Moment of Movie Wisdom: Men in the Driver’s Seat in ‘Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary’ (1941)

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Moment of Movie Wisdom: Men in the Driver’s Seat in ‘Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary’ (1941)

Lobby card from "Andy Hardy's Private Secretary" (1941). (MovieStillsDB)

Tiffany Brannan

Tiffany Brannan

2/8/2024

Updated: 2/8/2024

Commentary
Have you ever sat in a parking lot and observed people getting in and out of their cars? It’s an interesting study to watch couples and notice who is in the driver’s seat. In the majority of the pairs I’ve seen in various parking lots throughout Southern California recently, the woman sits behind the wheel, while the man lounges on his smartphone in the passenger seat.
There certainly could be good reasons for this arrangement in many situations, such as injury, age, or infirmity on the man’s part. However, in many cases, it’s obvious that the woman is driving simply because she wants to drive, and her male companion has neither the initiative nor the courage to argue with her.
Today’s moment of movie wisdom is from “Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary” (1941). The scene in question takes place 97 minutes into the 101-minute film. Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) and Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) have just graduated from high school. As they prepare to drive over to the dance, Andy is delighted to see the beautiful new convertible his father promised him waiting in the parking lot. Excited to try out the car, he tells Polly to sit in the passenger seat and let him take the wheel.
In the film, Andy Hardy is probably the busiest student at Carvel High. He’s class president. He’s in charge of the school performance, writing it as well as starring in it. He’s on several committees related to the graduation exercises. He then finds out that two students in the graduating class, Kathryn (Kathryn Grayson) and Harry Land (Todd Karns), weren’t able to pay their class fees. Their father, Steven Land (Ian Hunter), is a brilliant linguist who can’t find a job to match his unique skill set.
After realizing what fine people the widower and his twins are, Andy and his father, Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone), decide to help them out. While the judge looks for a diplomatic job for Steven, Andy assigns Harry to decorate the dance hall and hires Kathryn as his private secretary. Kathryn proves to be an excellent assistant to the overextended Andy, but his steady girl, Polly, isn’t happy that her girl-crazy beau has such a beautiful secretary. Meanwhile, Andy has been spending so much time and energy on extracurricular activities involving the graduation that he’s been neglecting his studies.
Lobby card from "Andy Hardy's Private Secretary" (1941). (MovieStillsDB)

Lobby card from "Andy Hardy's Private Secretary" (1941). (MovieStillsDB)

The Scene

This is the 10th of 16 movies in the Hardy Family film series. This highly successful movie series from MGM lasted from 1937 to 1958, following the adventures of Judge Hardy and his family in Carvel, USA. One of the only actors who was consistent across all 16 films was Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy. Although the character began as just the little brother, the youngest Hardy child, he quickly became the focal point of the series. He was a young high school student in the first movie, “A Family Affair” (1937), and most of the films focus on his experiences, problems, and joys during his high school years.
“Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary” is an important milestone in Andy’s life and a major turning point in the series, since it’s when the main character officially ends his school days. As part of this rite of passage, Andy is very excited about getting a brand-new car. Second only to his fascination with girls is the young man’s passion for cars. Since he was 15 years old, Andy had a beloved car with which he tinkered and puttered around town, although it was an increasingly dilapidated old jalopy. In this film, one of his biggest reasons for being excited about graduating from high school is that his father has agreed to buy him a sporty new red convertible, with matching red leather seats.

Its Significance

Andy’s new set of wheels is just one of the things he is in danger of losing when he fails his final English exam. Having gotten caught up in “the pomp and circumstance” of graduation, Andy nearly loses his father’s respect, breaks his father’s heart, and jeopardizes his own future. Thankfully, his friends and family use a little ingenuity to help him prove that he really knows the material on the exam.
By the night of the graduation, Andy is a much humbler lad than at the beginning of the film. He’s so grateful to be graduating from high school and preparing for college that he doesn’t care what else happens. That’s why he’s overwhelmed with surprised delight when he sees his beloved convertible in the parking lot. He hadn’t expected to still get the car after his scholastic difficulties, but he certainly is happy to see it.
Eager to get behind the wheel, he tells Polly, “Slide over, my dear girl. I’m going to drive. A woman’s place is in the home!” “Yes, Andy,” she says kindly, moving into the passenger seat. Of course, Andy soon learns that the reason Polly wanted to drive the car was that it’s actually her car. Her father bought her a convertible of her own as a graduation present, but hers has brown leather seats. Andy’s devastation is short-lived, however, since his father pulls up alongside them in Andy’s convertible. They just got in the wrong car!
Lobby card from "Andy Hardy's Private Secretary" (1941). (MovieStillsDB)

Lobby card from "Andy Hardy's Private Secretary" (1941). (MovieStillsDB)

Taking the Wheel

This might seem like a silly little exchange, but it’s quite relevant to our topic. Andy Hardy might be a naive young high school graduate, but he has a clear understanding of his masculine role in relationships and in society starting from the first film. He sometimes delivers lines which would now be considered misogynistic, or at least chauvinistic. However, he is just reflecting the example of traditional male behavior which his father demonstrates for him. Judge Hardy is a very old-fashioned man and a strong leader of his family. He is the driver for his family in more than just the literal sense, and Andy matures into the traditional male role throughout the series. Andy’s mishaps are sometimes frustrating and usually hilarious, but there’s a lot to be learned from the young man’s misadventures.
Andy shows how in traditional culture, men are in the driver’s seat of life, following the road paved by wise father figures of old, such as Judge Hardy. Like Polly Benedict, girls and women didn’t mind sliding into the passenger seat and enjoying the ride!
Tiffany Brannan

Tiffany Brannan

Author

Tiffany Brannan is a 22-year-old opera singer, Hollywood historian, vintage fashion enthusiast, and conspiracy film critic, advocating purity, beauty, and tradition on Instagram as @pure_cinema_diva. Her classic film journey started in 2016 when she and her sister started the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society to reform the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code. She launched Cinballera Entertainment last summer to produce original performances which combine opera, ballet, and old films in historic SoCal venues.

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