Judge Cynthia Boris feels like she's far from the madding crowd when she recommends this slice of Americana.
"I'd do anything to be a detective, even arithmetic!"
They're two staples of American culture, Disney and "The Hardy Boys," so what could be better than to combine the two? Time to step into the wayback machine and visit an era where phones rang more than four times because there was no voicemail. The year is 1956 and believe it or not, Frank and Joe are already thirty years old when The Mickey Mouse Club presents for the first time ever—The Hardy Boys.
Facts of the Case
Sixteen-year-old Frank Hardy (Tim Considine, Spin & Marty) and his younger brother Joe, (Tommy Kirk, Old Yeller) surely do love a mystery. This is probably because their father, Fenton Hardy (Russ Conway) is a famous private investigator. The Hardys live in the small town of Bayport, Massachusetts, but Dad's work takes him away from home so often that the boys' Aunt Gertrude looks after them. *
The only person who loves a mystery as much as the boys is their neighbor Iola Morton. Quite the tomboy, Iola would like to be a Hardy Boy but the brothers (especially Joe) aren't ready to add a girl to the team.
Their first adventure is based on the first Hardy Boys book, "The Tower Treasure," and has the brothers searching for pirate doubloons buried on the property of cranky old Mr. Applegate. There are plenty of red herrings, lots of clues, and loads of "kid-friendly" excitement when the boys come up against two villains as they try to solve "The Mystery of The Applegate Treasure."
The series is divided into nineteen parts with one part airing every weeknight on The Mickey Mouse Club. It would have taken you four weeks to see the whole show back in 1956, but now, thanks to the magic of DVD, you can unravel the mystery in under five hours.
* An interesting side note about Aunt Gertrude. When Jackson Gillis was asked to adapt the book for the TV show, he did away with the boys mother, Laura. His reasoning was this: In order to conduct their investigation the boys had to do some naughty things like sneak out at night and lie (a little). So Gillis got rid of Laura Hardy because it would be wrong for the boys to disobey their mother but okay for the boys to disobey their Aunt. And here I always thought it was Disney's penchant for killing off mothers in their movies!
My, oh my, how different the world was back in 1956. Or maybe it's how different the world was when we were all kids. Back when the smallest disappointment was a crushing blow and the slightest bit of excitement gave you wings. When summer vacation meant freedom, and sneaking out of the house at night was both dangerous and thrilling. The Hardy Boys is a wonderful reminder of those happier, simpler times, and even though the dial phone rings until it's answered and the milkman still delivers, this show holds up remarkably well.
Start at the top with the catchy deep-throated theme song sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger and lead spook in Disney's Haunted Mansion. The theme tells the story of the lost pirate treasure and its connection to Applegate, a clever way to offer the backstory at the start of each episode. Then we're off and running, quite literally, as Joe, Frank, and Iola tear up the town searching for excitement.
Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk are perfectly cast as Frank and Joe. They have great brotherly chemistry (and I'm a sucker for brothers on TV) and they balance each other quite well. Frank is the careful, studious older brother; Joe, the impulsive creative thinker. In this incarnation, as opposed to my beloved Cassidy/Stevenson version, The Hardy Boys are played a lot younger. They're supposed to be somewhere between 14 and 16, but they seem to be even younger than that. This was likely done to keep them more in line with the age of The Mickey Mouse Club audience. There's even an introduction by the two actors where they remind the viewers that it's only a story so they shouldn't be frightened when the boys get into danger.
What really impressed me was the relationship between the boys and their oft-absent father. Joe crying over the fact that his dad is abandoning him for work, yet again, is such a modern slice of life, I was surprised to see it in a 1950s TV show! And then there's Frank, clearly disappointed but trying to be a man about it as Dad packs up to leave. Actually, there's quite a bit of emotion threaded throughout the story, and that's what makes it so watchable now, fifty years later.
Kudos to Disney for including one whole episode of The Mickey Mouse Club on this DVD set. The episode, which includes an introduction to The Hardy Boys serial also includes a feature on two Mousketeers visiting the first nuclear submarine and the kids having "fun with music."
The video and audio quality here is amazing. Clean and crisp, it really shows off the glories of good old black and white TV. The very enthusiastic Leonard Maltin appears at the start of each disc to set the stage and fill you in on some trivia, and the navigation screen has a comic book feel that is so appropriate to the program.
There are two featurettes in this set. "From Dixon to Disney" is a fascinating, quick-moving feature on how The Hardy Boys came to be both in print and finally as beloved characters in the Disney stable. Lots of great trivia here. "The Hardy Boys Unmasked" featurette is a present day chat with Kirk and Considine hosted by Leonard Maltin. I had mixed feelings on this one. Considine was firmly in the land of "I don't remember that! It was fifty years ago," but still he came up with a few stories and was a pleasure to listen to. Kirk bothered me. There are times where he appears to be quite mixed up, often speaking about people as if he were Joe Hardy and not Tommy Kirk the actor. Halfway into the interview, though, both men find their groove and it's easy listening.
Other nice features include a still photo gallery of behind the scenes photos, a page-by-page of The Hardy Boys comic books, and an eight-page booklet.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Then we come to the features that I just don't get. The "Color Photo Card" is a postcard version of the cover of a comic. Nice enough, but why? The bigger why is the "Collectible Tin" and "Certificate of Authenticity." This is a DVD set. It's not a package of cookies or a limited edition sculpture. Seriously, the idea of making this a numbered limited edition set is nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell more copies faster. The "Collectible Tin" is annoying. It's easily dented and there are no markings on the spine so you can't tell which DVD it is unless it's facing forward. The inner DVD case, which uses the same simple graphic on a silver background, is classy enough. And then there's that fancy "Certificate of Authenticity" noting that only 65,000 of these were made. Frankly, I don't care. I like the show and I want the whole world to see it, so limiting the quantities means nothing to me.
You may be hard pressed to get your children to watch this black and white adventure series, but Mickey Mouse era adults will find it captivating and charming. The Hardy Boys lets you look at the world through the eyes of an excited, adventure-loving child—and man, we can all use some of that.
This court finds the DVD title Walt Disney Treasures—The Mickey Mouse Club Featuring the Hardy Boys to be more complicated than the series itself. Innocent, like you wouldn't believe.
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• "From Dixon to Disney" featurette
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