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Boys' Reformatory


A tough street kid (Frankie Darro) takes the rap for a burglary committed by the son (Frank Coghlan Jr.) of his foster family and is sent to a boys reformatory, where the inmates are under the thumb of corrupt guards and a brutal prison doctor (Grant Withers).

Boys' Reformatory is a 1939 American crime film directed by Howard Bretherton and produced by Lindsley Parsons for Monogram Pictures. The screenplay was written by Wellyn Totman and Ray Trampe after a story by Ray Trampe and Norman S. Hall.
The film is about Tommy Ryan (Frankie Darro), a good natured teenager who takes the rap for a burglary committed by his foster brother (Frank Coghlan, Jr.), and his life in to a boys' ormatory where a morally upright staff physician, Dr. Owens (Grant Withers), takes an interest in his welfare.


Seventeen-year-old Tommy Ryan lives with Mrs. O‘Meara, a seamstress, and her teenage son Eddie. Tommy’s exact status is unclear; Mrs. O’Meara’s says he is a friend of her son Eddie and “stays here with us and a finer lad never trod the green earth.” Tommy works in a grocery store and more than pulls his weight around the O’Meara home, but his foster brother Eddie is unemployed and hanging around a pool hall with a gang of teenage thieves led by Mike Hearn, the pool hall owner.
Hearn promises teenage ‘Knuckles’ Malone $50 to steal a fur coat from a warehouse and sends Eddie O’Meara along to drive the getaway car. When the heist is thwarted and Knuckles nabbed by the police, Eddie escapes with the stolen goods and returns home. Tommy tries to repair the damage and keep the incident from Mrs. O’Meara by dumping the car and the furs outside of town. He is picked up by the police. In court, Tommy takes the rap in order to spare Mrs. O’Meara the grief of seeing her son implicated in the crime. Tommy and Knuckles are sentenced to the State Industrial School for three years. When alone for a moment with Eddie, Tommy urges him to take good care of his mother.
At the State School, Tommy remains true to himself. He is honest, hard working, and well mannered. Dr. Owens, once a orm school inmate himself but now a morally upright professional man, takes an interest in the boy and urges him to plan for life after prison. He has Tommy removed from the crew at the school’s farm to work in his office.
One day, Tommy discovers Eddie O’Meara is an inmate in the ormatory. Eddie dropped out of Hearn’s gang of thieves and found a job in order to take care of his mother, but Hearn feared Eddie would squeal to the police about the gang’s past. Hearn decided to get the boy out of his way by staging a robbery at the gas station where the boy worked and then framing him. Hearn now fears that Tommy, Eddie, and Knuckles will now “squawk” and realizes his operation is still in jeopardy. He decides to “spring” the three boys from prison and to silence them once he has them in his clutches. Tommy is reluctant to participate in the escape but when he learns that Hearn threats to rough up Mrs. O’Meara he has no choice but to escape and protect her. The escape plan is foiled, but later, Tommy and Knuckles manage to escape at gunpoint.
At the pool hall, Tommy convinces Hearn he is on his side. A heist is planned. Tommy secretly makes plans to meet Dr. Owens at the site of the heist to apprehend Hearn and his gang. Hearn and his men are taken into custody after a car chase. With Dr. Owens assistance, Tommy and Eddie are paroled and restored to Mrs. O’Meara.


  • Frankie Darro as Tommy Ryan, a seventeen-year-old good-natured, hard working boy, and foster son of Mrs. O’Meara and foster brother of Eddie O’Meara
  • Lillian Elliott as Mrs. O'Meara, a seamstress, and mother of Eddie and foster mother of Tommy
  • Frank Coghlan, Jr. as Eddie O'Meara, an unemployed teenage boy and a member of a gang of teenage thieves
  • Ben Welden as Mike Hearn, the owner of a pool hall and the ringleader of a gang of teenage thieves
  • David Durand as 'Knuckles' Malone, a hardened teenage criminal and a member of Hearn’s gang
  • William P. Carleton as Superior Judge Robert A. Scott
  • Grant Withers as Dr. Owens, a physician at the State Industrial School
  • John St. Polis as Superintendent Keene of the State Industrial School
  • Pat Flaherty (actor) as Barnes, a guard at the State Industrial School
  • George Offerman, Jr. as Joey, an inmate at the State Industrial School


Juvenile delinquency was generally the main topic of teen films until the 1970s. Small-framed Frankie Darro had a long career playing teens in juvenile delinquency films such as Wild Boys of the Road, Wanted by the Police (1938), Tough Kid (1938), Reformatory (1938), and Juvenile Court (1938). Following World War II, Darro continued to play teens in six musical comedies that tried to brush off the public’s curiosity about teen delinquency prevalent during the Depression (Schary 15).


=Home media=

In 2004, the film was released on videocassette by Nostalgia Family Video and Reel Media International. In 2007, it was released on DVD by Alpha Video Distributors, Teakwood Video, and Reel Media International.

Works cited

  • Category:1930s crime drama films
    Category:1939 films
    Category:American films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:American crime drama films
    Category:Prison films
    Category:Teen films
    Category:Monogram Pictures films
    Category:Films directed by Howard Bretherton
    Lindsley Parsons

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