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Like the previous entry in the series the Hardy family doesn’t stick around in Carvel for very long in this one either. Judge Hardy’s Children is mostly set in Washington, D.C.
Judge Hardy’s Children opens, as usual, in court where the Judge (Lewis Stone) hands down a stern sentence (an essay, but a really long one!) to three of Andy’s classmates who been passing out fliers urging rebellion in response to the star football player being dropped from the team due to bad grades.
It’s quickly revealed that Andy sparked the entire protest, but the Judge won’t find out for awhile yet.
Waiting for the Judge in his chambers is Harper (Donald Douglas) from the Department of the Interior. Washington liked how the Judge handled that old aqueduct problem dating back to A Family Affair (1937) and so he’s been called in to sit on a special Washington commission to hear on the case of a public utilities company that has enjoyed an exclusive Midwest monopoly.
At $200 a day wife Emily (Fay Holden) is convinced that this call to Washington “can’t be honest.” Well, the commission itself seems to be on the up and up, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some dishonest sorts looking to take advantage.
Maggie Lee (Ruth Hussey) giggles over the provincial Hardys as she and husband John (Jonathan Hale) decide that their most effective course of action will be to set the third member of their group, handsome Steve Prentiss (Leonard Penn), loose on Marian (Cecilia Parker), who was awed by the sophistication of these Washingtonians upon their meeting (”My, aren’t they stunning?”).
Marian turns out to be as easy a mark as expected as she’s soon putting on airs and asking her father questions about public utilities. She's acting so strange that Andy thinks she has a problem with her tonsils. “Poor dahling,” she says to him. “Still clinging to those horrible Midwestern A’s.”
Emily is uneasy about her daughter’s behavior and continues to view Washington with skepticism. She does not care for Mr. Prentiss either, dubbing him “Mr. Velvet Britches” after he shows up in costume to take Marian to fancy dress ball.
Emily convinces her husband to call in Marian’s boyfriend from home, Wayne. The Judge says he could use a practical civil engineer that he can trust so Wayne, who fits that bill, is soon on the scene. It’s a shame they couldn’t think of a reason to get Andy’s Polly to Washington so that Ann Rutherford could have more than a few minutes in this one.
Wayne’s arrival is a surprise to Marian who thinks he’s followed her across the country just to keep an eye on her and scolds him for his provincial ways. “Oh, I get it,” Wayne says. “Provincially speaking, my arrival kind of cramps your style.” After Wayne storms out Marian discovers that her parents had asked him to come and she resumes her tantrum over their interference.
Andy (Mickey Rooney) meanwhile makes a quick recovery from wearing a bowl of soup to concentrate his interests on Suzanne Cortot (Jacqueline Laurent), daughter of a French ambassador. Andy is soon butchering pronunciation of simple French phrases around the house after spending all of his Washington days in the company of Suzanne and her tutor, Miss Budge (Janet Beecher).
Andy, who really came along on this trip to avoid buying a tuxedo for a formal dance at Carvel High, is eventually invited to a cotillion by Suzanne. Formal wear required.
Andy puts the bite on the Judge for twenty bucks—I mean dollars, sorry Judge Hardy—to pay for his tuxedo, but the Judge drops one of those Carvel High fliers from the opening scene while fiddling with his wallet and Andy soon confesses to having organized the entire uprising.
“For the first time in your life, you really hurt me,” the disappointed Judge tells Andy. They immediately embark on a tour of Washington’s sights so the Judge can give Andy a better understanding of just what the Founding Fathers had fought so hard for. He asks Andy if he had similar decency in his own heart during his attempt at rebellion, or if it was sparked by self-interest over the fate of the star football player.
The Judge hands down his punishment: Andy has his tuxedo, but he’s not allowed to wear it for thirty days.
When Emily breaks down at the dinner table the Judge realizes that he went too far and he waives the sentence so Andy doesn’t let down his date, Suzanne. At the cotillion Andy finally gets Suzanne alone out on the dance floor, but the waltzes the band plays are just too slow for Andy Hardy to really let loose.
He tells Suzanne about the girl who danced the Big Apple so well last summer at Catalina. She seems interested so he heads over to the band to ask if they can “swing it.” That’s when this:
Turns into this:
And leads to this:
Miss Budge asks Andy to leave.
Back at the Hardy family hotel room Mr. Lee arrives to hatch his blackmail plot on the Judge. He produces the recording of Marian quoting Judge Hardy about monopolies and leaves the Judge to choose between disgrace for himself or his daughter.
Returning to Carvel the Judge is seriously considering resigning his post and, like the previous movie, he and Emily discuss starting over again. But Andy finally finds a way to level his account with his father when a man-to-man winds up sparking an unexpected idea that may save Judge Hardy.
Sara Haden is missing from this entry with Betty Ross Clarke in her place as a less dowdy Aunt Milly. I’m becoming convinced that Aunt Milly’s main purpose is to sit across from Andy and Marian at the dinner table so that we can see the faces of the four family members who really matter.
Clarke also played Aunt Milly in the following film, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) before Sara Haden returned for good.
Wayne Trent is now Wayne Trenton and Eric Linden, who had played Wayne in A Family Affair and been pictured in a photo in You’re Only Young Once is out. Robert Whitney is in but doesn’t make much of an impression. Wayne and Marian are back together by the end of Judge Hardy’s Children, but I’m not sure anybody cares.
Lewis Stone is fine as always and Fay Holden is a lot busier in this one than she had been previously. Ruth Hussey and Jonathan Hale are fun as the devious Washington couple, though third wheel Leonard Penn doesn't bring much and would be forgotten if not for Holden tabbing him with that nickname. Jacqueline Laurent is passable though Janet Beecher made more of an impression as her tutor.
Mickey Rooney is his usual ball of fire as Andy Hardy with Judge Hardy’s Children being the first of the series to really leave you with the impression that he is taking over the series. Much like You’re Only Young Once Rooney’s Andy shares time pretty equally with Cecilia Parker’s Marian, but you leave this entry remembering Andy.
Parker’s character Marian fascinates me so much that I almost wish they had spun her off into her own series. She’s trying so hard to leave small town ways behind her and make herself over as a sophisticated woman of the world but she can’t quite make it.
“I seem to be a failure at everything I try to do,” she says to the Judge after discovering her high class friends have used her.
As presented especially here and, if I’m remembering the right entry, The Hardys Ride High (1939), Marian really shows quite a bit of potential as the Hardy family dreamer.
But Rooney’s hyper presence, loud and obnoxious both physically and verbally, is already pushing Parker to the background. Soon she’s just the third Hardy woman, hanging around the house to age with mother Emily and Aunt Milly.
Marian dreams about breaking free and discovering something better, but Andy somehow accepts the way things are and at the same time lives entirely in the moment.
She strives. He is.
While Marian is the more realistic and sympathetic character Andy is what we'd be if we just chucked it all to the wind and lived with barely any inhibitions. He's the fantasy. So guess who we're paying attention to?
Judge Hardy's Children is the third film in the Hardy Family series. It is also the third directed by George B. Seitz, who would direct 13 of the Hardy Family features--all but the final main entry, Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946), the 1958 reunion film, Andy Hardy Comes Home, and, tucked in the middle of an impressive run, 1939's Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever.
As always the characters are based on Aurania Rouverol's play Skidding.
Judge Hardy's Children is one of ten Hardy Family movies found on Warner Archive's 5-disc manufactured-on-demand DVD-R collection Andy Hardy Film Collection: Volume Two.
Coming next: MGM's Hardy Family Series #4 - Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)