The Hardy Family Series - The First Eight Films

A Family Affair (1937) – 7.0


This first in the Andy Hardy series is a surprisingly dramatic little film that feels more Frank Capra than Andy Hardy as Judge Hardy battles corruption and gives the bad guys their comeuppance at a town meeting that leaves the whole place in cheers. The film was quite successful and spawned a film series of 15 films in total from 1937 to 1946 and one more years later in 1958.

With the initial film there was no intention of creating a series, but when MGM saw the potential they made a second one the same year - but much of the cast was changed. Lionel Barrymore as the Judge gave over to Lewis Stone who remained in the series through 1946, Ma Hardy played by Spring Byington went to Fay Holder who remained Ma Hardy even in the 1958 film as did Cecilia Parker as the sister through the whole series. Margaret Marquis as Polly, Andy's girlfriend, went to Ann Rutherford for the rest of the series.

Most famous of the ongoing cast was to be Mickey Rooney who became a star with these films. In this first one he is 17 looking very much 14 or so and gets his first kiss from Polly. In this first film the focus is really on the Judge which is as it should be with a Barrymore playing the role - but as the series continued Mickey Rooney became the star and the films more and more began to focus on his teenage problems.

I don't know if at the time the films were released the audiences looked at these films as realistically portraying small town America or whether it felt idealized to them as well. But now it feels almost as far away as a sci-fi film taking us to Mars. In an early scene after dinner Andy says he "is full" and holds his stomach and his parents feel that is a little vulgar. Quaint times indeed. Nostalgic little baubles in which Andy Hardy will always be young and in love.

You’re Only Young Once (1937) – 6.0


The second film in the series settles down familiarly into what was to become the ongoing cast and themes of the film - middle America, small town America, old fashioned values and the kids getting into trouble of one kind or another and Judge Hardy dispensing wisdom like rain drops on a desert plain. Also, the new actors - who were different for the Judge, mom and girlfriend than in the first - take on their roles which to some degree were to make them famous back then. One has to remember in looking at these very medium budget films that they were enormously popular back then striking some chord close to the hearts of many.

In this one the Hardy family goes far away to Catalina Island and both children run into love problems like an oncoming truck. Andy (Rooney) falls for a wiser than her age swanky brat and his sister Marian (Cecilia Parker) falls for a lifeguard who isn't what he seems. Judge Hardy is there to catch them when they fall hard. Then they go home sadder but wiser where the Judge discovers he is on the verge of bankruptcy and so does the honorable thing - takes out the shotgun and kills his family and then runs away with a floosy from Topeka. In my version anyways.

Judge Hardy’s Children (1938) – 5.5

The Hardy family goes to our capital where they get involved in politics, corruption, slimy businessmen and of course romance. Judge Hardy of course doles out wisdom and advice to his two nitwit children. Not one of the better films in the Hardy family series but always good to see this perfect American family before we all became dysfunctional.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) – 7.0

One of the classic Andy Hardy films primarily for the two female co-stars who were to become famous shortly afterwards. A 16 year-old Judy Garland plays the girl visiting next door and Lana Turner is the girl Andy is paid to date. Tough work.

Garland had appeared in a few films but nothing special - here she sings 3 songs - one titled In Between makes mention not coincidentally I am sure of two other MGM stars - Gable and Garbo - and she is incredible. The following year she made The Wizard of Oz and was on her way to fame and misery. This was also the first pairing of Mickey Rooney and Garland - she appears in two more Andy Hardy films - but it is their MGM spectaculars that one remembers best - Babes in Arms, Strike up the Band, Babes on Broadway and Girl Crazy. I wish there had been another 20. In this film one can see that Garland is a bit heavy and so MGM started giving her pills to lose weight and that was so sadly the beginning of the end for her as she went through years of addiction. One of film's greatest talents.

Lana Turner was to soon gain fame as well but her private life fared no better with some eight husbands and alcoholism plaguing her life. Mickey Rooney had some eight wives so they both were busy falling in and out of love. And besides these two female stars the film also features Ann Rutherford who didn't become as famous as those two but also had a fine career and played Andy's true love Polly in 12 films.

The film itself is the usual warm family fare - the parents amazed at the newfangled technology of telegrams, ham radio and airplanes - Andy getting into trouble of his own making and the wise father getting him out of it. Nice little old fashioned film.

Out West with the Hardy’s (1938) – 6/10

I expect that when most modern audiences view one of the films from the Andy Hardy series it brings either smirks or giggles at how old fashioned, sentimental and corny these films are. But they were enormously popular in their 15 film run from 1937 to 1946 (with another one being produced in 1958 titled Andy Hardy Comes Home). I think that this is partly due to what was happening outside of America with much of the world going crazy and autocratic. It felt safe in America protected by its two huge oceans. We felt comfortable. Sort of like Hobbits we looked at the outside world and wanted nothing to do with it. And these films perfectly fit into that sense of America. The films extolled values of integrity and caring, democracy, family, young goofy love, small towns and though that was not really what America was, I think that was how we wanted to see ourselves. Louis B Mayer who ran MGM was a strong believer in these sorts of good feeling middle class cornpone films and with Thalberg passing away he had more influence over the output.

Mickey Rooney was a favorite of Mayer though he was 3rd in line of MGM's male youth stars - Freddie Bartholomew and Jackie Cooper ahead of him in prestige but not for long. Mayer had seen Rooney in a small part in the 1935 film Ah, Wilderness that was about small town values in America at the turn of the century and wanted something similar. So they came up with the Hardy family. It was only suppose to be one film and the first one A Family Affair in 1937 starred two big MGM stars - Lionel Barrymore as Judge Hardy and Spring Byington as mother Hardy. But this relatively low budget offering did surprisingly well and Mayer asked for another one - but Barrymore and Byington were considered too valuable to get thrown into a potential series and so they were replaced by Lewis Stone and Faye Holden who were soon loved as the perfect patient loving stern American parents. Lewis Stone was rather amazing - fought in the Spanish American war and was in the cavalry in WWI before he came back and turned to acting in the silent era. He was gray at 20 which perhaps explains why he looks to be in his 70's in these films but was only in his late 50's. He appeared in over 200 films and all but the first and last of the Hardy films.

This film is basic Hardy family material. They go out west to a ranch because an old friend of Judge Hardy needs help and you always help a friend no matter what. The sister (Cecilia Parker) falls in love as she seems to in every film and Andy has the typical problems with his girlfriend Polly (Ann Rutherford) but all turns out well as it always does. No musical numbers which I loved so much in the film before this - Love Finds Andy Hardy with Judy Garland and Lana Turner.

The Hardy’s Ride High (1939) – 5.0

The whole Hardy clan is back in their sixth film displaying American and small town values. It has been my least favorite so far as it felt a little sour going down. Money corrupts seems to be the moral lesson of this film as Judge Hardy is told he is in line to inherit $2 million dollars from a relative he didn't even know existed. In 1939 $2 million was a whole lot of money. Still is for some of us. They all go to Detroit to sign the papers and stay in the huge mansion of their benefactor. With dollar signs flashing before their eyes, Andy and his sister get a little nuts and act like jerks. Even the Judge who is my paragon of right and wrong in this world finds his integrity slipping. But these are the Hardy's and you know in the end they will all do the right thing. More so than I would have.

Ann Rutherford is back as Polly, Andy's off and on girlfriend, Aunt Milly (Sara Haden) gets a much bigger part than normal and perhaps finds love - we will find out in later films - and the very lovely Virginia Grey appears as the chorus girl who tries to seduce our boy Andy

Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939) – 5.0

This seventh film in the Andy Hardy series felt like an alternative universe in which the Hardy family goes to Hell. This is extremely downbeat compared to the earlier films and makes you wonder what MGM was thinking. It may have to do with a switch in directors from George Seitz who had been at the helm for all the previous films and had a pretty good sense of what this all-American middle class family was about. They always had their little dramas but they were lightened up by humor and occasionally a musical number - ah to have Judy Garland back. This is unrelentingly depressing with both the Judge and Andy shown in a bad light - one an idiot and the other a creepy idiot.

Perhaps this was due to W.S. Van Dyke taking on the directing duties, but Van Dyke has a fine record of light comedy on his resume with a bunch of the Thin Man films as well as the first Tarzan movie. Andy (Mickey Rooney) is seventeen now and feeling all grown up and when Polly (Ann Rutherford) his long time on and off girlfriend brushes him off for a naval officer, he is open to other female opportunities. Unfortunately, his affections latch on to the new drama teacher Miss Meredith (Helen Gilbert). And when I say latch on, I mean like a leech. It gets to be uncomfortable watching Andy going after her like a stalker. In this same film Judge Hardy fines someone $10 for kissing a girl in a car in public. He should have locked Andy up. On the plus side we do see a maturing Mickey Rooney showing some acting chops and in the same year he was in Babes in Arms, his first musical with Judy Garland and Busby Berkeley for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Meanwhile dad gets conned out of their savings and talks his friends into the same mousetrap. But then when he realizes this he talks the city council into buying his property to cover the losses and initially lies to his friends! Where have you gone Judge Hardy? I expected him to give an evil laugh and reveal his true identity as Al Capone. This was all around weird.

Miss Meredith and the actress who plays her has a cool remote sensuality to her that made me intrigued enough to find out more about her. Not a pretty story really. She was a trained cello player in the MGM orchestra when she was spotted and put into acting classes. This was her first film and MGM had plans for her, but her numerous romantic liaisons - one with Howard Hughes - soured Louis B Mayer on her and her many marriages - 7 to be precise - made for bad headlines and after a few more films she just faded away. Her last marriage took though and lasted for 25 years.

Judge Hardy and Son (1939) – 7.0

What could be more like comfort food than a film from the Andy Hardy series. A cozy nuclear family of father, mother, daughter and son. All living under the same roof, all loving each other. Sure there are problems from the family facing bankruptcy to Andy dating too many girls at the same time, but in the end they pull together and work it all out with the father's homey wisdom and the mother's maternal affection that has no bounds. Pure comfort food in our troubled times. But then the mother (Fay Holden) has a little cough, then a fever and the next thing you know she is under an oxygen tent with everyone praying for her and the doctor saying she may not make it. Holy shit. Covid! That we didn't need but of course she pulls through and goes on to star in the series until the final one in 1946.

Not sure if it is my somber mood but this - the 8th in the series - was perhaps one of the best ones yet - though the ones with Judy Garland give it a run for its money - a fine combination of humor, drama and old fashioned Americana. Old fashioned being the key word. At dinner Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) advises his daughter Marian (Cecilia Parker) that there will be fewer domestic problems if she is a good cook. To which Andy (Mickey Rooney) pipes in "If a man gets home from a hard day's work and can't beat up his wife, who can he beat up". Ah, the good old days of wife beating. Of course he is joking because Andy could not beat up his own shadow. Rooney was 19 years old at the time of this film - playing a high school kid - and it is an easy impersonation. By this time it is clear he isn't going to do much more growing and everyone towers over him - except perhaps his own going girlfriend Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) who of course may have been standing in a hole.

The tires on his car are shot and he needs to come up with the money to buy new ones - at the exorbitant price of 49 cents - 49 cents again - but with every scheme to make some money - an essay on Alexander Hamilton being the main one - he just keeps digging himself into more trouble and more debt. It looks like it is all over for Andy Hardy - off to debtor prison but of course it all works out - it always does in the world of comfort food.