Jimmy Lydon plays Tom, “the typical American boy” even though he is still scripted as upper-class British. He expresses his typical American boyhood by being stoic, courageous, and adventurous, by taking off his shirt to reveal a slim physique. And by ignoring girls. The daughter of a local shopkeeper plays a pivotal role in the plot, but Tom never gives her a second glance. Instead, he falls in love with an aristocratic upperclassman.
East (Freddie Bartholomew, previously in Captains Courageous), tall, thin, brittle-looking, and as feminine as a young Quentin Crisp, takes the initiative in the courtship, approaching Tom the moment he gets off the train, showing him around, taking him by the arm or shoulder, and gazing at him with rapt ardor. He gives Tom a picture of two ancient Greek warriors shaking hands -- a 19th century beefcake poster -- and marks them as “Brown” and “East."
East carefully dismisses or outwits Tom’s other suitors. When they go out for “murphys” (baked potatoes sold as a snack), he protects Tom from a groping, leering boy named Tadpole.
Tadpole: Is this the new fellow? Nice looking, isn’t he?
Tom: How do you do?
Tadpole: (Looks him up and down.) Hungry, thank you.
Dead End, shown here playing Humphrey Bogart's gunsel). He offers several shirtless and semi-nude scenes, with a more muscular physique.
Flashman bullies Tom, and forces him to endure dangerous hazing. Their fight, oddly, serves as the subject for the lion's share of lobby cards and posters.
Adult women in movies of the era rely on the phrase “I never want to see you again” to angrily break up with their boyfriends, but this is nearly the only example of its use among "buddies." The implication, of course, is that Tom and east are not buddies, but homoromantic partners: their relationship is emotionally intense, physically intimate, and exclusive, and but for their breakup, it would be permanent.
Bartholomew and Lydon were paired again in Cadets on Parade (1942). Rich kid Austin Shannon (Freddie Bartholomew), an eighteen-year old military cadet, is bad at sports and reviled as a “sissy” by his self-made-man father, so he runs away and encounters street tough Joe Novak (Jimmy Lydon). The two set up housekeeping together (in a flat with only one bed). Joe never mocks his partner's sissiness, but he does gently suggest that success at school may depend on an increased manliness. Austin’s salvation, his return to middle-class society, comes through learning to box and play football, not through heterosexual experience: no girls appear or are mentioned in he movie. But Austin draws Joen into civilization through the same rubric that girls use with jungle boys, through teaching him to read and use proper table manners. In the end they both enroll in the military academy. The tagline is: “The Story of Two American Boys…On the Road to Being Men!”