Mickey Rooney is Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” star today, August 13, 2013. According to the IMDb, Mickey Rooney, who turns 93 next September 23, has been featured in more than 250 movies – in shorts and features, in Hollywood and international productions, in cameos and starring roles, in bit parts and second leads. You name it, Rooney has done it: comedies, dramas, thrillers, musicals, biopics, war movies, horse movies, horror movies. (See TCM’s Mickey Rooney movie schedule further below.)
Mickey Rooney in a horror movie? Yes, in about a dozen of those. Scarier than World War Z, The Conjuring, The Exorcist, and Alien combined were A Family Affair (on TCM earlier today) and ensuing Andy Hardy movies. Creepy stuff.
Nearly as frightening are Rooney’s musicals with Judy Garland, one of which TCM presented earlier this morning, Strike Up the Band (1940). Another, Girl Crazy (1943), is on this evening. In the film, Rooney plays a girl-crazy guy who finds true love after committing a series of gruesome murders. Kidding. Anyhow, June Allyson is fun to watch in a musical number, but unfortunately that’s basically all she does in this routine Busby Berkeley movie.
Mickey Rooney: Best Actor Oscar nominee for ‘The Human Comedy’
Directed by Clarence Brown, The Human Comedy (1943) is possibly Mickey Rooney’s most admired movie. Shot in crisp, wistful black and white (Harry Stradling), the film revolves around a teenager (23-year-old Rooney) living and working in a small, idyllic American town while World War II rages overseas. Sorry to report that I’ve never warmed up to this film, which comes across as “Hollywood poetry”; in other words, it’s neither poetic nor genuine, as The Human Comedy presents small-town life as it only existed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Culver City studios.
Based on an Academy Award-winning “story” by William Saroyan, which was later turned into a novel, The Human Comedy also received Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography (deservedly so), and Best Actor (Rooney). Curiously, screenplay adapter Howard Estabrook was bypassed. (Saroyan’s novel, based on his own life in Fresno, California, is supposed to be quite different from the MGM movie.)
Now, one could always say that Mickey Rooney’s Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Human Comedy was the result of a dearth of top Hollywood leading men in 1943, but that wouldn’t be really fair. In fact, it seems that Academy members have always liked Rooney. He had been previously shortlisted in 1939 for the horror musical Babes in Arms, and, in the Best Supporting Actor category, would be nominated twice more: for The Bold and the Brave (1956) and The Black Stallion (1979). Rooney lost all four times, but he did take home an Honorary Oscar in 1983, in addition to a Juvenile Oscar (alongside Deanna Durbin) in 1939.
That’s not bad at all. Think about it: Mickey Rooney has twice as many Oscar nominations as Liv Ullmann or Max von Sydow. He has as many as Barbara Stanwyck, Montgomery Clift, and Jane Wyman. Joan Fontaine, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Greta Garbo have only three each. Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson, and Ida Lupino were never even nominated. That says a lot about either Rooney’s talents as an actor or about Academy members’ tastes.
For the record, the Oscar winners in the years Mickey Rooney was in the running were the following: Robert Donat, Best Actor for Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939); Paul Lukas, Best Actor for Watch on the Rhine (1943); Anthony Quinn, Best Supporting Actor for Lust for Life (1956); and Melvyn Douglas, Best Supporting Actor for Being There (1979).
More Mickey Rooney movies
Wrapping this up: Ralph Nelson’s Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) is a generally well-regarded boxing drama; as a plus, Julie Harris (East of Eden, The Haunting) is in the cast. Pulp (1972) isn’t all that well-regarded, but it’s 1940s Paramount star Lizabeth Scott’s last movie. That makes it a must-see. And 80 Steps to Jonah (1969) features the outstanding Jo Van Fleet, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for East of Eden (1955), in one of her (unfortunately) rare movie appearances.
But I’d say that the most intriguing Mickey Rooney movies today are likely to be two B thrillers released in the early ’50s: Quicksand (1950) and The Strip (1952). In the former, Andy Hardy is an embezzler; in the latter, he is accused of murder. Definitely worth checking out.
4:15 AM A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (1935). Dir.: Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle. Cast: James Cagney, Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland, Ross Alexander, Anita Louise, Mickey Rooney, Joe E. Brown, Victor Jory, Ian Hunter, Verree Teasdale, Jean Muir, Frank McHugh, Grant Mitchell, Hobart Cavanaugh, Dewey Robinson, Hugh Herbert, Arthur Treacher, Otis Harlan, Helen Westcott, Fred Sale, Billy Barty, Rags Ragland. Black and white. 143 min.
8:00 AM BOYS TOWN (1938). Dir.: Norman Taurog. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, Leslie Fenton, Gene Reynolds, Edward Norris, Addison Richards, Minor Watson, Jonathan Hale, Bobs Watson, Martin Spellman, Mickey Rentschler, Frankie Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Sidney Miller, Robert Emmett Keane, Victor Kilian, King Baggot, Barbara Bedford, Stanley Blystone, Orville Caldwell, Nell Craig, Claire McDowell, Edward Hearn, Tommy Noonan, Jay Novello, Kane Richmond, John Wray, Phillip Terry. Black and white. 93 min.
10:00 AM STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940). Dir.: Busby Berkeley. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, June Preisser. Black and white. 120 min.
2:00 PM QUICKSAND (1950). Dir.: Irving Pichel. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre, Taylor Holmes, Art Smith, Wally Cassell, Richard Lane, Patsy O’Connor, John Gallaudet, Minerva Urecal, Ray Teal, Jack Elam, David McMahon. Black and white. 79 min.
3:30 PM THE STRIP (1951). Dir.: László Kardos. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Sally Forrest, William Demarest, James Craig, Kay Brown, Tommy Rettig, Louis Armstrong, Tom Powers, Jonathan Cott, Tommy Farrell, Myrna Dell, Jacqueline Fontaine, Vic Damone, Monica Lewis, Don Raggerty, Jeff Richards. Black and white. 86 min.
5:00 PM GIRL CRAZY (1943). Dir.: Norman Taurog and Busby Berkeley. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Gil Stratton, June Allyson, Nancy Walker, Robert E. Strickland, Guy Kibbee, Rags Ragland, Frances Rafferty, Henry O’Neill, Howard Freeman, Tommy Dorsey, The Music Maids, Irving Bacon, William Beaudine Jr., William Bishop, Hazel Brooks, Dick Haymes, Peter Lawford, Chuck Lowry, Don Taylor, Charles Walters. Black and white. 99 min.
7:00 PM THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943). Dir.: Clarence Brown. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Fay Bainter, Van Johnson, Donna Reed, Jackie ‘Butch’ Jenkins, Ray Collins, Dorothy Morris, John Craven Ann Ayars, Mary Nash, Henry O’Neill, Katharine Alexander, Alan Baxter, Darryl Hickman, Barry Nelson, Rita Quigley, Clem Bevans, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, Morris Ankrum, Barbara Bedford, Lynne Carver, Hobart Cavanaugh, Wally Cassell, Albert Conti, Don DeFore, Howard Freeman, Gibson Gowland, Otto Hoffman, Claire McDowell, Robert Mitchum, Robert Emmett O’Connor, Emory Parnell, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Don Taylor. Black and white. 117 min.
9:15 PM REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962). Dir.: Ralph Nelson. Cast: Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Julie Harris. Black and white. 85 mins. Letterbox Format.
1:00 AM 80 STEPS TO JONAH (1969). Dir.: Gerd Oswald. Cast: Wayne Newton, Jo Van Fleet, Keenan Wynn, Mickey Rooney. Color. 107 min.