13 August 2013 | atlasmb
The Hardy's Find an Audience
This is the first of the Hardy Family series of movies. The formula for that series is well known and a part of film lore. This film helps establish some of the values that made America fall in love with The Hardy's, but there are differences in this film that set it apart.
The actors who portray the Hardy's are not all the same. Mickey Rooney, who later became the focus of the family by dint of his energetic and lovable performances, is here. But Judge Hardy and his wife are played by Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington. It would be easy to prefer the actors who carried on these roles in the later episodes, but Barrymore plays the judge with an energy that is suited for this story (see the scene where he physically throws a man out of his chambers) and Byington, in a subordinate role, really displays the love of a mother and wife (note her reaction when her eldest daughter reveals the path her marriage has taken).
It is true that the Andy Hardy movies are anchored in the values that middle America sees as sacrosanct: good citizenship, democracy, the primacy of the family, a religious outlook. This film establishes those values, but if one looks closer, it is easy to see (in this film) how flimsy those values may be. In even a more dramatic way than Inge's Picnic demonstrates, A Family Affair reveals how shallow people and society may be.
Good citizenship may be an established basis for societies and their governments, but the political process is depicted in this film as run by a corrupt political machine designed to profit ruthless men who care only about their own wealth. Judge Hardy is an exception--an educated man who is willing to suffer scorn in the name of duty and the concept of justice.
Religious values may be advertised as charitable and forgiving, but this film shows that the measure of a town's morals is not how many churches dot the landscape or how many Bible verses are read. In a small town where a man's reputation is his measure and agreements are made on the basis of handshakes, we see that many delight in ruining reputations and that the mob mentality prevails when times get tough.
Democracy might be touted as the cornerstone of American governmental process, but the rule of the majority is nothing more than mob rule. Government's true rule is to protect the rights of those in the minority also.
In the end, it is strength of the Hardy family unit--personified by Judge Hardy--that pulls the family through the crises of its individuals and its external stresses. When Judge Hardy strides into the convention and Andy yells "Give it to them with both barrels, Dad," he has no inkling what his father intends. He displays a fundamental faith in his father and the principles he stands for. His father beams in response, because it is that trust he most cherishes, knowing it binds the family and protects them against any threats.
The primacy of the family is a theme that runs through all of the Hardy Family films and it is one of the reasons this series was so popular.
A Family Affair is well worth seeing, both because it is the first in a series and because it stands apart from the others. There is even a great chase scene. Such action was not used in the later Hardy Family films, which focused entirely on personal interactions.