Welcome to Carvel, USA. A world of manicured lawns, respectful children, manners and morality. It’s also home to Judge Hardy and family, whose rambunctious, girl crazy boy Andy, the wholesome All American boy of this wholesome All American town, was the focus of a tremendously popular film series during the height of Hollywood’s golden age. Produced to showcase who was then the most popular star of his day, Mickey Rooney, the formula of boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl is admittedly…well…formulaic. The earnest father-son heart-to-hearts and were far from realistic even in those halcyon days of mid-century America. But MGM packaged it and, oh boy, did America ever buy it. The Hardy films were escapist pieces of fluffy entertainment that celebrated the ideal of American values, family, and community—the fact they were released in the years leading up to and during the second World War, make these mid-century trifles all the more worthy of revisiting. Because nothing allows us to get inside the mind of where were as a people than movies. And much as we may scoff, these films show where our minds were during those years…or maybe where we wished we could be: with a white picket fence, a girl next door, and an impenetrable sense of security.
One gets exactly what they bargain for going into an Andy Hardy film, and Warner Archive has given this slice of Americana the sort of attention that even the exacting tastes of Polly Benedict couldn’t find fault with. The companion volume to last years Andy Hardy Collection Volume One, this new release concludes the Andy Hardy saga.
And since the Andy Hardy films are all about coming of age, The Retro Set staff were happy to take a look at the new Warner Archive Andy Hardy Collection, and present to you some of the best life lessons it has to offer.
OK, kids, let’s put on a show:
A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937)
“Now everyone says that today folks live in a new world…they’re doing the same old things.”
A Family Affair introduces us to Judge James K. Hardy and his family: wife Emily, sister-in-law Millie (we all call her Aunt Millie), and three children Joan, Marion and Andy. The Hardys’ oldest daughter Joan has separated from her husband because she was caught with another man at the town’s one seedy motel. Marion and her beau run out of gas and are towed by two drunks, resulting in a car accident. Andy keeps complaining because he has to take little Polly Benedict, who he hasn’t seen they were little kids, to a dance. And while dealing with his children’s problems like a champ, Judge Hardy faces something far more serious: impeachment and a full investigation. Joan’s reputation as a tramp surely doesn’t help matters.
Life lesson? Don’t have a liaison in a seedy motel that has a reputation for that kind of business. Book a room at The Four Seasons, for crissakes.
JUDGE HARDY’S CHILDREN (1938)
“I wanna kiss all the pretty girls.”
With A Family Affair, the story revolved more around Judge Hardy and the Hardy family as a whole. There was also an older sister, Joan, who magically disappears in the later films. The first couple of sequels in the series still had an ensemble feel before becoming more focused on the Andy Hardy character. In Judge Hardy’s Children, Judge Hardy is offered a consulting job at $200 a day. He accepts the job and moves the family out to Washington D.C. for a couple of weeks (sounds too good to be true? Yeah, it is). Andy falls for a French exchange student named Suzanne, and is invited to her cotillion. Of course there’s a problem: he needs a tuxedo. In one of many “man-to-man” talks with his father, Andy asks for money so he can buy the tuxedo. Dressed to the nines (at least for a teenage boy) Andy accompanies Suzanne to the cotillion, but gets thrown out for jazzing it up and breaking it down with a dance called the “Big Apple”.
Life lesson? If you have a hard time pronouncing the dance you’ve been invited to, you probably shouldn’t attend.
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938)
“After all, a redhead’s a redhead!”
It’s Christmastime in Carvel and the Hardy family is preparing for the holiday season. Andy is getting ready for the annual country club dance and naturally he wants to take his girl Polly Benedict. But there’s one problem: she is going out of town for the holidays. Polly makes Andy agree that if he goes to the dance he will only go stag. Andy’s friend Beezy is also going out of town for the holidays and is worried he may lose his girl Cynthia (Lana Turner) to another boy. He offers to pay Andy to “date her up.” Foolproof plan, guys. Meanwhile, a young girl named Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) is visiting her grandparents who live next door to the Hardys. She has quite the crush on Andy. Things don’t work out as planned, girls get their feelings hurt, Andy gets in trouble with money and owes money on an old jalopy. One man-to-man talk and a fantastic Judy Garland number later and all of Andy’s problems are solved.
Life lesson? Pimpin’ ain’t easy.
THE HARDYS RIDE HIGH (1939)
“When a man approaching maturity, like me I mean, when is he old enough to smoke cigarettes?”
Judge Hardy receives news that he is the sole heir to a 2 million fortune. The Hardys take a trip to Detroit to settle some financial affairs pertaining to the relative’s will. Knowing they will soon be wealthy, the Hardys begin to act differently. Their breakfasts become more elaborate (grapefruit on ice= you’ve hit the jackpot), clothing is a little more put together, speech a bit more refined. And just like in Washington D.C., daughter Marion has let the new found place in society go to her head. As for Andy, his girl Polly is interested in a more mature boy who dresses nicely and smokes cigarettes. With his new wealth, Andy tries to buy a little maturity. He ends up in debt and looking more like a kid than ever.
Life lesson? Don’t grow up too fast.
ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (1939)
“Gee. Will I ever meet somebody like you?”
Andy’s girl Polly Benedict has a crush on an older man who is in the military. Andy gets upset with Polly and the two have an argument. Polly tells Andy that she never wants to speak with him again. That’s quite alright with Andy as he has set his sights for another: the new teacher Miss Rose Meredith. For a class project, Miss Meredith has each student write a play, with the winning one being the class production for the year. Andy’s play wins and it gives him an opportunity to spend a lot of alone time with his crush. Judge Hardy realizes that Andy’s crush is on his teacher and goes to talk to Miss Meredith, advising her to let Andy down gently so not to hurt him.
Life lesson? Cougars are dangerous. They bite and scratch.
THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY (1942)
“Dad are you gonna hit him over the head with a shovel?”
So this is actually where Judge Hardy is way more modern than most families I know. The Courtship of Andy Hardy revolves around the shy, pretty Donna Reed’s infatuation with Rooney (conveniently, as always, while Ann Rutherford is out of town), but what makes it memorable is Andy’s sister and her car accident with her drunk driving boyfriend. “If anyone tells you how much fun it is getting plastered,” says Judge Hardy, “this is what they mean.”
Life Lesson? Seriously, kids. Don’t drink and drive.
ANDY HARDY’S DOUBLE LIFE (1942)
“My sister warned me… maybe girls know more about girls than I do.”
21st Century girls my roll their eyes at the way every girl in Carvel is absolutely pivoted on the idea of marriage. But hey, that’s how things were, and what’s more, Andy Hardy’s sister is right: girls excel at reading into things excessively. And in Andy’s case, it leads to an embarrassing double engagement with Ann Rutherford and Esther Williams.
Life lesson? Stay out of the kitchen if you don’t want to get burned.
ANDY HARDY’S BLONDE TROUBLE (1944)
“No Andy, I’m afraid this is one of the times that you are not irresistible.”
Cocksure of conquering college, Andy Hardy’s ego gets schooled and how. Mostly by dishy blondes–particularly twins. Oh, and Herbert Marshall. Especially Herbert Marshall. In fact, the film should just be renamed “Herbert Marshall Schools Andy Hardy.”
Life Lesson? Don’t fuck with Herbert Marshall.
LOVE LAUGHS AT ANDY HARDY (1946)
“It’s not how tall you are or small you are, it’s what ya got! There’s lots of people in this world who are too tall or too small to do something.” Andy Hardy is in love. Again. With a beautiful blonde from college. Again. And her heart belongs elsewhere. As usual. Andy’s college sweetheart Kay throws him for a loop, however, when she marries her older, handsome guardian (which is admittedly kinda creepy) and Andy mans up to be their best man. He’s also set up to go to a college formal with a girl a full foot taller than him. Who by the way, is a fox, and can lindy hop like the best of them.
Life lesson? Judge me by my size, do you?
ANDY HARDY COMES HOME (1958)
“The disgrace is not fighting back.”
12 years after the last Andy Hardy film came 1958’s Andy Hardy Comes Home. And when he does come home to Carvel, it’s to buy up property for a plant he thinks should be built there. Carvel’s residents are none to thrilled, but hey, Andy Hardy has always been able to make a great speech, which he does at the town council meeting, swaying the nonbelievers. There’s plenty of Hardy-esque hijinks through in– money problems, misunderstandings, and man-to-man chats with his own son, Andy Hardy Jr. Judging by the fact that the film ends with a “to be continued” it was obviously intended to renew the franchise. That clearly never happened.
Life lesson? It’s always great to come home–just don’t forget where you came from.
These Life Lessons from Andy Hardy have been taken from the latest DVD set from Warner Archive. Andy Hardy, Vol. 2 is available manufacture on demand (MOD) here
How I loved this post! Especially since last night, when I was watching Girl Crazy, and young Danny Churchill was having a “man-to-man” with his disappointed father, I wondered how many times Mickey uttered the line, “Gee, Dad. I’m sorry.” And “Don’t fuck with Herbert Marshall” are words to live by!
Loved these when I was a kid…they played often as part of sunday “bijou” double features of old b/w films on a pbs channel
This is a great post! I love the Andy Hardy series and yes, each one of them always offered little lessons on life. We learn so much from the movies…