The mind-boggling success of The Avengers has redefined how Hollywood develops a modern movie franchise. It's no longer enough to tell a series of stories featuring a certain character(s); now it has become imperative to build a "universe" of characters, some of whom can be spun off into smaller movie series of their own, in order to tell one big mega-story - and indeed, Spider-Man, X-Men and Star Wars are among the properties whose studios are making plans to do just that.
Sequelization is certainly nothing new in Hollywood. Popular characters from Nick & Nora Charles to Charlie Chan to Ma & Pa Kettle and Lassie had franchises of their own, although they weren't called that back then. (One could even make an argument for silent movie characters like Charlie Chaplin's Tramp as the progenitors of proto-franchises.) Over time, action-adventure characters from James Bond to Sinbad to Jaws begot franchises more often than the more mundane, by comparison, down-to-earth ones like Dr. Kildare or Blondie. Perhaps once television began to sate the public's appetite for such characters, the film industry wanted recurring characters with more big-screen spectacle.
|the primary cast of the Andy Hardy series|
Family was successful, but not a huge box office smash. It was the exhibitors who pushed MGM for a follow-up, according to the book The MGM Story by John Douglas Eames. The sequel, You're Only Young Once, was made later in the same year, 1937, though not without some casting changes due to schedule conflicts. Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington, the original Judge & Mrs. Hardy, were replaced by Lewis Stone and Fay Holden, who would remain throughout the rest of the series. Rooney returned as Andy, of course, as did Cecilia Parker as Marian, his older sister, and Sara Haden as their Aunt Milly. (Betty Ross Clarke would take over her role for the next two films before Haden returned.) Eldest sister Joan never came back.
|Dear old Dad always had good advice for Andy.|
And then there was Judy Garland. She appeared in three Hardy movies, beginning with 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy, as Betsy, a slightly younger girl with an unrequited crush on Andy. Garland and Rooney had appeared together the year before, in a film called Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, and they'd go on to make many more movies together outside of the Hardy series.
Of course she sings.
From what I've watched of the Hardy films for this post, I can see how they would appeal to audiences back then. In many ways, they represent the idyllic, almost innocent (and white, of course!) ideal of America, even in the latter years of the Depression. It seems more like post-war America than pre-war in how it affirms familial and societal values of its time without getting into any deep moral quandaries.
|No.1 gal-pal Polly appears throughout most of the series|
The Hardy movies clearly draw up the blueprint for what would eventually become the television sitcom. From Father Knows Best and My Three Sons through The Cosby Show and Family Ties to The Simpsons and Modern Family, the formula remains consistent, despite changes that suit the times. And while movies continue to tap into the family dynamic, it's hard to imagine a modern Hollywood franchise built around one in the same way. There's Ben Stiller's Focker trilogy (Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers), but for all their generational by-play, they also rely on sexual innuendo, gross-out and slapstick humor to a large degree. Extremely un-Hardy-like.
If anything, the Hardy movies, lightweight as they may be, present an image of how America used to see itself. Yes, by today's standards, the image is incomplete, but I believe it can be taken on its own terms and appreciated for what it is. Rooney is exuberant as Andy, mixing the urban scrappiness of his screen persona as seen in earlier films like Boys Town with a more upright, Middle American identity. He may not always come across as the sharpest knife in the toolbox, but then, he is only a teenager!