Wild Boys of the Road

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenwriters: Danny Ahearn, Earl Baldwin

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


In Wild Boys of the Road, Wellman expresses the frustration and rage felt by the thousands of anonymous Americans caught up in the paralyzing dislocation of the Great Depression. Eddie (Frankie Darro) and Tommy (Edwin Philips) are typical teenagers who are forced to ride the rails when their parents are thrown out of work, and the innocent stability of their small-town life comes abruptly to an end.

Dottie Coonan, who was soon to become Wellman’s wife, plays Sally, the young woman who joins them on their odyssey. Along the way, the trio meets hundreds of other displaced young people who share their desperation and dreams of making a better life. Wild Boys of the Road combines a bleakly realistic portrait of life during the depression era with an inherent optimism about the ability of Americans to overcome adversity and build new and better tomorrows. The documentarylike quality of the film is intensified by the fact that its cast was largely unfamiliar to audiences and looked like people you might meet on any street corner in America. In many ways, Wild Boys of the Road prefigured films like Days of Heaven, which later followed in its footsteps in turning a critical eye on the failure of the American dream.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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