Monday, January 22, 2007

LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (MGM 1939) Warner Home Video

In 1937 MGM's wunderkind producer Irving Thalberg died prematurely of a heart attack, prompting studio head Louis B. Mayer to go it alone with a slew of movies Thalberg already had in pre-production. These films were costly to say the least, and spoke to Thalberg's artistic sentiment, as well as his sincere desire that MGM would make fewer, but better pictures to satisfy the public's insatiable appetite. 

L.B. didn't quite see things Thalberg's way however. In fact, the more Mayer thought about it, the more he reasoned that it made more sense to spend less, while not inadvertently sacrificing the quality of a movie. Perhaps Mayer also wisely perceived that MGM's future was not to be found in his current roster of mature leading ladies and gentlemen, but rather in the burgeoning youth market. Besides, younger talent was paid far less for the same work and grumbled considerably less about it.

But L.B. was also a rank sentimentalist. His own unflattering childhood he sought to eradicate by producing a string of movies that extolled not the youth he remembered, but one he might have wished for himself, had wishing alone equated to living the dream.

Hence, in 1937 Mayer commissioned a trifle entitled, A Family Affair; the simple story of an aging judge and his adoring family. Not much happens in Judge Hardy's home, and yet what comes across, thanks to gifted performances by Lionel Barrymore and Mickey Rooney, is a sincere embodiment of the idyllic American family. Evidently audiences agreed, because A Family Affair was one of MGM's most profitable movies of the year, and produced on a budget minuscule by MGM standards. 

Mayer slightly tweaked the series before commissioning a sequel, You're Only Young Once (1937), replacing Lionel Barrymore with the venerable Lewis Stone. Otherwise, the premise was the same; a healthy diet of homespun family values. 

However, the next film in the series, Judge Hardy's Children (1938) showed definite signs of dwindling box office, and Mayer took great pains to ensure that its followup, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) would not suffer the same fate. 

To this end, Mayer poured more money into this latest installment than in any other before it, putting three of his top screenwriters, Vivien R. Bretherton, William Ludwig and Aurania Ruverol on the project to concoct an intricate scenario.  

Mayer also decided that Judy Garland would appear in support to help bolster audience interest. Garland's star had been on the ascendance ever since her MGM debut and the public adored her singing. So Mayer also asked David Snell and Roger Edens to collaborate on songs for Garland to sing. Shrewd to the very end, Mayer also inserted a recent MGM acquisition - Lana Turner - into the film in a bit role expressly designed to test her marketability with the paying public.

Plot wise, Love Finds Andy Hardy has young Andrew (Rooney) getting a run for his money when the girl next door, Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) pulls cupid’s arrow with sincerity and comes out the winner. One problem for Andy, he’s practically engaged to another nice girl – Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford). After Polly catches Andy schmoozing with Carvel's town vixen, Cynthia Potter (Turner), she drops Andy flat, and just before a lavish Christmas gala is about to take place. 

Betsy, a native New Yorker comes to Andy's aid. Not only does she agree to accompany him to the dance, but she also manages to belt out two showstoppers; It Never Rains But What It Pours, and, Meet The Beat of My Heart, that effectively make Polly jealous and regretting her hastiness in their breakup. 

Love Finds Andy Hardy may not win any awards for originality - its story is about as careworn as a comfortable old shoe - but it manages the minor coup of making its audience care about the film's characters long enough to immerse ourselves in the fictional town of Carvel - a place where nothing bad could ever happen to you.

Like other films in the series, the genuine joy here is to be found inside the Hardy family: Dad (Lewis Stone), mom (Fay Holden), big sister Marian (Cecilia Parker) and Aunt Millie (Betty Ross Clarke) - all of them overshadowed by the gregarious, though socially flawed, yet utterly lovable misfit - Andy (Mickey Rooney).

It is this tight knit community of players that works hypnotically well as the all American family unit. Without even one of them, the series falls apart, as the later films minus Lewis Stone would demonstrate. But together, the Hardy's are sheer movie magic. 

Adding Judy Garland and Lana Turner into the mix is merely gilding the lily. Both are obviously welcome additions, but the series gets along very nicely without them elsewhere.  In the final analysis, Love Finds Andy Hardy is a winner through and through. It will warm your heart. 

Warner Home Video’s DVD is fairly impressive. The gray scale is nicely balanced. Blacks are solid. Whites are generally clean. Occasionally, age related artifacts appear but do not distract. There’s also some minor shimmering of fine details, and this can be distracting at times. The audio is mono but nicely cleaned up. Extras are limited to a brief introduction from Garland biographer, John Fricke as well as the film's theatrical trailer. Bottom line: recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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