Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bad Boy

I should have blogged about Bad Boy last night. It's airing at 1:45 PM today on TCM, and it's not available on DVD. It's also well worth a viewing.

Bad Boy is the first starring role for Audie Murphy. Here, he plays the young Danny, who at the beginning of the film is working as a bellboy in a Texas hotel, trying to evade the authorities because he's got a long string of petty crimes he's committed. Indeed, he's still involved in a life of crime, as he and some friends try to rob a craps game going on at the hotel. This time, Danny is arrested, and sent before that old Hollywood trope, a sympathetic judge (Selena Royle). She gives Danny a second chance: go to the Variety Club Boys ranch or go to jail. Obviously, Danny picks the ranch, figuring he can be a smooth operator and break out of the ranch.

To that end, Danny begins working on the ranch owner, Marshall Brown (played by Lloyd Nolan) and his wife Maud (Jane Wyatt) almost as soon as he gets there, with the intent that it all be a ruse. Danny doesn't even want to get close to the other boys. The other boys, for their part, seem mostly willing to make fun of Danny if he's not going to get with the program. Marshall, of course, has other ideas. He believes all these boys can be reformed, by having them work the ranch and give them whatever education they missed as well as the chance to learn a trade. Danny's a tougher nut, but Marshall is convinced that there has to be something that caused Danny to run away from home and take up a life of crime.

Of course, there's something, and it's fairly traumatic. Danny's father died when he was very young, and Mom remarried a man (Rhys Williams) who had an older daughter (Martha Vickes). Needless to say, neither of them is too sympathetic toward Danny. Stepdad is, I suppose you could say, the 1940s version of Dr. Phil: a pop psychologist who's taken his show out of the doctor's office (he does radio and the carnival circuit; TV of course not being much around at the time) to become the sort of man you can't help but wonder whether he's on the level or whether he's more in it for the money. Stepdad thinks Danny is kind of weak (reminiscent of the Bobby Darin character in Pressure Point), and also might have been responsible for his mother's death. (In the stepfamily's defense, Mom died after Danny helpfully tried to give her some medicine that he probably shouldn't have.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Danny is still intent on breaking out, and his activities have gotten to the point that the police are really taking notice, which could be curtains for Danny, as he'd be forced to go to prison, which would obviously be much worse than the ranch. Will the police catch Danny? Or will Marshall finally be able to get to the bottom of Danny's psychological trauma and intercede on Danny's behalf before the court?

Audie Murphy is pretty good in an early role. He's no Jack Carson in the unctuous user department, but he's also a better straight-up crook than Carson could be, and I don't think Carson would have done well in any sort of horse opera. Lloyd Nolan seems to have played quite a lot of sympathetic types, and he does that very well here. Also of note is James Gleason as the ranch foreman. Bad Boy isn't a prestige movie, having been made by low-budget Allied Artists, but for what it is, it's very well made. It's too bad that, having been made at Allied Artists, it's probably less likely to receive a DVD release.

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