Even when taking into account films like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer’s most beloved projects at the studio were the Andy Hardy movies.1 The sixteen-film series follows the mundane adventures of the all-American Hardy family in the fictional town of Carvel, Idaho. Mayer once said of the series, “They were good and wholesome. They had heart.”2. But that is only true if formulaic writing can be considered “good” and if male chauvinism can be considered “wholesome.”
Like the rest of the entries, the The Courtship of Andy Hardy focuses on teenager Andy (Mickey Rooney), but also features his parents, Emily (Fay Holden) and Judge James (Lewis Stone), as well as his older sister, Marian (Cecilia Parker). When Andy is pulled over by police for driving his new tow truck without license plates, he winds up being accused of stealing the car he is towing. After fessing up to his father, Judge Hardy assures Andy that he will take care of it on one condition: Andy must befriend the undesirable Melodie (Donna Reed), daughter of Olivia and Roderick Nesbit (Frieda Inescort and Harvey Stephens), a married couple going through a bitter custody battle. Andy’s sister, Marian, returns from New York City and starts dating Jeff Willis (William Lundigan), a local playboy her family disapproves of. Meanwhile, Andy’s mother, Emily, tries to secretly buy a new coat for her husband, but finds herself in financial trouble after falling victim to a scam.
The main focus of the series’ twelfth installment is on Melodie’s increasingly desperate attempts to win over Andy, who considers her “mealy” and a “droop,” and pays other guys to dance with her so he won’t have to. In one scene, Melodie asks Andy how she can be seen as attractive. Melodie eagerly listens to Andy as he offers her his advice; to be attractive a woman must want to be attractive and they must have poise. They can’t be dull, but they can’t be too wild. Andy tells Melodie that a desirable girl “should make the fella feel as though he’s really got something…and to do that she has to make herself attractive to the other fellas.”
Andy’s sexist advice reveals the hypocrisy of his character. Andy can be unkind, annoying, and downright terrible to everyone around him, and still have multiple girls in love with him. But according to Andy and the double bind he presents to Melodie, girls must check off an infinite list of contradicting qualities to even have the chance of being appealing to boys like him—boys who face no such prerequisite for attractiveness and who remain desirable while behaving so reprehensibly. The film clearly subscribes to the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” mentality, a viewpoint best exemplified by Andy telling his sister, “You’re okay for a woman. It’s not your fault that nature made women’s brains lighter than men’s.” The line is delivered with the intention of being comforting, and with no hint of humor.
Like most films in the Hardy series, The Courtship of Andy Hardy follows a predictable formula: Andy gets into trouble involving girls, money, or both, and after a man-to-man talk with his father, ends up making the “right” choice and learning a valuable lesson. In this case, the moral is especially troubling. Andy’s last line and assumed conclusion is simply, “Women are habit forming.” The plot of the film is uninteresting, unentertaining, and unenlightening, and Rooney’s Andy is annoying instead of charming. Surprisingly, the movie was written by two women, Agnes Christine Johnston and Aurania Rouverol, the latter of which originally created the Hardy family in her play Skidding.
Beneath the series’ supposedly wholesome depiction of American life lay a darker reality. Off-screen, Rooney struggled with alcoholism, a gambling addiction, and had multiple failed marriages. As Andy, Rooney promoted harmful messages about gender; the blatant sexism of the films makes it all the more worrisome that the series earned a special award at the Oscars in 1943 for “furthering the American way of life.”3 Whether that life is desireable is up for debate.
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References [ + ]
|1.||^||Ethan Mordden, The Hollywood Studios: House Style in the Golden Age of the Movies (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1988), 153.|
|2.||^||Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 325.|
|3.||^||Michael Dunne, American Film Musical Themes and Forms, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 44|