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For the fifth outing in MGM's Hardy Family series, the all-American family traded in their small-town street set for the Wild West in Out West with the Hardys (1938). The new location gave star Mickey Rooney the chance to cavort in comically overdone chaps and ten-gallon hat while father Lewis Stone quietly settled an old friend's problems with water rights.
The quickly shot series had only started a year earlier, but at MGM even low-budget films like this one got all of the care Hollywood's house of glamour could spare. As with all the films in the series, it featured a top-notch supporting cast, including Ralph Morgan and Nana Bryant as the troubled ranchers, Thurston Hall as the developer out to steal their water and, best of all, Virginia Weidler as a junior-league cowgirl. The series usually served as a proving ground for MGM's rising actresses. Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Donna Reed and Kathryn Grayson were among the screen newcomers who learned their craft coming between Andy and perennial girlfriend Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford). But this time out, even though Andy and Polly quarrel just before the family's trip, priming Andy to look for love under the Western moon, his 11-year-old co-star functioned more as sidekick than romantic interest. That allowed Weidler to do something none of Rooney's other co-stars, even the prodigiously talented Garland, had been able to do. She stole every scene the two of them shared.
Of course, Rooney had other things on his mind while making Out West with the Hardys. Two days into shooting, he turned 18, which meant he no longer had to attend school on the MGM lot and could work full days on the set. One sign of his new maturity was his enrollment at the University of Southern California in the pre-med program. That didn't last long. When studio head Louis B. Mayer rewarded his consistent box office performance with a $15,000 bonus he dropped out of school and never looked back.
Ultimately, Weidler would do the same with Hollywood. She almost made her screen debut at the age of three in Warner Bros.' adaptation of Moby Dick (1930), starring John Barrymore. We'll never know if she could have stolen scenes from The Great Profile, as her refusal to take off her dress on camera led to her being fired, but as her career continued, she proved herself capable of upstaging everyone from Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford in The Women (1939) to Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Unlike Rooney, Weidler had trouble maintaining a career during the awkward years of early adolescence. Nor did it help that MGM signed Shirley Temple in the early '40s, giving her roles planned for Weidler and relegating Temple's rival to lesser films. She left the studio in 1943, eventually leaving show business altogether to marry and raise a family. In later years, she refused to discuss her career and never watched her old movies on television. When she died of a heart attack in 1968 at the age of 41 (she had suffered from heart trouble her entire life), it barely made a blip in industry news.
Out West with the Hardys marked the screen debut of another hard-luck Hollywood character, Tom Neal, in a small role. Born to a prosperous Illinois family, Neal got a law degree before chucking it all for acting. His Hollywood career was marked with typecasting as toughs on the wrong side of the law, particularly in his most famous film, the classic low-budget noir Detour (1945). He lived up to the role off-screen as well. Experience as a boxer and a hair-trigger temper got him into trouble, usually over women. In 1951, a fight with Franchot Tone over the affections of actress Barbara Payton led to assault charges and his being blackballed in the industry. He turned to landscaping, but returned to the headlines in 1965 when he shot his third wife, leading to a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Shortly after his 1971 release, he died of a heart attack.
Despite the heartache ahead for some of its cast, Out West with the Hardys was a box-office winner, like most of the films in the Hardy series. Made for approximately $310,000, it grossed seven times that amount. With the ongoing success of the series and his other films, Rooney was named the number four box-office star of 1938 and would rise to number one in 1939, a position he would hold for three years. His popularity also earned him a plum role on MGM's upcoming schedule, the title character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939).
Producer: Lou Ostrow
Director: George B. Seitz
Screenplay: Kay Van Riper, Agnes Christine Johnston, William Ludwig
Based on characters created by Aurania Rouverol
Cinematography: Lester White
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Score: David Snell
Cast: Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy), Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy), Fay Holden (Mrs. Hardy), Cecilia Parker (Marian Hardy), Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden (Aunt Milly), Don Castle (Dennis Hunt), Virginia Weidler ("Jake" Holt), Gordon Jones (Ray Holt), Ralph Morgan (Bill Northcote), Nana Bryant (Dora Northcote), Tom Neal (Aldrich Brown), Thurston Hall (H.R. Bruxton).
BW-85m. Closed Captioning.
by Frank Miller