Suddenly, with sync-sound, movies learned to spit—and the power of words positively erupts from William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road (1933). Today, audiences might balk at such openhearted depictions of formerly middle-class teens "on the bum," and part of what grounds this story in reality is the Depression vernacular of the teens and those they encounter. Eddie, Tommy, and Sally join other "boxcar boys and girls," swarming freight trains in an endless search for work. What lies in wait, however, is a system dreamed up by adults that can thwart, maim, jail, and (in one case) rape these cursed and criminalized wanderers. On the way, an older "bindlestiff"—slang for vagabond—asks the crucial question: "You got an army, ain't ya?" This transparent allusion to America's "unemployed army" (and kids to boot!) should give us chills, a tingling sense of subversion, solidarity and courage.
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