Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Director: George B. Seitz


With the unexpected success of MGM’s 1937 A Family Affair, an intended B-movie that went one to find a wide audience, the studio would fast track many subsequent sequels about the Hardy family. Love Finds Andy Hardy would already be the fourth in the series, and obliviously states with its title how the series was mostly focused on the youngest in the clan, Andy Hardy played by juvenile star Mickey Rooney. Centered on the romantic foibles of the teenager, this would be a popular episode in what would be a long running franchise for MGM. Debuting in the series was the studio’s newest young starlet, a girl by the name of Judy Garland. It would be the first major pairing of the two youthful actors, having once appeared together in the B-movie Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, this made for the official beginning of a long and successful on-screen union.

Love Finds Andy Hardy is a comedy of a teenage boy who gets into a mix up with handling relationships with three girls at the same time. Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) coming of age wants to purchase his own car to take his girlfriend Polly (Ann Rutherford) to the big Christmas Eve dance in, but is eight dollars short of the down payment. With news of Polly having to visit her grandmother for the holidays and missing the dance Andy makes a deal with a friend of his to make up the eight dollars by dating his friend’s beautiful girlfriend, Cynthia (Lana Turner), so that no other guys will move in on her while he is out of town for the holiday. Meanwhile a third girl enters the pictures as Betsy (Judy Garland) visits her grandmother, the Hardy’s neighbor, for the holidays and becomes romantically infatuated with Andy, although he is oblivious to it because of her being younger than he.

Things get sticky for Andy as Polly informs him she will make it back for the dance; meanwhile he must take out Cynthia at the same time, that is until his friend reneges of the deal that would pay for his car. Andy would aid his father (Lewis Stone) by communicate with his mother (Fay Holden) who is out of town at the side of his ill grandfather. For being a good son his father helps him pay for his car, but with Polly’s feelings being hurt and Betsy sabotaging Cynthia to not want to go with Andy to the dance, Andy is now left with the dilemma of having a car, but with no girl. Betsy surprises Andy making herself up for the event and they go to the dance together where Betsy is revealed to be a mighty fine singer, concluding the evening with them both having a great time. Come Christmas Betsy feeling for Andy helps reunite Andy and Polly to things as they were before, and the Hardys come together for a happy ending for the holidays.

As intended the film was a reuniting of the Hardy clan, starring Lewis Stone as the patriarch Judge Hardy, Fay Holden as the loving mother, Cecilia Parker as the eldest teenager, and Mickey Rooney as the energetic youngest son. The well established characters in this series of pictures need very little introduction for audiences, but even for those seeing the Hardy’s for the first time it is not hard to jump right into the situational comedies of the family.

Obviously Mickey Rooney’s character was becoming the center of attention of the series, even naming the title of this feature after Andy, however Rooney was still not the top billing of the picture. Rather that honor would be shared by all of the family’s actors as a singular unit. What does stand out in the credits is the film’s featured actor, sixteen year-old actress Judy Garland, a noticeable push for MGM’s new young talent.

With the series of films reaching its forth feature, the picture has the feeling of almost being a giant episode in a larger series of situational comedies.  The film does very much stand on its own, but shares similarities to the situational comedies of television programs of the 1950s and 60s, something the Andy Hardy films perhaps helped to inspire once television became a household item in many American homes starting in a decade.

The same players would return once again in what would become almost formulaic production of these films. A Family Affair was a standalone picture, but as the sequels began to be produced only Mickey Rooney and Cecilia Parker remained as for that original cast. Aside from director George B. Seitz returning for his third Andy Hardy picture, so was the entire ensemble of actors portraying the family from the second picture on. Lewis Stone, the stoic father is the voice of all reason, in the role originally filled by Lionel Barrymore. Andy’s mother Emily, played by Fay Holden becomes the antithesis of a motherly figure in the perfect American family, but she is seldom on screen in the picture as she is away with her sick mother, a point of a major side story through the film. For Cecilia Parker, her role as Andy’s sister became her main form of success in her young career.

With the three girls being the center of the pictures plot, MGM got three very different girls. Ann Rutherford returns as Andy’s steady girlfriend, the youthful and energetic puppy love in Polly. She was as much a part of the Hardy family as anyone, being a constant in Andy’s life since the second Hardy feature. Lana Turner on the other hand played the sultry and sophisticated girl that has nothing in common with Andy other that their love of kissing, an obvious analogy for something far more serious in teenage relationships, but kept clean for this family movie. This was Turner’s first push of any kind in a sizable role, to be discovered by male audiences for her beauty, appeal, and womanly figure which would make her a star in her own right. Then there is Judy Garland’s Betsy, the literal girl next door who is looked down on despite her infatuation with Andy along with her quiet and polite demeanor. The three are made very different, with a recognizable spotlight on Garland’s character, being the one sympathetic character in the mix.

The pairing of Rooney and Garland would be the beginning a long and treasured relationship between two gifted actors. Rooney was quickly becoming a very likable juvenile actor, with the perfect mix of talent, humor, sarcasm, and expressionism all wrapped up into one short and gifted package. Though at times he overacts his happy expressions, he has that spark on screen that makes a movie star. With the success of this picture and his drama Boy’s Town later in the year, Rooney was on his way to being the biggest box office draw in Hollywood. Garland was sixteen years-old and just finding her feet in the movies. The clearly talented young girl was not given many chances because she did not have the looks Hollywood thought a major star should, which would thought of being somewhere along the lines of Ginger Rogers-type. Here she plays a shy girl with great talent that reveals itself when opportunity comes. Her meek role still manifests the studio was attempting to find her way to break out and discover her niche in the movies, and here with Rooney at her side the producers began to see something that would become much greater in the future.

The Andy Hardy films were as popular as could be. They were sure fire money makers for MGM as audiences lapped up the stories of this family and their youthful son. This would be a picture MGM would test out new audio equipment, recording segment in stereophonic sound, although only meant as a test and would not be used in releases as all theaters were mono systems. However it would show how the industry was looking forward to the future developments of the medium of sound and it natural evolution, decades before its time would come.

As the Andy Hardy series would run for several more years, totaling 15 pictures in all, Love Finds Andy Hardy would be remembered as one that stood out for the litter. These situational comedies would help inspire the likes of some of the great television programs in the future decades with its wholesome middle American family and the son that both caused trouble and found difficulties in growing up. The genre of the juvenile picture was in full swing for the first time during this period thanks to Rooney and Garland. The picture would be selected for preservation as a significant picture in American history, perhaps mostly for uniting Rooney and Garland, two individuals that would be the brightest stars of the coming years in Hollywood.

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