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This 1939 take on 'Cinderella' works like a charm, and I honestly would
never have guessed as much. I found myself being continuously bewitched
by it, its sincerely touching and funny script and dialogue, the wealth
of small character parts from the laconic spinster teacher ("Old maids
are only happy when they cry, you'll find out") and the personable
servants to the zany rich family that Durbin's orphan girl has to stand
And of course, over and above everything else, there is Deanna Durbin, a full-fledged young leading lady with a miraculous voice and loads of screen presence and pathos (listen to her sing 'Un bel dì' from 'Madame Butterfly' at the end!). Blonde hunk Robert Stack has his first part ever as the Prince Charming who is left with the empty slipper, but only after a gorgeous series of incredibly romantic encounters.
"First Love" was a major transition for Universal star Deanna Durbin, as
was being positioned to shift from child star to engenue (something that
was inevitably unable to accomplish with Shirley Temple at the same time).
While the film is not an overblown epic, it's lavish in the details, and
carefully produced to give the whole piece a maximum of charm. To today's
audiences, it might be a bit saccharine, but if you can dial down the
cynicism of our age, the film's positive points grow.
Durbin plays much more subtly in this film than she had in many of her earlier films--signalling that she was now "maturer" instead of being a juvenile whirlwind ball of energy like she had been in "Three Smart Girls" and "100 Men and a Girl." Her beau, played by an impossibly young (and almost scarily good looking) Robert Stack, gives Durbin her first screen kiss--a source of major publicity for the film at the time.
The story is an updated Cinderella/screwball comedy, which nevertheless allows Durbin's character to break out into a few operatic arias throughout the film (this also takes some getting used to for modern audiences). The most memorable part of the film, suitably, happens during "the ball," where Durbin and Stack dance for the first time. Employing a charming idea, a shot of a crowded dance floor dissolves to a shot of just the duo dancing, to imply how the pair are so involved with each other that the rest of the world has faded away. If you like stuff like this, then you'll revel in the rest of the film.
A maturing DEANNA DURBIN and a strikingly handsome young ROBERT STACK are
the enjoyable romantic leads in this Cinderella tale that spins along with a
few Durbin songs tossed in for good measure.
Deanna plays the orphaned cousin of a rich and snobbish family that tries to get her to stay home from a lavish ball. With the help of servants (instead of mice), Deanna gets to attend the ball, delivers an outstanding solo, meets the handsome "prince" (Stack) and has to fend off the insults of her snobbish cousin (Helen Parrish).
The slight plot moves effortlessly toward a happy ending. Durbin fans should love this one--it's easy to take and easy to love. Eugene Pallette gives a fine comic performance as her gruff uncle and the rest of the cast does a professional job under Henry Koster's direction.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are fortunate enough to be blessed with a golden goose, you take
very good care of it. The lovely singing sensation from Winnipeg was
leaving her adolescent years behind and developing into an extremely
attractive young woman when Universal dared to expose her to 'her first
screen kiss'. The story didn't have to have great lines; just a happy
ending. "Cinderella" updated was deemed sufficiently safe.
Hollywood discovered that in the middle of the Depression, movie fans loved to escape into the swank life of millionaires with large mansions requiring equally large servant staffs. Thus, our Cinderella had only to endure the acid tongue of Helen Parrish who seemed to make a small career of being mean to Deanna Durbin a la Jane Withers and Shirley Temple. With only one evil stepsister (first cousin in this instance)with whom to contend, our heroine had two good fairies. One was the finishing school principal, Kathleen Howard, and the other was the butler played ably by Charles Coleman. Other recognizable supporting cast members included Mary Treen, Frank Jenks, Eugene Palette and Thurston Hall.
There are four numbers which Miss Durbin sings in "First Love".
"Home, Sweet Home" is sung by the graduating heroine at the request of her classmates.
"Amapola" is sung at the occasion of her first encounter with the servant staff at Uncle Jim's mansion.
The piece de resistance which captures Prince Charming's attention at the ball is s Strauss medley strung together seamlessly into what sounds like a single song but consists of brief melodies from "The Gypsy Baron"(Schatz waltz); "Roses From the South"; a third melody unidentifiable at this writing; and an orchestral finish with "Voices of Spring". Lyrics were provided by Ralph Freed and musical direction by Charles Previn who conducted many of Deanna Durbin's recordings for Decca.
The final piece is 'One Fine Day' from Madame Butterfly which has been done by other sopranos such as Grace Moore and Rise Stevens but not with the intent and purpose of a good fairy to win the hearts of a panel of judges nor more surprisingly, with a happy ending which Puccini certainly never intended.
If you want realism, then this would certainly not be your cup of tea but if you are even considering a Deanna Durbin movie, then you are probably not in that group. If you want to learn more about this amazing screen star who rivaled Shirley Temple and Judy Garland as an international box office draw, this is the movie you should see as she gave up her perky adolescent ways from her first five movies and moved into the ranks of an adult star. If you have the opportunity to see this film, don't miss it but hold onto your heart!
I'll take my Cinderella with Prokovief, but after watching First Love,
a first-rate film with a quease-inducing title, I'll place this Deanna
Durbin vehicle second.
"You go up there to New York," says Miss Wiggins, a crotchety, spinster music teacher, to Connie Harding, who has just graduated from a fancy private school. "Make those people love you just as much as we do." Connie is an orphan, and Miss Wiggins is referring to her uncle and his family, wealthy New Yorkers who have paid all her bills but were just too busy to drive down for her graduation. They sent one of the family's limousines for her. "And then," Miss Wiggins says, "maybe, someday, you will meet a prince, and you'll live happily ever after."
"Those fairy stories haven't come true for over 100 years, Miss Wiggins," Connie says.
Miss Wiggins thumps the floor with her cane. "Fiddlesticks! We just have to dust them off...streamline them a bit."
And this is what director Henry Koster, one of the best of Durbin's directors, has managed to do. He is aided immeasurably by a clever script ("This is terrible," says Barbara, Connie's awful cousin, "I can't be more than an hour and a half late to Wilma's party...she's one of my personal friends!") and solid, pungent performances by some very good character actors. The story's sweetness is genuine, based on the intrinsic sympathy for a young girl who manages to overcome obstacles with the help of others, and then finds happiness. Deanna Durbin at 18 is an intriguing combination of naturalness and skill. We like her the moment we see her, and her ability to win us over is enhanced when we meet the family. Her uncle (Eugene Palette) is a gruff man who seemingly only wants to keep far away from his wife and children, as well as away from Connie. When we meet the rest of the family, we sympathize with him. His wife (Leatrice Joy) is unpleasantly scatter-brained. His daughter (Helen Parish), a year older than Connie, is a snobbish, selfish, manipulating terror. His son (Lewis Howard) is so languid he make laziness seem tiring.
There's a lavish ball, and Connie gets to go thanks to the intervention of the servants, led by that great butler-playing specialist, Charles Coleman. She meets a prince of a wealthy young man, Ted Drake (whom she met once before with mud on her face). When they waltz at the ball, all the other dancers fade away in a clever bit of instant love setting by Koster. Then Durbin receives her first screen kiss, from Robert Stack as Ted, as naturally as she acts. After the usual ups and downs for Cinderella, there's a happy ending which involves a matching slipper. Her uncle becomes the worm who turns, dealing brisk and satisfying retribution to his family, and even Miss Wiggins smiles. We are assured that Connie and Ted live happily ever after.
Durbin sings two or three songs, including the hoary old tear-jerker "There's No Place Like Home." More impressively, she sings "Un Bel Di." Impressively, because not many 18-year- olds I've heard of would be able to handle the emotions Puccini lays on with such a trowel. The aria is a tear-jerker, too, but a great one. It takes a singer who knows what she's doing to handle the emotions (in Italian) as well as the notes. Durbin carries it off impressively with her usual uncanny poise.
First Love, except for that title, is completely and satisfyingly charming.
FIRST LOVE (Universal, 1939), directed by Henry Koster, stars Deanna
Durbin in one of her ever popular movie roles. Basically a retelling of
the old "Cinderella" story set in contemporary New York City, the
youthful Durbin, making her sixth screen appearance, and Robert Stack,
in movie debut, are supported by fine movie veterans, namely gravel
voice Eugene Palette, Leatrice Joy (former lead actress of the silent
screen), and Kathleen Howard in a small but important role as the
crusty but wise old-maid school teacher with a heart of gold. Aside
from her previous works opposite W.C. Fields in three classic comedies
of the mid 1930s, this is one of the few times where Howard's talent as
a true character actress is fully realized. And now back to Durbin's
The plot begins at a high school graduation with the gathering of classmates receiving their diplomas, one being Constance "Connie" Harding (Deanna Durbin). With her parents dead and no relative in attendance, Connie is invited to spend the summer with her closest friend, Marcia (Marcia Mae Jones), but in good faith for all the financial support awarded her, she decides to stay with her uncle, James F. Clinton (Eugene Palette), a business tycoon, and his family. Afraid to face the challenge that awaits her, it is Miss Wiggens (Kathleen Howard), her former teacher, who encourages to move on, bringing hope and happiness to those around her. Although Connie does win over her uncle's servants, she's made to feel like an outsider by his wife, Grace (Leatrice Joy), spending much time studying astrology; Walter (Lewis Howard), their lazy son who'd rather be served than working; and Barbara (Helen Parrish), the stuck-up daughter who delights in giving orders and not taking them. Very much interested in high society's Ted Drake (Robert Stack), Barbara makes every effort keeping Connie away from him. Though invited to attend the ball with her mother and brother, and hope of meeting Ted again, Barbara purposely arranges for Connie to remain at home to entertain a visiting uncle from Washington during their absence. Feeling pity towards the disappointed Connie, the servants arrange having the family chauffeur (Jack Mulhall) purposely detain the Clintons by getting arrested while giving the opportunity for Connie to attend with the understanding she'd have to leave by midnight. After a grand evening with Ted, Connie, nearly forgetting the time, makes a hasty departure the very moment the Clintons arrive, leaving behind her one slipper found by Ted. When Barbara finds that Connie did attend the ball, their confrontation forces Connie to leave, causing Clinton, who cares for Connie, to become deeply ashamed for what his family has done.
In traditional thirties films depicting rich families, the Clintons in FIRST LOVE could very well be that of the Bullocks from the 1936 Universal comedy, MY MAN GODFREY, starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, each casting Eugene Palette as the millionaire with family he would rather forget. Instead of casting Alice Brady as the scatterbrained wife, Leatrice Joy is given the assignment, as did Lewis Howard's good-for-nothing son over Mischa Auer's freeloading protégé. There's no butler named Godfrey this time around, but good natured servants enacted by lesser known actors as Mary Treen (Agnes, the maid); Dorothy Vaughn (Ollie, the maid); Lucille Ward (The Cook); and Charles Coleman (George, the Butler). Other familiar faces as Frank Jenks (a Policeman and friend of the family servants); Samuel S. Hinds, Thurston Hall and Doris Lloyd fill in the void in lesser roles while Durbin highlights with her grand singing of "There's No Place Like Home," "Amapola." "Spring in My Heart" (by Johann Strauss) and "Un Bel Di" (One Fine Day) from Giacomo Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Regardless of its title and Durbin's then publicized first screen kiss, FIRST LOVE is far from being trite formula. In fact, it's one of her and the studio's top productions of the year. Not having to resort to storybook fashion of "Cinderella," FIRST LOVE simply modernizes an old fairy tale, resulting to something quite original thanks to the fine screenplay, and natural, low-key performances by Durbin and Palette. Palette's great moment comes when he finally lets out steam telling off his selfish family, while Durbin adds humor during the ball by unwittingly stepping onto the platform in the place originally intended for another guest singer (Grace Hayle). There's also a touch of creativity in movie making in the ballroom sequence where all the guests virtually disappear in Connie's mind (and viewers) while dancing and conversing with Ted, and reappearing the very moment Connie returns to reality.
In spite of Durbin and her movies being the box office attractions at the time, presently appears to be of minor importance. Due to lack of television broadcasts since the 1980s, the time when FIRST LOVE had some exposure on public television, along with home video distribution in 1996, the Durbin products appear to be less popular due to its sugar sweet reputation. Having Durbin movies on DVD packages labeled "The Sweetheart Package" doesn't help matters either, yet looking back at these particular films whenever possible shows the entertaining values and certain star quality that has delighted audiences in an era so different from what's presented today. (***1/2)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This has to be my very favourite Deanna movie. One or two critics at
the time sneered that "First Love" was a return to the Cinderella story
but had she ever really left that formula!!! It was a revamped
"Cinderella" story complete with the slipper left at the ball as the
clock strikes 12 and having all the horrible, ugly stepsisters rolled
into one supremely nasty cousin, Barbara, played by Helen Parrish who
that same year had played one of Deanna's sisters in "Three Smart Girls
Grow Up". Poor Helen having to be nasty to Deanna, no wonder her career
Like all the best Durbins it was directed by Henry Koster, a film maker of charm and taste and as Deanna's first adult vehicle (much publicity was given to her first screen kiss by Robert Stack) it was a smooth transition away from her "little Miss Fixit" roles, probably because she had grown into such a beautiful young lady. The movie also borrowed from "My Man Godfrey" by dropping Deanna into the midst of a family of rich eccentrics complete with a very selfish daughter who makes Connie's (Durbin) life miserable and with Eugene Palette reprising his role as the exasperated father. A lot of Deanna's popularity with the depression era public was her warm rapport with the working class and the hired help and this movie was no exception.
Most popular student at the young ladies academy, Connie Harding breaks down during a rendition of "Home, Sweet Home" knowing that as an orphan she doesn't have a home of her own. Crotchety old principal (with a heart of gold of course) (Kathleen Howard) urges her to go to New York and make it her own. She arrives at her uncle's doorstep feeling very small but after her soaring vocals of the beautiful "Amapola" immediately has all the staff entranced and ready to help her in every way. Her Uncle Jim (Pallette) is flabbergasted - "You like being here, you've met your aunt and your cousins and you actually like being here"!!!
Following the Cinderella story, Connie is beside herself with excitement at her first ball but nasty Barbara thinks Connie is just too excited and also that Connie's dress is a bit too beautiful and doesn't believe it when Connie innocently says that the cook just fixed up her graduation dress (that's what the staff told her - in reality they all chipped in to buy her a beautiful lacy gown). At the last minute Connie is told she can't go - but in the best Cinderella tradition and with the help of her fairy godmother, I mean the butler and Uncle Jim, Barbara's car is held up and Connie gets to the ball, dances with her "handsome prince", sings a medley of Strauss waltzes (a very funny sequence) and leaves on the stroke of midnight, being careful to leave her shoe on the grand staircase.
By the end everyone has had their comeuppance but Connie doesn't know - she has fled back to her old school, determined to become a teacher and an old maid. But after a beautiful rendition of "One Fine Day" from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" and seeing all the "old maids" crying their eyes out she is more than happy to live happily ever after with her Prince Charming.
Leatrice Joy who during the twenties had been married to John Gilbert played the addled Aunt but something about her showed, to me, that she was just too smart for the part. I started to wonder why she hadn't succeeded in talking movies, she had clear diction and really handled the speedy delivery of the dialogue. Peggy Moran played one of Connie's pals at the beginning of the movie (the other one was Marcia Mae Jones). Peggy soon retired to marry the director Henry Koster.
Young Deanna Durbin goes to live with her uncle Eugene Palette and a
group of snooty society cousins in this film. They treat her like a
country cousin and snub her generally including her aunt by marriage.
But little do they know that Deanna is destined to find her First Love
in this story reworked from the Cinderella fairy tale.
After three years Deanna was growing up on screen and the folks at Universal Pictures decided she ought to have her first screen kiss. The one tapped for the honor was a guy making his screen debut Robert Stack.
The one who really treats her rotten is her débutante cousin Helen Parrish and her equally snobby friend June Storey. Deanna is not treated any better than one of the staff at her house, like Cinderella she might as well be relegated to being a chimney sweep.
Stack is the guy that Parrish and Storey have set their caps for, he's another society kid. But he likes simple and unaffected Deanna who ironically Parrish sets up the meeting between them. That's a rather funny scene.
Some good songs for Durbin highlighted the classic There's No Place Like Home, Amapola, and Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly. And of course one of the most publicized kisses ever in screen history.
First Love brought home Oscar nominations for Sound, Art&Set Decoration, and Musical Scoring for Universal Pictures. Little Miss Fix-It was definitely growing up and her future roles would show a maturing Durbin for the movie-going public. It still is fine entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Reviewers before me have ably stated the performers and crew who have
contributed to this timeless presentation of the Cinderella story.
I join with a previous enthusiast who identifies the Strauss medley sung by Miss Durbin at the Royal Ball as being singularly excellent. The third melody which was unidentifiable at that time turns out to be a waltz from Strauss' little known operetta "A Night in Venice". Thus we have: 'Life is sweet and gay. . .' the Schatz waltz from the "Gypsy Baron"; 'This is Maytime. . . .' from the "Southern Roses"; and finally, 'Spring in my heart.. . .' from " A Night in Venice". It is the 'Gondellied' or Venetian Boat Song from that operetta. And yes, the accompaniment flourish at the end includes a few bars of the '1001 Nights' from the "Gypsy Baron" before finishing with 'Voices of Spring'. The medley has been seamlessly sewn together by Hans J. Salter, and Ralph Freed supplied the lyrics. A joy to listen to.
The success of the movie is first and foremost the performance of Deanna Durbin, of course, but turning her rendition of "One Fine Day" into a happy ending is to be recognized as an achievement by the producers and writers. All in all, a movie for everyone.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- quoting the stepmother from the 2015's version of Cinderella. I must agree: the movie *First Love* is truly a charming one. I had my doubts before I started watching it but it turned out to be just lovely. As a huge Cinderella fan, finding this hidden gem in the list of adaptations of this old fairy tale was like a miracle. Probably this was the last live-action version on Cinderella I haven't seen (until now). Watching *First Love* was a bittersweet journey for me: I was sad that there aren't more Cinderella stories I can watch but at the same time I was happy and grateful that this last one was one of the best versions of them all. Naturally *First Love* has some faults: the characters are one- dimensional, Connie is a Mary Sue and the love between her and Ted Drake is really superficial. But still, I loved it. I also liked the idea of making one of the stepsisters (cousins here) a boy while the other one remained a girl, such a clever twist. The only part I didn't like was (Spoiler alert?) when Uncle Jim went crazy and hit his children. I know it was a different time but I think this kind of punishment was way too violent for a sweet movie like this. Oh, and lastly but definitely not least: Deanna Durbin was a wonderful singer and a talented actress. I can't wait to watch more movies she's in.
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