine through. There’s some light humor at times, as you’d expect with mostly young characters like this, but it is well handled. The humor makes sense and never defuses the dramatic elements, which is impressive. Frankie Darro turns in a terrific effort, with a lot of charm and presence, while Dorothy Coonan Wellman steals her fair share of scenes as well. Edwin Phillips is also passable, but isn’t as memorable as his costars, who show more charisma. I think the performances notable in that these could have turned into stereotypes with lesser efforts, but the cast brings the characters to life with depth and realism. I love melodrama, but not all stories need that and outside out of the finale, this one avoids that side of things. The cast also includes Rochelle Hudson, Sterling Holloway, Ann Hovey, and Arthurt Hohl.
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