18 September 2008 | dougdoepke
Sabotaged by the Censors
There's some bite in this eleventh installment of the Hardy series. Unfortunately, there's also a forced retreat from any kind of controversial follow-through. In the end, the tried and true verities of small town America are once again affirmed, but then that is exactly what audiences expected from this pre-war version of Ozzie and Harriet.
What makes this entry more interesting is a dark side not usually seen in Andy's world of proms and parental wisdom. Vaguely bored with the prospect of a settled life, Andy leaves Carver to prove himself amid the challenges of the big city, New York. There he finds a more impersonal and risky life-style, but also glamor and excitement. However, his small town openness and honesty are quickly exploited by a gold-digging glamor girl, Patricia Dane in an excellent performance. At the same time, his in-bred good-neighborliness prompts him to risk eviction by sneaking a penniless youth, Frobisher (Mc Donald), into his hotel room.
Unfortunately Frobisher turns up dead in Andy's bathroom, a startling development for such a sunny series. At first, the death looks like a suicide, the boy being penniless with no prospects. It also looks like a hard dose of reality for Andy. More importantly, suicide presents a never-thought-of possibility for Andy too, since he's been struggling in a tight job market. Suicide would have added real weight to the story. However, the script is forced to revert to comfortable series form when it's discovered the boy died of natural causes.
Thus a potentially exceptional entry is turned into another series programmer. Apparently it was the Catholic legion of Decency that forced this emasculating change on the studio. What an excellent example of how the dead hand of censorship sanitized reality in the name of protecting the audience from that same reality. And, if memory serves, it wasn't until 1956 (Elia Kazan's Baby Doll) that a studio product was willing to defy the self-appointed censors and treat adults like adults.
Of course, in this movie, there's the usual lively, engaging turns from Rooney and Garland, along with MGM's customarily slick production values. Dad Hardy (Stone) works in his usual words of wisdom, this time on the virtues of unmarried abstinence of the unfortunate myopic type that ten years later would help fuel the Playboy, Hugh Hefner revolt. All in all, the series may have idealized a small town America that never was. But it also presented a picture of life as many wanted it to be and still do.