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
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.
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!
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
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.