Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel! ¡Feliz Navidad! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Feliz Natal! Erry-may Istmas-chray! 🙂
Before the advent of TV, studios invested in movie serials, and one of MGM’s most popular franchises was the Andy Hardy series, which followed the adventures of its young protagonist in the Midwestern (?) town of Carvel. The films were sure bets for MGM and a great showcase for Mickey Rooney. Andy Hardy’s world is one of girls, family life, and man-to-man talks with Dad, meant to be a “slice of life” universe the average American could relate to. The Hardy films also served as a testing ground for new young actresses at the studio, including Lana Turner and one Judy Garland. Their chance came in 1938’s Love Finds Andy Hardy, in which our title character finds he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
It’s a busy day in Carvel. The film begins in the courtroom, where Judge James Hardy (Lewis Stone) is busy sentencing twelve-year old Jimmy McMahon (Gene Reynolds) to pay back a farmer for smashing into a tractor. He also manages to help a young wife settle her debt and secure the lady’s former cook, Augusta (Marie Blake) to work for the Hardy family. Now all James has to do is figure out how to tell his wife, Emily (Fay Holden) that she doesn’t have to cook anymore.
Meanwhile, Andy is downtown at Peter Dugan’s used car lot buying a twenty-dollar car (about $367 in today’s money) so he can drive Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) to the Christmas Eve dance at the country club. He pays twelve dollars up front and promises eight more by December twenty-third. Polly has some bad news for him, though: She’s going to her grandmother’s house for three weeks and won’t be able to go to the dance.
Polly may be going, but Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) is just arriving. She’s immediately smitten with Andy, especially after he brings over some of his mom’s preserves for her grandma. Andy looks at her as a little kid, but they’re still friends.
Also arriving in the story is Cynthia Potter (Lana Turner), a flirty redhead. She’s Beezy Anderson’s girl, and Beezy (George Breakston) asks Andy to date her up while he’s away for Christmas to keep the other guys at bay. Cynthia is a bit of a diva who drives Andy to distraction because she doesn’t want to do anything. She doesn’t want to watch basketball practice at the high school. She doesn’t want to play tennis because it gives her muscles. She won’t swim because she doesn’t want to get her hair wet. All she wants to do is kiss. Andy might be a hormonal teenage boy, but this is a bit much even for him. The only thing that makes it all worth it is that Beezy has promised to pay him eight dollars plus expenses for his troubles.
Speaking of trouble, Emily and Aunt Milly (Betsy Ross Clarke) find out that their mother has had a stroke, so both of them are off to Bringham, Canada, to take care of her. Andy’s sister, Marian (Cecilia Parker) and Augusta are left to run the house. It’s a good thing Judge Hardy hired a cook when he did, because Marian doesn’t know the first thing about making coffee.
As Betsy sings later in the film, “It Never Rains But What It Pours.” Beezy flakes, Andy doesn’t get his eight dollars, and Polly comes back early. Faithful Betsy helps where she can, but Andy’s got to dig himself out of the hole he’s fallen into. Plus, James is worried about Emily, who’s still in Bringham with her mother. Telegrams scare her, so Andy cooks up a way to get a message to her without resorting to Western Union. I won’t give the rest away, but since it’s an Andy Hardy film, everything ties up in a neat little Christmas bow.
Love Finds Andy Hardy was business as usual for most of the cast and crew. It was the fourth in the series and Mickey Rooney’s star was ascending, so it’s the first Hardy movie to feature his character’s name in the title. As was usual, the movie had a nineteen-day shooting schedule, so it really wasn’t much of a stretch for MGM to film.
The addition of Judy Garland brought the biggest changes. Nine days into shooting, she was involved in a car accident, suffering a sprained back, a punctured lung, and three broken ribs. Judy returned to work eighteen days later, and the filming schedule added an extra week in order to shoot her musical numbers, of which she had three.
Unfortunately, the movie probably fed into Judy’s feelings of inferiority, because her character’s age means she doesn’t really have a place–she’s not grown-up or a kid, just “in between” and entirely lacking in glamour, as one of her songs mournfully says. Ouch.
Judy felt overshadowed by Lana Turner, feeling Lana had what she didn’t in the looks department. She was wrong, of course, and Judy had the edge on Lana in a couple of other ways. Judy and Mickey had a ready-made rapport because they became friends years before the film was made. Plus, Judy was a big hit with the public in Love Finds Andy Hardy. Unlike other ingenues who made an appearance in the series, Judy’s Betsy came back in two subsequent Hardy movies.
MGM made an attempt to resurrect the series in 1958 with Mickey Rooney’s real-life son, Teddy as Andy Hardy, Jr. in Andy Hardy Comes Home. It didn’t pan out; by then, Lewis Stone had died, Judy had been out of MGM for eight years, and the burgeoning TV industry made the Hardy movies and other film serials obsolete.
Some film fans nowadays refer to the Andy Hardy series as sappy and Mickey Rooney as hammy, but I disagree. Yes, Rooney overdid it sometimes; however, he was playing a teenager, and teenagers can be famously melodramatic. While the series probably portrays an America that didn’t exist to that degree, that’s half its charm. I see the Andy Hardy movies as comforting and homey, and Love Finds Andy Hardy is a film I always like revisiting around the holidays.
For more of the Happy Holidays Blogathon, please see Rebekah and Tiffany at Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Thanks for hosting, ladies–this was a great idea! Hope to see everyone back here next week for a couple more Christmas movies, and thanks for reading…