Here we go…
There were sixteen Andy Hardy movies made between 1936 and 1958. They were relatively cheap and quick to shoot, audiences loved them, and they were a lot of fun. They were also a way to showcase up-and-coming young actresses such as Judy Garland, Donna Reed and Esther Williams. One of 1941’s Hardy offerings, Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary was Kathryn Grayson’s first movie, and like a lot of teen-centered films, doesn’t feature a single real teenager or at least not a younger one.
Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) is about to graduate from Carvel High, and it’s putting it mildly that he’s spread himself a little too thin. He’s on every committee, on the yearbook, he’s the Senior Class President, he’s writing and acting in a Greek tragedy, and he’s planning the Grad Night party at the country club. He’s still driving his old jalopy from Love Finds Andy Hardy and the years have not been kind. Put it this way: It’s destined to completely fall apart in the next torrential rainstorm.
One of the checks Andy’s written for the class bounced because two of his classmates, Harry and Kathryn Land inadvertantly sent in a bad check themselves. They’re poor and don’t really want to be included in Carvel’s group of teens, so Andy has this idea that they’re a little snobby. Or maybe he is.
However, when Andy and Judge James Hardy (Lewis Stone) go over to see them about the bounced check, they’re in for a surprise. Harry (Todd Karns) and Kathryn (Kathryn Grayson)’s dad, Steven (Ian Hunter) used to run a tourist consultation agency in Europe and speaks nine languages, but he brought his family back to America due to certain growing hostilities. He works for local mechanic and car salesman Peter Doogan as a janitor and night watchman to get the kids through school. Kathryn is an aspiring opera singer who’s also taking secretarial courses. Harry is an academic star who aces everything he does.
Harry and Kathryn are a little suspicious of Andy coming over at first, but they soften up a bit when Andy asks Kathryn to be his private secretary and Harry to be the head of the decorating committee. Well, Kathryn does. Harry’s still a bit salty, but he goes along.
Meanwhile, James and Steven hit it off, and James uses his connections to get Steven a job in South America, but it means the Lands will have to leave the day before the graduation ceremony. Seeing how disappointed Harry and Kathryn are, Andy takes matters into his own hands and changes a word on the telegram to the State Department, who basically say, “Never mind.”
International incidents and massive faux pas aside, Andy’s got his own problems. Polly is really jealous of all the time he’s spending with Kathryn, not to mention she hits the roof when she hears Andy dictating a line of his Greek tragedy to her and thinks Andy and Kathryn are getting romantic. Plus Andy is so busy with all of his projects that he doesn’t have time to study and fails his English class. Things look dire for everyone, but since this is an Andy Hardy movie nothing will really hit bottom, Well, it won’t hit too hard, anyway.
Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary is a pleasant little movie, and I mean that in a really good way, although Love Finds Andy Hardy is still my favorite of the series so far (well, I prefer pretty much any of the installments with Judy Garland). In Secretary there’s a lot of the usual high school stuff, like Andy taking his senior photo with his mom telling him to watch the birdie and try to sparkle a little more as if he’s a male Shirley Temple. And there’s a lot of those last looks and other last things that so often happen with high school classes, although in a small town like Carvel no one seems to say goodbye for very long. It feels oddly nostalgic even though graduation ceremonies look a wee bit different nowadays. We tend to smile more than they do in this movie, for one thing.
The only really irritating part, and it feels a little funny because I usually like Ann Rutherford, is that Polly Benedict is unreasonably jealous of Kathryn and she does this with other girls in almost every movie. Even though she always comes around, it’s kind of disturbing, but it does add conflict so that’s good, I guess.
Kathryn Grayson was heavily promoted in the film, which was her very first, and she’s so charming it’s impossible not to like her. Two out of the three songs she sings in the film are opera, which is where I think she really shone the brightest, although she could definitely go more contemporary if she wanted to.
At nineteen, Grayson was also one of two teenagers in principal roles in the film, along with her costar Gene Reynolds, who was eighteen. Whereas Mickey Rooney and Todd Karns were both twenty-one, Ann Rutherford was twenty-four, Margaret Early, who had a bit part as a girl named Clarabelle, was twenty-two, and George P. Breakston, better known as Beezy Anderson, was twenty-one.
Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary made the top ten at the box office in 1941, although I’m not sure how complimentary it is when one of the best things Variety can say is “Story follows the formula closely for the series.”
Jaded industry reviews aside, the movie is charmingly old-fashioned and dated, which is fun because it’s like time travel. It might not be the best installment of the series for the first-time viewer, but it’s enjoyable all the same.
For more fake teenagers, please click here. Thanks for reading, all, and see you tomorrow for Day Two.
Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary is available on DVD from Amazon.
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