Impoverished by the Depression, teenage buddies Tom and Ed take off to fend for themselves and lighten their unemployed parents' load. Far from home, the boys' romantic dreams of newfound freedom and idyllic odyssey are shattered by the brutal lessons of the dog-eat-dog nature of life on the ragged fringes of society. Wellman brings a vivid ferocity to this hard-edged road movie with clear-eyed, unflinching depictions of poverty, lawlessnessand the victimization of youth that would soon become rare in Hollywood.
Wellman’s flair for unexpected, often awkwardly physical, action and comedy is showcased in The Star Witness, an unusual crime exposé and multigenerational portrait of the American family centered around an unruly paterfamilias, the outspoken Civil War veteran grandfather played by celebrated vaudevillian turned screen actor Charles “Chic” Sale. When a family witnesses a brutal gangster shooting just outside their home, they are immediately torn between the rousing entreaties of Walter Huston’s crusading district attorney and the violent threats of the underworld henchmen against their lives. Only the oldest and youngest members of the family muster the courage to fight, leading to an improbable standoff and dramatic courtroom finale.