CFS: ‘Wild Boys of the Road’

Desiree Holm

In times of economic trouble, we mostly hear about men and women losing their jobs and not being able to pay the bills. What we don’t often hear about are the children of these men and women.

In 1933, director William A. Wellman set out to tell the story of adolescents during the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history, the Great Depression, in his movie “Wild Boys of the Road.” It was produced by Warner Brothers studio, which was known at the time for its social justice themed movies.

The film follows two high school boys who decide to leave home to find jobs to help alleviate their parents’ devastating financial problems. They join the masses riding the rails to Chicago. Along the way they befriend a girl their age who is also trying to escape financial problems back home.

As the movie shows, their journey is by no means an easy one – the freight cars are dark, cold and offer little shelter from predators.

The movie isn’t entirely bleak, though, and does have some comedic scenes alternating with the darker ones. Wellman doesn’t hold back; he makes this piece as close as he can to a documentary, shooting entirely on location and using mostly unknown actors. Unfortunately, the story itself is no exaggeration.

Millions of people were transients during those years, and at least 200,000 of them were children.

“Wild Boys of the Road,” at the time of release, was not well-received by either audiences or critics. However, in the past few years, perhaps due to the current economic situation, it has become more popular.

The New York Times mentioned “Wild Boys of the Road” in a recent article to suggest parallels between kids’ experiences during the time of the Great Depression and what young people are going through today.

The final Cultural Film & Lecture Series offering this semester, “Wild Boys of the Road” will be shown four times in Connelly Center: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 6 at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. Admission is free for students with a WildCard and $5 for everyone else. The Monday screening will feature guest speaker John O’Leary, the CFS director.