Lewis Stone is his long-suffering pop, Judge Hardy; Fay Holden is his adoring and somewhat ditzy mom; Sara Haden is back as doting maiden Aunt Milly who lives with them, and who teaches English at the local high school. Older sister Marian is absent from this entry in the series and it is explained that she’s away in New York City.
Ann Rutherford’s back as Mikey’s best girl Polly, and spends most of the movie in a jealous snit. The main diversion for the Hardy clan, besides Andy’s struggle to graduate, is the Land family. Widower Ian Hunter lives in a small cottage on the other side of the tracks with his son Harry, played by Todd Karns; and his daughter Kathryn, played by Kathryn Grayson in her first movie. She is the reason Ann Rutherford’s in a jealous snit. The secondary characters are always more interesting in the Hardy series because we already know Andy’s going to be okay no matter what. His family will always bail him out, and he’s Uncle Louis B. Mayer’s pride and joy.
They had lived with their dad in Europe for several years, but the war has put a damper on his travel business (nobody wants to vacation in war zones, go figure), and working in a garage is the only job he’s been able to find. His ability to speak nine languages will be just the angle for Judge Hardy to give him a hand up at the end of the movie. Anybody who enters the Hardys’ magical sphere is always the better for it.
There is something amusingly snobbish about Louis B. Mayer’s version of a perfect America where Andy Hardy, the son of a judge, and Polly Benedict, the daughter of the local banker, are regarded as typically middle class—both will be presented with brand-new cars by their dads—while Mr. Land, who must work in a garage as a mere “working man,” the expression used to be, is regarded as somehow pitiable. Judge Hardy must remind his son to be nice to the Land kids and include them in their own graduation ceremony.
Kathryn Grayson is the private secretary in the title, assigned to help Mickey in his duties as class president in the final hectic weeks of senior year. He has the ceremony to arrange, the yearbook, is writing the class play, and as a result of his over-extending himself, he flunks his English final. Even Auntie Milly could do nothing to save him.
Todd Karns, who is understandably fed up with Mikey’s antics with the resentment a poor kid has for an upper-middle class kid who’s getting a brand-new car for graduation, nevertheless finds the loophole to get him a makeup test and together with Kathryn and Ann Rutherford, stays up all night and force-feeds English grammar rules into Mickey’s thick head.
Kids today might regard the importance of English grammar on the same level of unbelievability as the apparent social shame of not owning white flannel pants.
Todd is given the chance to pay off his graduation fee and contribute to the festivities by being allowed to decorate the high school auditorium for graduation. Not only does he win the prestigious $25 prize for academics and citizenship, but his artistry is rewarded by being offered a job creating window displays for a local department store. This is more than just a convenient happy ending or a deus ex machina, at least for our purposes in examining the cultural background of movies. It tells us a little more. These are kids who want to work, have seen their father struggle, and they want to help him and pay their own way. The Great Depression is receding, but it’s all these teens remember and it will mark them for life, and a job, any job, made one a winner, at least in one’s own mind. We might wonder how Kathryn can have such a polished coloratura soprano voice with no mention of voice teachers, but we can accept that Todd might not have plans for college and be thrilled at starting a career in a department store.
If you can find a department store in your town that is not a chain, they still likely may have an outside advertising agency handling that for them. Once upon a time, retail was local, every facet of running the store, nothing outsourced, and the boss was the owner.
At one point, Mickey announces, “I don’t live in the present. I belong to the future.”
The future, at least fifteen years down road, is where Spring Reunion takes us. The town of Carson might not be so very different from the Hardys’ town of Carvel, but the seaside burg has undergone a lot of real estate development in the backwash of the war. Jean Hagen, who plays Betty Hutton’s girlhood chum, returns to her old hometown for the reunion with the bemused, incredulous, “What happened to this town anyway? Supermarkets, ranch houses….”
Betty Hutton is one of the organizers of the reunion, and it’s easy to see why she was voted most popular. No “clique” is inferred here, her popularity comes from her genuine likeability and her friendliness with everyone. Betty Hutton is really quite appealing in this quiet role. Some of her other movie performances tend to jump into your face and choke off your air. This role, her last film, perhaps because of the nuance of wistfulness, of sadness below the surface, is more intimate and draws our interest and our sympathy.
Betty’s problem, opposite from Jean Hagen’s, is that she is not married and has no children. She helps her father run a successful real estate business, but the refreshing sight of seeing a woman in this period capably handle a business with authority is tempered by the sight of the woman questioning her self-worth because of not being in a romantic relationship. Her bigger problem is one she does not see: Her father, who calls her “Kitten,” is entirely too clingy. Played by Robert F. Simon, Papa seems to enjoy his daughter’s company more than his wife’s. She is played by Laura La Plante, and her eyes are wide open to the situation, and she tries to tactfully pull him away. A subtle point made with the set decoration is seen late in the movie when we see two photos on either side of her father’s desk at the office. One is a portrait of his wife. The other, perched across the desk on the other corner as if in a world of its own, is a photo of he and his daughter together.
There are the usual jokes at the reunion about weight gain, hair loss, and the anxiety of not measuring up to who they thought they’d be fifteen years down the road, still dwelling in the identities they had in high school. The football hero is the only one who seems to be a case of arrested development, enjoying game reels of himself and reliving past glory on the gridiron. The others are more uncomfortable with themselves.
They leave for a long walk and what ends up being a long night of talking about themselves, escape on a sailboat, and renewing something of what could have been a romance in high school if either had been ready for it. They may not be ready for it now, but their mutual attitude is they have nothing left to lose, and maybe nothing left to expect from life.
They end up on the rocks—literally, as the sailboat takes refuge below the lighthouse where the local lighthouse keeper, played by our old friend James Gleason, longs for company and card players. He and Dana are old friends.
Meanwhile the football hero, his wife out of town, cozies up to Jean Hagen, who is half excited and half scared to be finally paid the attention she never was in high school. She comes daringly close to an affair, but will think the better of it by morning when she decides she wants to return to her family.
Betty and Dana have not come to their senses in the light of day. They decide to run off to be married, but her dad makes one last ditch effort to keep her by dangling a job, a partnership for Dana. Dana walks out, because he always walks out on opportunities and doesn’t want to feel trapped, and it is supposed to be a moment of triumph for our Betty when she runs out into traffic with her suitcase to go with him. Perhaps her first impulsive move will be his first effort at commitment and both will be happy at last.
Where were Kathryn and Harry Land fifteen years after graduation? Did he make it through the war? Did she ever sing in public again? Did they go to their 15th reunion at Carvel High?
Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.