Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Boys' Ranch (1946)

BOYS' RANCH is a well-done MGM family film about a retired baseball player who founds a ranch providing wayward or orphaned boys with a safe home. The movie was inspired by a real ranch which is still operating today.

James Craig plays the ball player turned rancher, with Dorothy Patrick as his wife and Sharon McManus as their daughter. McManus is best known as the little Mexican girl dancing with Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWEIGH.

The boys include Darryl Hickman as a young man who quickly turns his life around in the ranch environment, while Skip Homeier plays a nasty piece of work who just can't stop stealing and beating the other kids up. Jackie "Butch" Jenkins is a little boy whose grandfather has been struggling to raise him and brings him to the ranch, believing it will provide a better environment than he is able to provide.

It's a simple, straightforward, and fairly predictable tale which has similarities to MGM's BOYS TOWN (1938). That said, it's also a well-made and engrossing film with appealing characters. The storytelling is bolstered by a fine supporting cast including pros such as Ray Collins, Arthur Space, Minor Watson, Geraldine Wall, Moroni Olsen, Ray Walker, and Robert Emmet O'Connor.

Butch Jenkins gave some of the finest child performances of the '40s, in films such as THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), NATIONAL VELVET (1944), and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). His performance in BOY'S RANCH is not as natural as some of his other work, as his character is meant to be a serious, unsmiling little man, but his yearning for a pair of spurs is touching.

Jenkins worked with James Craig in both THE HUMAN COMEDY and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES, two of the finest examples of "MGM Americana," and they would later appear together in the touching LITTLE MR. JIM (1947). Craig had a deft touch working opposite children; along with the aforementioned films, he also appeared opposite Margaret O'Brien in one of her earliest big roles, LOST ANGEL (1943).

This was pretty Dorothy Patrick's first leading role after a couple of bit parts. She next played Jerome Kern's wife in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946), and during her brief stint at MGM she also played Robert Taylor's murdered wife in HIGH WALL (1947), a brief but showy role.

After leaving MGM Patrick was seen to good effect in COME TO THE STABLE (1949) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949). In the '50s Patrick's career was all over the place, ranging from playing the leading lady in Westerns such as UNDER MEXICALI STARS (1950) or THE OUTLAW STALLION (1954), to bit parts and supporting roles in "A" pictures, along with TV appearances. Her last screen appearance was in 1966, and she passed away in 1987, at the age of 64.

The movie was directed by Roy Rowland. It runs 97 minutes.

This film is not available on DVD or video, but it was shown by Turner Classic Movies just this past Friday. The trailer is also available at TCM.


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