Thursday, March 02, 2017

"Her First Romance" (1940)

This is a severely cute movie.  If you can't deal with extreme adorableness, then it is not for you.  But not icky, cloying, overblown adorableness -- just sweet and light and happy adorableness.  There IS a difference, after all!

Right from the opening credits, we can tell this will be cute, right?  Look at the girl reading a book and going goggle-eyed over it.  And she seems to have hearts and exclamation points bursting forth everywhere -- must be quite a book.  We'll get to that more a little later.

And speaking of books, I see this is based on one, so I just checked Amazon and found the Kindle version of Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton Porter for free.  Guess what's loaded onto my phone now?

This is also a musical.  It has so much music, the credits devote an entire title card to listing off all the songs it contains.  There's a bunch of some opera, as you can see.  We'll get to that too.

Her First Romance involves a lot of fishing.  And opera.  And books.  Yes, it's quite a combo.  It's also a Cinderella retelling, mixed with dollops of Ugly Duckling for good measure.  It's directed by Edward Dmytryk, who went on to direct such classics as Murder My Sweet (1944), Back to Bataan (1945), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and The Young Lions (1958).  But mostly I included the title card below because of the cute fishing cartoon.

And now you see the reason I dug this movie up on Amazon Video.  It all makes sense now, huh?

Amazon Video is the only place I can find this movie -- it was released to VHS many moons ago, but isn't on DVD.  The print quality isn't the best, so please forgive the glitches in my screencaps.  I got the clearest ones I could.

Anyway!  The story begins with a co-ed named Linda (Edith Fellows) who miraculously walks down a flight of stairs with her nose stuck in a book.  She's so absorbed in what she's reading, she doesn't even notice two guys stop, read over her shoulder, and declare her book too hard for them.

Linda's friend Susie (Marlo Dwyer) stops to talk to her, and they have a conversation about how oblivious Linda is to her appearance.  Susie encourages her to dress more fashionably, do her hair differently, and stop wearing the glasses that Linda's sister insists she needs.

Four guys watch from afar.  The one second from left who looks like he's about to cry is a new pledge to a fraternity, and for his initiation, he has to ask Linda to the big dance coming up.  The more he delays, the more he gets paddled by the frat boys.  But he doesn't want to ask her because she's the ugliest and least popular girl at college.  Of course, he eventually does.

Linda doesn't know it's an initiation dare, and she is over the moon with the idea that she'll get to go to her first real dance.  She runs home and tells her family cook, Katy (Marian Kerby) the exciting news.  Katy is extremely happy for her.

Someone else in the house is not happy, however.  Linda's cousin (I think?) Marian (Judith Linden) is broken-hearted because the man she loves has switched his affections to someone else.

And that someone else is Linda's half-sister and guardian, Eileen (Julie Bishop, billed as Jacqueline Wells).  Eileen is ambitious and selfish.  She's also the two ugly stepsisters and the evil stepmother rolled into one nasty, man-eating package.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Katy has bribed the grocery delivery boy to teach Linda to dance.  Bribed with what?  Why, with the promise of a six-layered chocolate cake.  For that, I'd teach her to dance myself.

Enter the man Eileen stole from Marian -- John (Alan Ladd).  And I only had to wait ten minutes for him to show up!  Eileen tells him how difficult it is for her with Marian living with them and being all mopey over losing John.

John consoles her with a kiss.  Well, you know, that'd console me too.

Katy disapproves.

Linda asks Eileen for a new dress and permission to go to the dance.  It turns out Linda is only seventeen, and Eileen dictates everything in her life, from forcing her to wear glasses to refusing to let her buy new clothes.  Eileen, you are one cold fish.  It's highly unfair that you got to kiss Alan Ladd.

Linda runs off in tears.  Katy takes things in hand and says there is no reason she shouldn't go to the dance -- if the only thing holding her back is the lack of an appropriate dress, Katy will buy her one with the money she's been saving up all these years that she's worked for the family.  Katy, it turns out, is a fairy godmother who can bake six-layer chocolate cakes.  My kind of woman!

Linda cheers up immediately.

John and Eileen sit down for a little tea and canoodling.

Linda, to revenge herself over Eileen refusing to buy her a dress, goes upstairs and starts singing scales and other vocal exercises right over their heads.  John thinks she sounds pretty good.  Eileen, clearly, was looking forward to an afternoon tea-and-snog session and is highly annoyed.

John leaves, and Eileen stomps upstairs to yell at Linda and tell her she will never be a good singer, she needs to just get her education and find some appropriate job, etc.  Linda and Marian cry on each others' shoulders over Eileen's mean ways.

Linda decides to go out somewhere on the grounds of her family's extensive estate and do some sketching while listening to opera music on her cute little portable record player.  (EDIT:  DKoren, who is very knowledgeable about opera, has informed me that actually, there's only one bit of opera here, and the rest is just other songs.  I'm correcting my review in the appropriate places.)

A random dude (Wilbur Evans) and his chauffeur who are trespassing on her property in order to fish hear her music, and her singing along with it.  The random dude is enchanted, and begins to sing along in a very nice voice of his own.

(If you're wondering about the chauffeur's hat, it's his voodoo hat meant to help the random guy catch fish.  The less said about his terrifyingly stereotypical behavior, the better.)

Linda investigates to see who is singing a duet with her and falls in the water.  Random Dude fishes her out, and after she scolds him for trespassing on her family's property (and laments the loss of her glasses in the water), he invites her to share his picnic lunch.  She dubs him Crusoe because he said his chauffeur is his Man Friday, and they have a charming time dining on the fish he caught and getting very chummy.

Linda thinks Crusoe would be a swell new love interest for cousin Marian.  But Marian figures out who he really is.  Helps to read newspapers!

Crusoe is actually a famous singer named Philip Niles who's vacationing here in Lilac Valley.  (By the way, I totally want to live somewhere called Lilac Valley someday.)  Linda will continue to call him Crusoe through the rest of the movie, though.

Well, Katy really did buy Linda a party dress.  I'm not real sure about those sequined bows down the front, but overall it's very pretty.

But just when Linda has gotten all beautiful for the dance, she gets a phone call from good old Susie.  Susie has learned that Linda's date only asked her because it was a fraternity initiation gag, and she can't bear the idea of her friend going to the party under false pretenses.  I *think* she does this to be kind.

But Linda is devastated.  She wishes she had never found out.  Now there's no way she can go to the party. She's convinced everyone will laugh at her.

In fact, when her "date" comes to pick her up, she yells at him and turns the garden hose on him and his friends!  Wow, Linda's got some moxy under all those mild manners!

The boys leave, and Linda flees into the garden to have a good cry.  When who should drive up in an expensive car, looking devestatingly handsome, but Crusoe!

Crusoe takes Linda to the dance, which turns out to be a party thrown in his honor.

Nobody is quite sure they can believe this pretty girl arriving with the famous singer is actually dowdy little Linda.

John, for all he's got fickle, easy-to-sway affections, is a very sweet guy.  He thinks it's great that Linda is all happy.  Eileen is, naturally, irate.  She isn't mad Linda showed up at the party so much as that Linda showed up with an important guy.  And made John smile.

Linda and Crusoe dance.

All the college guys decide that Linda is now The Girl to dance with.  One after another, they cut in on her.  At first she thinks this is amazing and fun.

But eventually she gets tired of being passed from one guy to another, having to listen to their wisecracks.

Crusoe rescues her, and they dance happily together.  He promises not to let any other fraternity boys dance with her, but decides it's okay if her almost-brother-in-law cuts in.

Yeah, so Linda gets to dance with Alan Ladd.  Some girls have all the luck.

Then we stop the party so Crusoe can sing.

He sings for a long time.  Then he invites Linda come sing a song from Don Giovanni with him.  Eileen thinks this is horrible.  John thinks this is great.  John kinda thinks most things are great.  There's not a lot to him, I must admit, but he sure smiles nicely.  And wears a tux well.

Linda has never sung in public before.  She's not at all happy about joining Crusoe up on that podium.

But what do you know?  They sound just as great singing together here as they did when they were just singing along with her record by the old fishing hole!  Linda gains confidence visibly, and the crowd goes wild!

John thinks this is great!  Eileen has a sudden idea that she could trade up for a richer, more famous boyfriend by using Linda to get into Crusoe's affections.

Crusoe tells Linda she could have a real singing career.  He talks only to Linda and basically ignores Eileen.  Eileen is not used to being ignored, but she just seethes and pouts in the background instead of doing anything rash to get his attention.  She can wait and scheme, she's good at that.

Time for picnic number two!  Linda really wants Crusoe and cousin Marian to get together, so she invites them both on a picnic.  Katy bakes them a pie.  Again, that's my kind of fairy godmother -- pies and cakes and dresses, oh my!

John happens to be playing golf with some buddies nearby.  He hits a golf ball right in the pie.  No one is happy about this.  Except John, who thinks pie is still great, even if it's had a golf ball in it.  Linda takes him off for a walk so Crusoe and Marian can be Alone Together.  She's quite sure if she can just make them be Alone Together often enough, Marian will quit moping over John and fall for Crusoe instead.  Linda is incredibly oblivious.  But her dress is cute.

After dinner that evening, Linda contrives things so Crusoe and Marian can be Alone Together again while Marian accompanies him at the piano.  Crusoe sings a while.  For only being 77 minutes long, this movie takes a lot of singing breaks.

Eileen then wangles her way into being Alone Together with Crusoe so they can "discuss Linda's future."  Crusoe is totally onto Eileen's machinations and thinks she's hilarious, but he keeps his amusement to himself.  Except when it turns out that Linda has been lying on a nearby couch eavesdropping the whole time -- that cracks him up.

Marian takes Linda aside and gently but firmly explains that her heart will always belong to John-who-thinks-everything-is-great, and suggests Linda try to interest Crusoe in herself if she doesn't want him falling into Eileen's clutches.  Linda is skeptical of this plan having any kind of success.  Totally oblivious, like I said.

Since she has never tried to romance a man before, being only seventeen and all, Linda sneaks into Eileen's bedroom and borrows a book.

It's a spectacularly helpful book.  Or so she assumes.

Being a good student, Linda follows this book to the letter.  She invites Crusoe to go fishing up at her family's cabin in the mountains.  For only being 77 minutes long, this movie also manages to cram a lot of fishing in.

While Linda is following the book's advice and "displaying her charms" by swimming around in one of the least provocative bathing suits I've seen (but didn't manage to screencap, sorry), Crusoe accidentally finds her book.

He's both amused and annoyed.  But he fries up the fish for a tasty picnic lunch (man, these people eat outside a lot!).  Linda repays him by sabotaging his car so they'll be stuck up there together.

But when she tries cozying up to him on the sofa, he's had enough.  Crusoe, you see, is a really good guy.  He might be growing increasingly fond of our little Linda, but he is NOT going to take advantage of the fact that they are Alone Together up at her family cabin.  She's seventeen.  He's thirty-five.  (Well, at the time of filming, Edith Fellows really was seventeen like her character, so I'm going to assume that since Wilbur Evans was thirty-five, his character is as well.)

She tries to kiss him.  He freaks out and scolds her.

Then he tells her he knows about the book.  She gets mad at him for snooping.  He finds this adorable.

Eileen shows up at the cabin and tells Crusoe she wants to go with him to San Francisco on his trip to sing there so they can "discuss Linda's future."  Linda fixes Crusoe's car and drives off in a huff.  She runs straight home, finds John, and informs him, "She's going to San Francisco with Crusoe and you have to stop her!"

John promptly punches Crusoe in the face when Crusoe and Eileen arrive.  Finally, something John does NOT think is great!

John then declares his true love for Marian.  Which any Alan Ladd fan could see coming a mile away, because his characters always lose their hearts to women named Marian.  (See Whispering Smith and Shane for more details.)  He thought it was Marian who was going away with Crusoe, which made him realize he loves her, and now he begs her to stay and marry him.

Crusoe thinks this is great.  He and John shake hands, no hard feelings over the face-punching.

Next thing you know, there's a preacher in the parlor, and John and Marian are getting hitched.

John thinks this is great.

Katy cries with happiness.  We assume.  Could be she's just been chopping onions for the wedding feast.

Crusoe celebrates the wedding by stopping the story to sing another long song.  Wilbur Evans really did all the singing for the movie, it's not dubbed in, and he does have a nice voice, but really?  Another song?  Dude, there's only like five minutes left to tie up the rest of the plot!  But okay, go ahead, indulge your love of Italian vowels.  I'll be over here waiting for the next shot of Alan Ladd.

After the wedding, and the song, Crusoe asks Eileen if he can speak to her alone a moment.  Linda and Katy run off to the kitchen to cry because they're convinced Eileen has gotten her hooks into Crusoe and he's proposing to her, carried away by the emotions of John and Marian's wedding and all those Italian vowels.

Eileen thinks so too.  She is NOT pleased when Crusoe instead asks if he could marry Linda once she turns eighteen.

Linda has run off to the garden to cry.

Crusoe comes out and explains that nope, he wants to marry her, once she's eighteen and doesn't have to have Eileen's permission.  (And because, presumably, the audience would find it really icky if a 35-year-old guy married a 17-year-old girl.  Thirty-six and eighteen is WAY better, amiright?)

She's happy.  He's happy.  They don't go into a clinch.  No smooching!  Instead, he very honorably and sweetly puts an arm around her shoulder and gives her a good hug.  Gentlemanly to the last, at least!

And there you have it!  A sweet, adorable Cinderella story, crammed with fishing and books and picnics and a LOT of singing.

And also those cute title cards.  Can't forget those.


  1. Fun review! I had never heard of this film...sometimes those old "lost" ones are the most fun though--even if not the best critically speaking.

    The whole plot/story and costumes make me think of old Roy Rogers films. :)

    1. Annie, haha! Yes, if you replaced the opera with cowboy songs, this would be very like a Roy Rogers movie :-) Same enjoyable, non-serious fun.

  2. Hee! Are you trying to lure me in? Cuz you know I'd be all over a bunch of opera; however, I'm afraid there's only one bit of opera in this, the Don Giovanni duet. The rest is just songs, and all in English, except the Russian folk song she sings. But that is a very sweet cute movie, in a good way. I love when you do these super-long write-up reviews with all the screenshots. And Katy is marvelous! Such a great fairy godmother. (I want to eat her lemon pie.) And Eileen. Wow. She's a piece of work.


    1. Whaaaaaaat? Okay, the only song I could understand the words in at all was "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair." Lol!

      Some movies just lend themselves to this sort of review, hee. And I try to only do them for movies that I know a lot of people won't see anyway, or won't care if I spoil the whole thing. Alan probably gets more than his fair percentage of these just cuz I get a little nutty taking screencaps.

      Katy is awesome. Like, my new role model. And now I really want chocolate cake.

    2. Hee! That is so backwards of us! Cuz I could actually understand him and here the lyrics. However, I'm used to listening to opera singers soooo, I might have an advantage in this case? I knew there was only one opera piece from the screenshot of the songs, however, I thought maybe they snuck something else in without giving it credit, so you did get me to watch it. :-D Alan's intro scene with Katy? Adorable.

    3. DKoren, I know! It just means I'm going to be forced to watch this a third time. But yeah, it's probably because when I listen to opera, I don't understand it.

      Was the song she played on the record when they first met the same song from Don Giovanni?

      Alan's intro scene is definitely adorable. That little shrug-and-shiver-oooh thing he does cracks me all the way up.

    4. Nope, the song on the record player is just a song, sung in English. Don Giovanni is only sung at the party.

      Yes! I hate .gifs, but that little movement just cried out to be made into a .gif. It made me laugh with delight.

    5. DKoren, this is too funny -- I have been half thinking, "Hmm, how hard can it be to make .gifs, anyway?" just because of how cute that smidgen of the movie is. Hmmmmm.

  3. Gee, I wish I'd be named Marian.

    I think Edith Fellows is a terrific actress. One of those kids who seemed genuine and never grew out of it. I'll have to check this one out or maybe not. Could it really be as entertaining as your article?

    1. Caftan Woman, I know, right?

      I don't think I've ever seen Edith Fellows in anything else, but I definitely liked her a lot here!

      It's a very fun movie, and at only 77 minutes, what've you got to lose? I watched it expecting Alan to have a tiny role, like in The Light of Western Stars, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find him a supporting player and part of the plot!

  4. "If you can't stand extreme adorableness, this movie is not for you."

    *shifts guiltily* Uh-oh . . . Hamlette's talking about me . . .


    You know, for somebody who was really only supposed to stand around and look generally benevolent and amenable, Alan Ladd seems to do a pretty good job of it here ;-)

    Random: Have you ever watched "The Sandlot"? I saw it last weekend and enjoyed it. Not my favorite kind of movie, but still, very sweet as well as silly.

    1. Jessica, and yet, you're going to watch Lilo & Stitch this week, which I have never seen because everything clip and trailer and song I've seen from it just screams "Way Too Cutesy" at me. Clearly, we all have our own level of what "too cute" is.

      And yes, he does a bang-up job of looking nice and smiling, and saying kind things in his delicious voice.

      Nope, never seen The Sandlot.

    2. *nods thoughtfully* That is absolutely true.

      I want to see "Lilo and Stitch" because I personally love stories about weird animal friends . . . especially weird animal friends that look like koala bears, because koalas are my favorite :-) However, I could definitely see it being too cutesy for some people. So it's all in how you look at things, I guess.

      Your kids might like "The Sandlot" when they get a little older, actually--it does a good job of illustrating life from a young boy's perspective; and it has just the right amount of suspense, but not too much.

    3. Jessica, it's a little odd that I don't want to see it, from the weird-animal-friends angle because I love books like The Yearling and Rascal where kids befriend supposed-to-be-wild creatures. But nope, doesn't grab me anyway.

      I wouldn't mind seeing The Sandlot just cuz James Earl Jones, Karen Allen, and Denis Leary are all actors I enjoy. Just hasn't crossed my path, and I haven't been interested enough to seek it out. I'll keep it in mind, though!

    4. Well, it's hard to explain sometimes what grabs us and what doesn't . . . I know it is for me, anyways.

      It does have a pretty strong "found family" theme, though, from what I might understand; so maybe that part of it might interest you? I dunno.

    5. Jessica, okay, the "found family" angle interests me, then -- I will try to see it at some point, as I work my way through Disney's oeuvre.

  5. I think I would like watching this movie. I laughed a lot while reading your review.
    I also liked all your comments about Alan Ladd. He is definitely growing on me. (This might be because I recently watching "This Gun for Hire," and I really liked him in that.)

    1. Ekaterina, pardon me while I shriek with joy.


      You watched This Gun for Hire! That's so cool! He is absolutely wonderful in that -- there's no reason to wonder why that movie made him a star.

      This is very much a fun way to spend an hour or so -- nothing deep and thought-provoking, but an enjoyable and sweet story with characters you can genuinely like.

    2. Alan Ladd was really good in This Gun for Hire! At the beginning of the movie, I wasn't too sure how I felt about him but at the end of the movie, I was completely on his side and rooting for him. I love that because he played a not very moral character, and he made you sympathize with him and love him in the end.

      I recently watched Tammy and the Bachelor, and this film sounds similar to that film because that film was also really sweet, adorable, and not deep. I love deep movies, but sometimes you need a fluffy movie.

    3. Ekaterina, I'm glad you thought so :-) He definitely does a great job making a character with a nasty profession be really sympathetic.

      Tammy and the Bachelor is such a cute movie! This is somewhat similar, you're right -- like an early romcom, in a way. On days like today when I've been in contact with people for hour sand hours and my brain and emotions are pretty well shot, I just need a fluffy, happy movie to kick back with.

    4. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake played in three other movies together, besides in "This Gun for Hire!" Have you seen any of these other movies? If so, which one would you recommend I watch next?

    5. Ekaterina, I've seen two of them. I like The Blue Dahlia better than The Glass Key, but they're both good noir. I reviewed Dahlia here and Key here, though I think those posts contained spoilage. But I would personally say try Dahlia first, as it's a more rewarding movie overall. IMHO!

      I haven't seen their fourth film together, Saigon, as it isn't currently available on DVD, except grey-market. But several of Alan's movies have been newly released over the past year, so I'm hoping that one will be too. Or else I'll just have to go grey-market, which I've had to do for some of his others, so not the end of the world.

    6. I don't like reading spoilers, but I'll watch "The Blue Dahlia" first. :-)

      What is the grey-market? That is the first time I have ever heard that term.

    7. Ekaterina, I understand. Hope you dig it!

      Grey-market is like bootleg. Technically illegal. I don't like buying grey-market, but there have been a few times when there's been a movie I really want to see, like Alan's And Now Tomorrow, that's not officially been released to DVD, but some random person has copied it to DVD from an old VHS, or recorded it off TV. I did buy grey-market copies of And Now Tomorrow and Two Years Before the Mast, and then a couple months later, they both got legitimately released to DVD, so I bought the "real" versions to replace my bootleg copies. I've quit buying grey-market stuff of his (especially since I now have a nice collection of his films and am not desperately searching for more) and am hoping that the ones I still want to see will be released legitimately soon.

  6. Okay, this is totally adorable! I've begun to really enjoy old movies.

    1. Erudessa, it is very cute :-) And I'm so happy to hear you're learning to enjoy old movies! That is really cool.

  7. Oh gee, you lured me in...just like one of those fish. My sister and I have been on a Cinderella kick all week long, so this ties in perfectly...and who can resist those quickie B films? Great review!

    1. What perfect timing! I hope you both get a chance to see this :-) Sometimes I like B films better than A-listers!

  8. Woooow. Hahaha, your review is superbly sarcastic. I love it. :D This sounds like a cute movie, though. I wouldn't mind watching it.

    1. But lovingly sarcastic, right? It's a really cute movie! I found it free online here, though the picture isn't the best.

    2. Oh, indeed! And thanks! I'll have to check out that link. :)

  9. Ha! I laughed my way through this review. Hamlette, my dear, you certainly have a way with words! ;D Clearly John thought everything was great. But! It does sound like a cute movie!

    1. Hee. Thanks, Kara! It was a fun one to write up :-D And to watch!


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