Although I'm a big fan of classic films from MGM, somehow I'd never caught more than a bit of an Andy Hardy movie. I made up for that over this holiday weekend by viewing the first two films in the series, A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937), linked above, and YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (1937).
These movies were the beginning of a long-running franchise of well over a dozen films. They are relatively short "B" movies -- A FAMILY AFFAIR was just 69 minutes and YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE was 78 minutes -- but despite originally being made for the bottom half of a double bill, MGM's high-quality production values are still evident, including eye-pleasing sets and costumes.
The cast of the original film included Lionel Barrymore as Judge Hardy, Spring Byington as his wife, and Julie Haydon as married daughter Joan, while Margaret Marquis played neighbor Polly Benedict. In succeeding entries, beginning with YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE, Judge Hardy was played by Lewis Stone, Mrs. Hardy by Fay Holden, and Ann Rutherford was Polly Benedict. The character of Joan appears to disappear from the series after the first film. Sara Haden played Aunt Millie throughout most of the Hardy series, although the part was taken over on two occasions by Betty Ross Clarke. Andy, of course, was played by Mickey Rooney.
I found A FAMILY AFFAIR amusing but a bit top-heavy with political intrigue and daughter Joan's marital troubles. YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE was much more pleasing, with the Hardys enjoying a Catalina vacation. (As far as I could tell, the Catalina setting was all stock footage; I doubt the actors left the lot!) I especially enjoyed Lewis Stone's portrayal of wise Judge Hardy, who finds interesting ways to teach his children important life lessons.
There's a nice "postscript" to YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE in which Judge Hardy invites the audience to return for JUDGE HARDY'S CHILDREN (1938). I'll be watching that one next.
The first three Hardy films are not currently available on video or DVD, but are part of the Turner Classic Movies library. Some of the later films in the series, which included guest stars such as Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Kathryn Grayson, and Donna Reed, have been released on video.
Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits reported last week that an Andy Hardy DVD set is rumored to be in the works, so perhaps we can hope that in time all of the Hardy films will be released in that format, with the films easily available in chronological order. Mickey Rooney and Ann Rutherford are still living so it would be wonderful if they were able to contribute to some extras regarding the series.
Update: YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE is now available on DVD-R in the Andy Hardy Collection, Vol. 1 from the Warner Archive. A FAMILY AFFAIR is out from the Archive in the Andy Hardy Collection, Vol. 2.