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Saturday, August 3, 2013

'The Andy Hardy Film Collection Volume 2:' Love Child of Dobie Gillis and Opie Taylor


Andy Hardy Film Collection, The: Volume 2
Warner Archive's 5-disc10-film DVD release of "The Andy Hardy Film Collection Volume 2" completes the DVD series of one of the all-time longest running and most successful film franchises. These entertaining movies, which launched the career of Andy Hardy portrayor Mickey Rooney, depict the highs and lows of the middle-class Hardy family in middle America.

The "Hardy" series starts with the 1937 "A Family Affair" and, like the early "Hardy" films, centers more around family patriarch Judge James K. Hardy then teen Andy. A noteworthy aspect of this film is that is stars Lionel Barrymore as Judge Hardy; Lewis Stone takes over the role after that inaugural outing.

The central plot of "Affair" relates to Judge Hardy's decision to allow a legal challenge to construction of a local aqueduct to proceed. This ruling angers the movers and shakers of the small mid-west community of Carvel where the Hardys reside. Barrymore's performance is perfect, and the film establishes Judge Hardy as the ideal jurist that he continues to be throughout the series.

One of the nicest things regarding Rooney's portrayal of Andy is that he is a 16 year-old playing a 16 year-old. He also gets to show off the false bravado and generally clowning around that endears him to classic movie buffs.

The additional elements of small-town boy Andy having a wise and caring father who has a endless supply of  common sense to share with his offspring invite comparisons with Opie Taylor of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Andy's additional "edge" in the forms of being moderately girl crazy, engaging in limited schemes, and a near-obsession with driving evoke thoughts of television's Dobie Gillis from "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," which was one of the first sitcoms that was based on a film. As an aside, Unreal TV recently reviewed the DVD release of the "Dobie" series.

The Dobie comparison extends as well to watching Andy and Dobie mature physically and mentally throughout their respective series. We meet both characters as teens and witness their  formative years, which include stints in the Army.

Made-for-TV reunion films fill us in on Dobie's adult life; the 1958 film "Andy Hardy Comes Home," which the second volume of "Hardy" films includes, shows us the type of man that Andy has become.

The flashbacks, including scenes with Judy Garland and the very recently deceased Esther Williams, of Andy's G-rated love life add to the charm of "Home." It is also nice to see both that Andy still obtains guidance from his father despite the judge's absence and that Andy pays tribute to his father in a few other ways.

Every aspect of "Home," including a scene in which rock-and-roll loving '50s teens ridicule the music of '30s teens, makes the 12 year wait between films worthwhile. It also makes old and new Hardy fans hope to see Rooney in a new film that spans the 55 years in Andy's life since "Home" was released.

Returning to "Affair," Andy's story is a B plot involving him being coerced into escorting Polly Benedict to a party but then becoming smitten with her. This ties into the main plot in the form of Polly's father being one of the town leaders who Judge Hardy's ruling angers.

"Judge Hardy's Children," which is the second film in the "Hardy" series and is in volume 2 of films, is a true sequel to "Affair." This one starts with officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior who know of the proceedings regarding the aforementioned aqueduct recruiting Judge Hardy for a highly paid position heading a commission that is investigating a legal matter involving a public utility company.

"Children" is akin to the 1939 Frank Capra classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in that the officials and those to whom they are beholden select Judge Hardy for the position because they think that they can manipulate him. Needless to say, Judge Hardy leaves Washington with his ethics and reputation intact.

The Andy plot in "Children" is a well-executed teen romcom in that he falls for a "teenage diplomat" who is the daughter of a representative of the French government and escorts her around Washington; Andy's dilemmas include turning a stuffy formal dance into a rollicking bash and obtaining the princely sum of $25 for a needed tuxedo.

The infectious wholesomeness of the "Hardy" series requires confessing to not watching the middle six films, which include "The Courtship of Andy Hardy" and "The Hardys Ride High," for this review.

The 1946 film "Love Laughs at Andy Hardy" joins up with Andy as he separates from the Army and resumes his studies at Wainwright College. The lighter tone and broader humor of this one is more typical of memories of the Hardy series.

A few examples of the awesome humor in "Love" include the unceremonious way in which Andy arrives home from war, the reactions of the dorm mates of the awesomely named and great gal Coffy Smith when Andy picks her up for a date, and the previously undisclosed differences between Coffy and Andy that initially make their date awkward.

Another mildly amusing but well played out scene has Andy dreamily looking in a series of store windows that seem to map out his future in a manner that alarms his mother regarding her "little boy." This soon leads to a frantic scene with a great payoff.

The audience can particularly relate to the challenges that Andy faces in "Love" and his reactions to them. We also genuinely feel his pain and am very happy when he predictably gets back on track.

The simple truth regarding these tales of Americana is that they are charming portrayals of an historic period in which families face tough challenges and experience horrible heartbreaks but know that "there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through."

Anyone with questions regarding Andy Hardy or Rooney's early '80s failedcom "One of the Boys" is welcome to email me.