Radical Spinach: Wild Boys of the Road

Who was this movie made for?

Often the answer is obvious enough (housewives, teenage boys, the Friday night drive-in bumpkin, the half-conscious grindhouse denizen, etc.), but in some special cases, the interrogation itself opens up and deepens the mystery of the film in question. In those instances, the absence of a readily identifiable target audience makes the fact of a film’s production and release all the more beguiling.

Let’s talk about Wild Boys of the Road. It’s commonly reckoned an exemplar of the social problem film as developed by Warner Bros. in the 1930s. As Nick Roddick points out in his study of the studio corpus, A New Deal in Entertainment, such films were memorable and distinctive, but hardly plentiful. Warner Bros., like every other major studio, released a film a week in the 1930s, most of them bread-and-butter pictures that kidded campus life or military hijinks. The ambitious, socially-conscious pictures like Black Legion or They Won’t Forget were the exception to the surly, comfortable rule.