Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Guilty Pleasure Syndrome or: How I Learned to Not Care If People Know I'm a Mickey Rooney Fan

I’ve never had any use for the term Guilty Pleasure. Well, except for the purposes of this post…A Guilty Pleasure is usually defined as something of dubious quality or reputation that one enjoys ashamedly. In classic movie parlance, it’s often a critically reviled, poorly made, or widely despised film. But even then the term requires further clarification; as certain movies become cult favorites and earn “cool” status, such as Reefer Madness or Plan 9 from Outer Space. Everyone knows those films are "bad", but they’re "good" in that they’re unintentionally hilarious. Those cinematic masterworks have an infamous reputation and thrive because of it. Therefore, they can freely be declared guilty pleasures without fear of ridicule.

The true guilty pleasure consists of movies that are largely unknown or formerly popular movies whose reputations haven’t aged well because they represent either an “antiquated” viewpoint or lack the “edginess” that every friggin’ thing in pop culture must have these days. These “shameful” or “lame” films haven’t received critical or cultish rehabilitation, either, so you can rest assured that you’ll blush if you dare admit to liking, say, anything with Mickey Rooney in it. As a matter of fact, Rooney’s films are the so-called “Guilty Pleasure” that inspired this very post.

I love Rooney’s Andy Hardy films, a wildly popular and hugely profitable movie series produced by MGM in the 1930s and ‘40s. Despite being made during the heart of the Great Depression, the delightful Hardy movies embody an idealized America and were everything that MGM studio honcho Louis B. Mayer thought represented the best of America. The movies have a naïve charm, wit and sense of optimism that the times required. Seen now, they’re probably laughably “lame” or “saccharine”, and worse than that, “Disneyesque”, which has become another pejorative term. Andy’s father, the stern, patrician but understanding Judge Hardy, was a wonderful counterbalance to Andy’s kooky and youthful zeal. Today’s kids aren’t kooky, or ebullient; in fact, they’re often self-absorbed teen vampires; kind of a Party of Five with fangs.

Rooney aka The Mick, was once the biggest box-office draw in the US of A. And despite a (up and down) career that’s lasted some seventy-five years, Oscar nominations, an honorary Oscar, and praise from no less than Laurence Olivier (Rooney was “the single best film actor America.”), Rooney’s reputation pretty much lies in tatters, so to claim to be a Mickey Rooney fan is tantamount to being a Boy Named Sue. The whole idiocy of the Guilty Pleasure is based on some sort of “cool” taste. In fact, I'm conviced that the term Guilty Pleasure was brought to you by the same people who use the term “They say…” when dispensing advice or “facts.”

The Bottom Line: I don’t believe in Guilty Pleasures. All of my movie interests are present and accounted for. There is no boundary line between what I like that is hailed as a masterpiece or what is routinely reviled by my fellow classic movie aficionados. In this age of revisionism and retro-themed interests, most every film can receive a critical and popular—as defined within classic film circles—reappraisal, thus freeing it from perdition.

So be proud about your less-popular classic film interests and fer cryin' out loud, write about them! The world doesn't need another review of Casablanca but it could sure use a well-thought-out analysis of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante.


  1. i'm not a fan of rooney's because his physicality in many of those films is just too much for me, even in the subtler the human comedy, not because it's "cool" to beat on sugary sweets, as a Capra fan I absolutely get where you're coming from and the message of this post is right on.

  2. Hear, hear! My sister and I were just talking the other day about how frustrating it is when people call a pleasure a "guilty" one. It demeans whatever it is you like, which is completely unnecessary. I have not yet seen the Andy Hardy series but I feel I should check them out because they were, as you said, a major series. On a slightly related note, the whole "Disneyesque" thing always infuriates me. I hate it when people speak scathingly of something as too Disneyesque. I could write a whole tirade about it, but I'll spare you from that!

    Wonderful post, as always!

  3. C.K. As you said, We are on the same wave length though with different films! Ha!

    Wow, I use to watch the Andy Hardy films as a kid on TV. Must have seen most of them. They are very Americana, wholesome and from what I remember a lot of fun. As I got a little older in the late 60's they were way out of style and there was no way you could admit to liking Andy Hardy in the age of Jimi Hendrix!

    I think you say it best here...

    "The movies have a naïve charm, wit and sense of optimism that the times required."

    A terrific article that makes me want to revisit these films myself. Good job, my friend.

  4. Today’s kids aren’t kooky, or ebullient; in fact, they’re often self-absorbed teen vampires; kind of a Party of Five with fangs.

    Hahaha! Funny. I loved Mickey in a little known b-movie film noir called Quicksand. He keeps delving himself into the most impossible situations, it is unintentionally hilarious. Also co-stars James Cagney's sister.

  5. They should come out with a box set of the Andy Hardy films. That would be cool.

  6. i believe there is a hardy box set (or a reasonable facsimile) and one day i will get it. they were sweet.

    and if you wanna feel guilty in another way, get a load of this.....

  7. I enjoyed your post! I don't particularly care for Mickey Rooney...but I like the movies he was in, including the Hardy films. Wonderful family films with good messages, and what great casts of up-and-coming actors!

    I love MGM movies, in general, and find that they are often put down in some film fan quarters these days, as MGM films don't always have the "edge" of film noir, pre-Codes, or some Westerns. Some people seem to think MGM films are too glossy, too wholesome, etc. Their loss!

    Best wishes,

  8. CK: I concur. I moved my movie guilt to the dust bin long ago in a different century.
    Mickey Rooney was a trouper (and a troop, but that is another matter). Those MGM troupers could do anything: sing, dance, and act in comedy or drama. They glistened in personal appearances. They were taught by the best.

    The Andy Hardy series was a lot closer to A movies than B. Less expensive – yes -- but with the MGM gloss. Mayer treasured the value of the series to the firm and the values espoused within the films. He supported them with ample resource. Of course, the Hardy series was not a mirror reflection of society. Hollywood films almost never were at that time. But they were good films played by more than competent players. Rooney was the link. Hollywood has always been about make believe.

    Outside the series Rooney excelled in “The Human Comedy.” He was very good in “Toko-Ri.” Endless good work with Judy Garland. And as to his physical appearance: Ava Gardner did not seem to mind. Gerald

  9. I think he's terrific. I'm glad you think so too. And after seeing the picture in Norma's post, I have a couple of other thoughts on the matter of Mickey.....

  10. You know, I have never watched a full Andy Hardy film, but I feel somewhat inspired now to go back and give this series a serious look :)


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