William Wellman’s nomadic Hooverville from Beggars of Life, adjusted to the 1929 Crash and attuned to the young drifter’s terse argument, "one less mouth to feed." The country’s disintegrating middle-class is promptly imagined as a wheezing jalopy barely held together with slogans, in it are the boys (Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips), high-schoolers sneaking into the dance only to come home to their parents’ mountains of bills. Riding the rails in hopes of alleviating their families’ situation, they meet fellow runaway Dorothy Coonan and the nation of "brothers and sisters stranded on the road" Woody Guthrie sang about in "I Ain’t Got No Home." No mere Dear-Mr.-Roosevelt pamphlet but a proto-Neorealist howl, Wellman’s shock to the system hinges on the roughhewn confrontation of such sights as a prosthetic leg discarded in a muddy melee and Darro’s juvenile gaze hardening into a model for Mouchette or Pixote. In this exposé of children in the rubble, adults are at worst raping bullies sweeping the problem under a rug, at best helpless authority figures in impossible quandaries. ("How do you think I feel, with two kids of my own at home?" asks a policeman seconds before hosing the pubescent hobos out of their refuge.) The tour of shantytowns, cathouses and junkyards is bruisingly sketched via staccato editing, an abrupt camera perched atop a moving freight train, the Brechtian fissure of a screen-within-a-screen inserting Busby Berkeley fantasy amid the violence (cf. Bonnie and Clyde). FDR materializes in the shape of the judge (Robert Barrat) who first brands the desperate protagonists "enemies to society," then gives them a break and bids them Godspeed under the New Deal eagle. The ending juggles reformist hope and lifeworn despair, a jubilant pirouette stopped in its tracks by the realization of children maimed by crisis. With Rochelle Hudson, Sterling Holloway, Arthur Hohl, Ann Hovey, Grant Mitchell, Minna Gombell, and Ward Bond. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce