Today is July 17, Wednesday in the third week of PEPS’s month-long celebration of clean movies from the Breen era of Hollywood. This celebration is #CleanMovieMonth. You can read the first half of the articles for this month by clicking here.
Today, we have another classical musical as our clean movie for the day. Like the first movie I reviewed in #CleanMovieMonth, Three Smart Girls, today’s selection is a Universal musical starring Deanna Durbin. Both of these movies were new films to me which were featured in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Collection. As a classical singer, I was naturally interested in another young classical singer from classic Hollywood. I have greatly enjoyed the two movies I have watched with her so far. I find her to be charming and talented. The movie for today is a modern take on the classic Cinderella story. It is called First Love, and it’s from 1939.
Connie Harding is graduating from a girl’s school. Since she is an orphan, she is going to live with her wealthy Uncle Jim and his family in New York City. Her uncle has been paying for her schooling since her parents died, so she is very grateful to him. She is apprehensive about going to live with the family she doesn’t know, but the lovably gruff school matron, Miss Wiggins, tells her that she has to make her new family love her. When Connie arrives at the lavish mansion, she finds that her uncle is out and that her remaining family members, his wife and their two children, are only glad that she arrived because they need the car. The family includes Grace Clinton, the flighty mother who obsesses with astrology, Walter, the lackadaisical brother who cares about absolutely nothing except slouching in a living room armchair, and Barbara, the selfish glamour girl who is a year older than Connie. They quickly patronize Connie and rush out the door. However, the servants immediately love the new member of the family. Later that evening, Mr. Clinton comes home, since he always tries to avoid being home when his family is in. He greets her blandly, making it clear that he provided for her out of obligation rather than affection. However, she is determined to be cheerful and kind. The next day, Barbara is very late for a riding party with her society friends, including the handsome, eligible bachelor in whom she is very interested, Ted Drake. She demands that Connie go ahead of her and delay Mr. Drake until she can get there. Her agreeable cousin goes. She tries to lure his horse away with sugar, but he catches her. When she tries to run away, she trips and falls in the mud. She is smitten with the handsome young man, but she remembers his duty. When he starts to leave, she faints. As Mr. Drake tries to revive her, her cousin finally arrives. Mr. Drake goes to get some water, and Barbara rudely orders Connie to leave, since her goal has been accomplished. However, she can’t stop thinking about him. Later that day, Barbara talks about the grand party that the Drakes are going to give. When Connie hears that “everyone” is going, she begins planning her outfit for the event. All she has is her graduation dress, which doesn’t look like evening attire, but she asks her friend the cook to fix it for her. However, the servants decide that a remade dress isn’t good enough for their sweetheart. They all chip in to buy her a beautiful silver dress, corsage, and a pair of gorgeous slippers, saying that these are just remodeled things. However, Barbara is furious that her beautiful cousin is planning on going to the party of which she wants to be the star. She maliciously lies to force Connie to stay home, breaking her heart. Will Connie find a way to go to the party? Will she be able to have one magical night? Will she ever get to see the handsome Ted Drake again? Watch this movie to find out!
Connie Harding is played by Deanna Durbin. Ted Drake is played by Robert Stack in his first credited role. Uncle Jim Clinton is played by Eugene Palette. Barbara Clinton is played by Helen Parrish. Walter Clinton is played by Lewis Howard in his first credited role. Grace Clinton is played by Leatrice Joy. Miss Wiggins is played by Kathleen Howard. Connie’s servant friends include George, the butler played by Charles Coleman, Terry, played by Jack Mulhall, Agnes, Barbara’s maid played by Mary Treen, Ollie, Mrs. Clinton’s maid played by Dorothy Vaughan, and the cook, played by Lucille Ward.
This is a charming variation on the classic Cinderella story. Connie is the innocent, generous orphan who lives in a loveless home. She is charming in the Cinderella role as she unselfishly tries to endear herself to her relatives. Uncle Jim is the equivalent of Cinderella’s weak father who exists in some versions of the story. Like the grief-stricken father in the fairytale, the uncle allows his wife and children to run the household. the wicked step-mother of the story is replaced by a foolish and absent-minded aunt, who is not cruel but is just obsessed with her own hobby, astrology. Instead of two evil or ugly stepsisters, this story’s heroine has a female and male cousin. The son is just apathetic and lazy, refusing to do anything besides make snide remarks and force his family to trip over his outstretched feet. The daughter, however, is jealous, malicious, and conniving. She is wicked and selfish enough for the whole family. She manipulates her kind cousin and does everything in her power to make her miserable. She too is interested in Ted, so she is insanely jealous of anyone who might take attention away from her. Instead of birds and mice for friends, Connie has the Clintons’ servants to keep her company. The servants also serve the role of the fairy godmother, since they enable her to go to the ball and have her magical night. It is a charming adaption which honors the classic fairytale in a beautiful fashion.
Deanna Durbin’s vocal techniques are charmingly displayed in this film. The first song she sings is “Home, Sweet Home.” She sadly sings the sentimental old classic before leaving school, since she has no home to which to go. On her first evening at the Clinton home, she sings a lively rendition of the Spanish song “Amapola” while the servants eagerly listen. Later, she sings a romantic waltz called “Spring in My Heart;” it was a combination of several waltzes by Johann Strauss Jr. which was adapted H. J. Salter and given lyrics by Ralph Freed. Her final song is “One Fine Day,” the famous aria from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. This classic aria is sung in English in this film. As my frequent readers may remember, Jeanette MacDonald sang this aria in Broadway Serenade this same year.
This movie is a beautiful example of its title phrase, First Love. It is a sweet, wholesome depiction of a young girl’s first romance. However, it is not trivial infatuation. It is the deep love which springs from a mature, deep personality. Connie displays some beautiful virtues. She is unselfish, generous, and long-suffering. This movie also shows the meaning of true friendship, as the servants go to great lengths to help the sweet young lady. It shows a very vivid depiction of the selfishness which often accompanies riches. It also paints a powerful example of the chaos which often plagues families in which the father is not actively involved. Finally, it upholds and glorifies marriage. This is a beautiful fairytale with a 1930s setting but all the powerful morals of the original story. It is a wonderful Code film. In what other time would you see a family film like this with so much maturity in it? I recommend this film to anyone who likes good entertainment!
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