Life Begins for Andy Hardy
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After four years and ten previous pictures, MGM's hugely popular Andy Hardy series took a turn away from its usual heartwarming humor of small-town life to a darker, more melancholy story set in the big city in Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941). You can tell things are not quite the same in the Hardy universe when one of its young characters dies in the course of the film.
Following his graduation from high school, Andy heads to New York City to learn about life and prove he can make it on his own. Luckily, he has some stalwart support from old pal and erstwhile romantic interest Betsy Booth (Judy Garland, in her third and last Hardy picture). But he also encounters harsh reality in the form of a glamorous "older woman" coworker with more than office matters on her mind and a down-on-his-luck pal who ends up dead. Nevertheless, the downbeat screenplay managed to end on an optimistic note back in the fictional town of Carvel, with Judge Hardy offering sage advice to his son (this time verging on the controversial subject of remaining "faithful" to his future wife).
Contrary to the squeaky-clean image we have of the Hardy pictures today, this one caused somewhat of a stir beyond the Judge's advice that Andy should stay chaste. The Production Code censors demanded that Andy's ill-fated pal's death be changed from a suicide to a heart attack, and the Catholic Legion of Decency slapped an "objectionable for children" rating on the film because of its mature themes and Andy's affair with a married temptress.
The Hardy series had begun a few years earlier with A Family Affair (1937), based on a play by Aurania Rouverol. That first picture centered around Judge Hardy, played by Lionel Barrymore. Andy was an important but still supporting character, and Mickey Rooney got only fourth billing. The film was such a hit, however, the studio decided to make numerous sequels, replacing Barrymore and Spring Byington with Lewis Stone and Fay Holden as the Hardy parents, roles they would play throughout the rest of the series (although Stone had died by the time the last one was made). By the third film, Judge Hardy's Children (1938), Rooney had achieved star status and top billing, although his character's name wasn't placed in the title until the fourth entry, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), which had Garland competing with a young Lana Turner for Andy's affections. Within a couple of years, the Hardy pictures and a series of musicals teaming Rooney and Garland made the young male star one of the top box office attractions in the nation. Such success guaranteed the series would continue, which it did for five more pictures but with diminishing interest and skill, ending with a special reunion story, Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958).
Director George B. Seitz helmed 13 of the 16 Hardy pictures, beginning with the first. Formerly a playwright, Seitz left the theater for Hollywood in 1913, where he wrote screenplays for such action serials as The Perils of Pauline (1914). After a successful career writing and occasionally acting, he moved into directing in the B picture field, with great success. Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944) was his last picture. He died that year at the age of 56.
In his second movie appearance, as the doomed Jimmy, the young friend whose suicide was transformed to a heart attack by the censors, Broadway dancer Ray McDonald had a role that boded well for his future career. A vaudeville performer at an early age (with his sister Grace) and a featured player on Broadway while still in his teens (in the Rodgers and Hart hit Babes in Arms), McDonald made his screen debut in Down in San Diego (1941). But despite boundless energy, talent and boyish good looks, subsequent good parts were few and far between. He played several second-string roles in MGM musicals such as Babes on Broadway (1941), Presenting Lily Mars (1943) with Judy Garland, and most notably Good News (1947), his last major picture. In 1959, while in New York to appear on a TV show, he accidentally died after choking on food in his hotel room. He was only 37.
Director: George B. Seitz
Producer: George B. Seitz
Screenplay: Agnes Christine Johnston, based on characters created by Aurania Rouverol
Cinematography: Lester White
Editing: Elmo Veron
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: David Snell
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy), Judy Garland (Betsy Booth), Ray McDonald (Jimmy Frobisher), Lewis Stone (Judge James Hardy), Patricia Dane (Jennitt Hicks).
BW-102m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Rob Nixon