Review: George B. Seitz’s “Andy Hardy’s Double Life,” Starring Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford and Esther Williams in
Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford and Esther Williams in "Andy Hardy's Double Life"

Andy Hardy’s Double Life, in which Andy prepares for college, marked the beginning of the end for the hit MGM series. In 1943, following the release of both The Courtship of Andy Hardy and Double Life the year before, MGM did not release an Andy Hardy film for the first time since the series started in 1937. Double Life was the last financially successful Hardy film, and there would be only three more installments before the series ended for good in 1958. The film makes an effort to criticize Andy’s treatment of women, but the attempt is akin to trying to bail out a sinking ship with a thimble.

Double Life is the 13th Andy Hardy film and, as usual, it follows the same predictable formula: Marian (Cecilia Parker) struggles with boy troubles, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) grapples with a tricky case, and Andy (Mickey Rooney) finds himself in in hot water both romantically and financially. But this time, Andy is about to head off to Wainwright College, his father’s alma mater and, sadly for Andy, an all boys school. In preparation, Andy resolves to put his flirtatious ways behind him and to get his finances in order, but of course, neither plan is successful. Andy sends a check to have his new car driven down from New York and tries to sell his old car to his friends to cover the cost. But before he can collect the money, they wreck the car, leaving Andy in debt. At the same time, Andy makes up with his long time love interest, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), whose 20-year-old college friend Sheila Brooks (competitive swimmer Esther Williams in her film debut) is also in town. Despite Andy’s intentions to play it cool with Polly, he somehow ends up engaged to marry both Polly and Sheila. As in every Hardy film, one wonders how Andy’s irritating and offensive personality attracts women instead of repelling them. But such is the nonsensical (read: sexist) world of the Hardy series.

Like the other films in the series, Double Life is rife with sexist tropes and patronizing lines. Before reuniting with Polly, Andy asks his sister Marian for advice telling her he wants Polly to be “crazy enough so that when I go to college that she’d write me every once in awhile—maybe five or six times a week, and kind of hotsy letters too—so as to build up my campus reputation. [But] not crazy enough so that it would make me feel guilty if I wanted to trick a chicken or two here and there.” To achieve this impossibility, Marian tells Andy, “it’s about time you learned a few of the things that chill off the hungry female,” which sounds more like a line from Animal Planet than a preface to sisterly advice. Later on, when Polly warns Andy that Sheila is “terribly intelligent, Andy responds incredulously with, “Intelligent huh? A female brain?” And when he finally meets Sheila, Andy is shocked to find that attractiveness and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive, to which Sheila responds, “If a girl has brains why shouldn’t she use them to make herself inviting to men?”

The plot of the film is driven by Polly and Sheila’s plan to teach Andy a lesson about the pitfalls of his flirtatious ways. But after they reveal the truth, Polly asks Sheila what they should do with him. Their decision? To write him the “hotsy” letters he wanted all along and to kiss him goodbye, in what can only be described as the wholesome Hardy version of a threesome. Andy never learns the lesson they intended to impart, and in the end he ends up learning something different and far more troubling: that even if he strings along two different girls and gets caught, he’ll still get exactly what he wanted all along, and then some.

The film does have some redeeming moments, although they may only seem that way when compared to the surrounding misogynistic scenes. For one, Andy intervenes in his father’s case, in order to keep a poor widow and her son from losing their house. And late in the film, Andy has a heart to heart with his father, telling him he needs to go to college on his own, without his father, in order to become his own man. The performances and the screenplay make Andy momentarily seem like a whole new character, one who actually cares someone other than himself.

But of course, all of this talk is undermined by Andy’s actions and by the final scene of the film, in which Andy boards the train to Wainwright only to find himself seated next to one of the college’s first female students. Almost immediately, he tells her “you’re the most beautiful girl I ever saw in my life.” So much for learning his lesson. But Andy didn’t change in the past twelve films, so why should he now?

After Double Life, the series petered out. The next two films, Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble and Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, were not nearly as financially successful as the previous installments.1 World War II would change American audiences and the film industry, something MGM’s Louis B. Mayer hadn’t anticipated. In 1958, MGM released the sixteenth and final film. Andy Hardy Comes Home was a final and failed attempt to revive Andy Hardy.

Rooney shared the arrogance of his onscreen persona. He once said, “I blissfully [believed] that my good parts and my good luck and my good life would go on forever . . . I became as cocky a kid as ever cruised Sunset Strip in his own convertible, exploding with sheer, selfish energy and pissing off almost everyone around me.”2 Angered by that “selfish energy,” Mayer once scolded Rooney, telling him “You’re Andy Hardy. You’re the United States. You’re a symbol.”3 But by the 50s, that symbol of idyllic American life no longer represented reality, or at least a reality that American audiences wanted to see.

Where to Watch

Stream it on Warner Archive

Buy it on DVD

Rent it on YouTube / Google Play / Vudu / Amazon Video

Watch the Trailer

References   [ + ]

1. “MGM Financial Data,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, no. 12 (1992): 1-20.
2. Katrina Longworth, “MGM Stories Part Seven: MGM’s Children – Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland,” podcast audio, You Must Remember This, MP3, October 26, 2015.
3. Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 358