Short in stature but big on talent, Mickey Rooney has made some 300 films in various genres over his long career. Here are just a handful of the best.
“There’s no such thing as a bad boy,” Father Flanagan said, and, portrayed by Spencer Tracy, he proves it in Boys Town. As a tough, streetwise kid, Rooney gives one of his best performances. The film sports a good script by Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary, who both won Oscars. Directed by Norman Taurog.
This 1939 film is perhaps the best of the many films made of Mark Twain's classic novel. Mickey Rooney brings the literary Huck to life as a confident, exuberant, happy-go-lucky boy who loves to fish. When he befriends a slave (Rex Ingram), Huck helps him escape to freedom. Walter Connelly and William Frawley are on hand for some wonderful comedic moments. Mickey Rooney received a special Academy Award in 1939 for his juvenile contributions to film. Directed by Richard Thorpe.
3. The Human Comedy - 1943
Based on a story by William Saroyan and directed by Clarence Brown, this film stars Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, and Fay Bainter. With his older brother away fighting in World War II, it falls to Homer (Rooney) to help support their mother (Bainter) by getting a job in the local telegraph office after school. Homer sobers up his drunken boss (Frank Morgan) and delivers telegrams containing varying messages. In scenes of both tragedy and humor, Mickey Rooney gives a subdued yet emotional performance as Homer and received an Oscar nomination.
Words and Music purports to tell the story of the composer/lyricist team of Rogers and Hart, but it’s really an excuse for a musical feast. With performers like Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen, Lena Horne, June Allyson and Perry Como, it’s hard to go wrong with numbers like “Where or When,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” and “Blue Moon.” As Larry Hart, Rooney owns the film with a lively portrayal that really has audiences caring about him. Tom Drake plays the more stable Richard Rodgers. Janet Leigh and Betty Garrett also star.
Partly filmed at a real speedway, The Big Wheel is the story of a race car driver’s son, Bill Coy (Mickey Rooney) who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, with the ultimate goal of racing in the Indianapolis 500. The film uses some exciting racing stock footage as well as the actual 1949 Indianapolis 500 race. Rooney makes his often abrasive, sometimes humbled character believable, giving depth to this film. Thomas Mitchell and Spring Byington also star, and this was Hattie McDaniel’s final film.
This stellar adaptation of Walter Farley’s novel is Rooney’s favorite film. A shipwrecked boy, Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) bonds with the majestic Arabian horse that was also on the destroyed ship. When the two are rescued and brought home, Alec becomes the horse’s jockey. Mickey Rooney, in an Oscar-nominated role, plays Henry, the black stallion’s trainer, with heart and passion. Beautifully directed by Carroll Ballard. For adults and children.