TCM recently ran a slew of “Andy Hardy” films in a Thanksgiving Day marathon. What distinguishes this series of films is perhaps not the depiction of an ideal American family, but the fact that we get to see them so often, a new one almost every year. They were not exactly sequels in the sense that we have come to understand the blockbuster sequels of today, a.k.a. “Rocky 17” and “Star Wars 23”. There were just the continuing saga, and one did not have to see any of the previous films to understand the plot. Many other series films have been shown in the past month as well.
There used to be a lot of series films, some of them B-movies which were shot on slim budgets, but also feature films that carried characters, if not a storyline, onto the next film. “Mr. Moto” films, “The Falcon” and “The Saint” were typical of popular detective features of the day. “Ma and Pa Kettle” and “Mexican Spitfire” and the “Maisie” films took over comedy. “Dr. Kildare” gave us drama, and “Torchy Blaine” gave us yet another “girl reporter.”
Series films weren’t exactly serials, either, like the “Crash Corrigan” type of chapter-by-chapter short. They were full-length films which featured characters already so familiar that they did not need to be explained or established. You knew what to expect when Andy Hardy met a new popular girl at school, or Mr. Moto took on a new case.
It was a hybrid type of film that perhaps morphed into episodic television and sitcoms. Possibly the closest thing we have today to series films are the James Bond movies, which feature the same character in different adventures.