As Thanksgiving is the one holiday steeped in Americana and there is no film series that celebrates ordinary American life like MGM’s Andy Hardy series, it makes perfect sense that Turner Classic Movies will be running all 16 Andy Hardy films tomorrow, Thanksgiving, and Friday.
Set in the mythical middle America town of Carvel, the series followed the light-hearted travails of the Hardy family, though as the series progressed it became increasingly centered on young Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) and his father Judge James Hardy (Lionel Barrymore in the first film, A Family Affair (1937) and Lewis Stone for the rest of the series). Carvel was studio head Leo B. Mayer’s idealization of what small town life was like. The people were good, honest, pious and friendly. A majority of the plots featured Andy getting into some sort of trouble, usually over girls, money or both, and eventually turns to his father for a “man to man talk” for advice on rectifying the situation.
Besides being the springboard for Rooney’s career, the series also helped launch the careers of other MGM stars. Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), the first film in the series to feature Rooney’s character’s name solely in the title, featured a young Lana Turner in one of her first screen roles. Kathryn Grayson and Esther Williams had their fuirst screen appearances in Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941) and Andy Hardy’s Double Life (1942) respectively.
Love Finds Andy Hardy also saw the first of three appearances in the series by Judy Garland, playing the pesky Betsy Booth, a girl with crush on the oblivious Andy. Garland and Rooney first appeared together the previous year in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, which proved popular enough at the boxoffice that MGM quickly paired them up for Love Finds… . In addition to the two other Andy Hardy films they would appear together in – Andy Hardy Meets Debutant (1940) and Life Begins For Andy Hardy (1941) – Roony and Garland would appear in another five musical comedies together.
A prestigious property at MGM, the Andy Hardy series had much higher production values than those found in other film series. The Andy Hardy series also stands out for the continuity between the various installments that the writers maintained. Other film series such as the The Falcon or The Saint were very episodic in nature. Only the main characters carried over from film to film and no mentions of previous adventures were ever made. However, references to the events of previous films were often made in the Andy Hardy series, especially in the first half of the run. Characters from one film, like Garland’s Betsy Booth, could show up again a few films later. Creating this continuity, if it was done intentionally, was a smart move on the writers’ part as it subtly gives characters like Andy a character arc that describes his maturity and growth into adulthood as the films progress.
The series came to an end in 1947 with Love Laughs At Andy Hardy. In the film, Andy is just returning to civilian life after having served in World War II. (Incidentally, this film is the only one of the series to mention the conflict even though several installments came out while it was raging.) But much like Andy’s struggle to return to a normal life at college, the series found that the post-War America had changed and that people were looking for something that was maybe more realistic than the mythical town of Carvel and its residents had to offer. An attempt to relaunch the series came in 1958 with Andy Hardy Comes Home, but the film only served to prove the old saying “You can’t go home again.”