First Love (1939 film)

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First Love
First Love 1939 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Koster
Produced by Henry Koster
Joe Pasternak
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Henry Myers
  • Gertrude Purcell
Starring Deanna Durbin
Music by Hans J. Salter
Cinematography Joseph A. Valentine
Edited by Bernard W. Burton
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 10, 1939 (1939-11-10)(USA)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budgetover $1 million [1] or $990,000 [2]

First Love is a 1939 American musical film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. [3] [4] Based on the fairy tale Cinderella , the film is about an orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after graduating from boarding school. Her life is made difficult by her snobby cousin who arranges that she stay home while the rest of the family attends a major social ball. With the help of her uncle, she makes it to the ball, where she meets and falls in love with her cousin's boyfriend. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Music. [5]



Constance Harding is an unhappy orphan who will soon graduate from Miss Wiggins' school for girls. Her only real relatives are members from the James Clinton family, but they show little interest in the teenager. She is brought to New York by one of their butlers, where she moves in with a bunch of snobs. The upperclass people are not impressed with her, but Connie is able to befriend the servants.

One afternoon, her cousin Barbara Clinton orders Connie to stop Ted Drake from going riding without her. Connie tries the best she can, which results in embarrassing herself. She has secretly fallen in love with him and is filled with joy when she learns the Drake family is organizing a ball. The servants raise money to buy her a fashionable dress. However, Barbara spreads a lie and Connie is eventually prohibited from attending the ball.

Connie is heartbroken, until the servants arrange a limousine she can use until midnight. Meanwhile, the police detain the Clinton family car until almost midnight when they can be brought before a judge, since the chauffeur is missing the vehicle's proof of ownership. At the ball, everyone is impressed with her singing talents. Ted notices her and tries to charm her. They eventually kiss, when Connie realizes it is midnight. She runs off, but accidentally leaves one of her slippers behind. Ted finds the slipper and tries to locate the owner.

Arriving at the ball just before midnight, Barbara spots Connie leaving the ball. Infuriated, she tries to break Connie's confidence and fires all the servants. The next day, Connie is missing as well, and her uncle James berates Grace, Barbara, and Walter for their hostile/indifferent attitude to Connie. Meanwhile, Connie returns to Miss Wiggins' school in the hope of becoming a music teacher. Ted follows her and they reunite in the end.



In April 1938, Universal announced Durbin would star in Cinderella directed by Henry Koster and producer by Joe Pasternak from a script by Bruce Manning and Felix Jackson, in color. [7] In May the studio said Durbin would make the film following Three Smart Girls Grow Up . [8] However in late May it was reported the film was abandoned due to protests by exhibitors and also the objections of Walt Disney who said he owned the title. [9]

In June 1938, Peter Milne and Irma Von Curbe were reported writing the script, now called First Love. [10]

In January 1939, Charles Boyer signed to co star. [11]

The film was pushed back to Durbin could make After School Days. [12]

Eventually Boyer dropped out of the film. Lewis Howard and Robert Stack were signed to make their debuts. Filming started June 1939. The movie was shot in black and white. [13]

Filming started with writer Bruce Manning saying he was unsure of the ending. [14]

Joe Pasternak later wrote in his memoirs there had been pressure at Universal to put Durbin in older roles:

I insisted that Deanna was one of those personalities which the world not only takes to its bosom but insists as regarding as its personal prop-erty. We dressed her, as I said, with great consideration for her position. The occasion of her first kiss was as significant to us, and, as it happened, to her audience, as must be the first kiss of any girl sixteen years old. We instituted a veritable Gone With the Wind-style search for the right boy. Robert Stack finally won it. A million words must have been written on the subject. I do not contend that there were not more weighty matters at the time. But it is proof, I think, of the interest that every stage of Deanna's development held for the world. [15]


In his review in The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent wrote that the film "affords the usual pleasant scope for the talents, graces and charming accomplishments of Miss Deanna Durbin." [16] Nugent continued:

Certainly there is nothing highbrow about Deanna and her vocal selections, which this time include a sentimental number called "Home, Sweet Home," that sounds as if it has the makings of a hit. The most pretentious item is an Englished version of Puccini's "Un bel di" ending prettily with a romantic crisis when Prince Charming walks in tactfully on the correct note to save Deanna from a life of school-marmish spinsterhood. The story is slight, fragile and appropriately dewy, as befits the Dresden-in-modern-dress spectacle of Miss Durbin standing with exceedingly unreluctant feet where the brook and river meet. That much advertised First Kiss is consummated with such idyllic restraint that not even the queasiest stockholder could fear that Miss Durbin will burn herself out emotionally before she is 20. [16]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Related Research Articles

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  1. Three smart guys: How a few penniless German émigrés saved Universal Studios Asper, Helmut; Horak, Jan-Christopher. Film History; New York Vol. 11, Iss. 2, (Jan 1, 1999): 134.
  2. Dick, Bernard K. (2015). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 115. ISBN   9780813158891.
  3. "First Love (1939)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  4. "First Love". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  5. "Awards for First Love". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  6. "Full cast and crew for First Love". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  7. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: ' Cinderella,' in Color, to Be Deanna Durbin's NextSol Lesser Plans 'Peck's Bad Boy' Series Of Local Origin Warners To Do "The Drunkard" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times 20 Apr 1938: 21.
  8. UNIVERSAL PLANS 40 FEATURE FILMS New York Times 11 May 1938: 17.
  9. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 19 May 1938: 24.
  10. Film Stars Enlisted for Shrine Pageant Los Angeles Times 2 June 1938: 13.
  11. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 21 Jan 1939: 19.
  12. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times (7 Apr 1939: 13.
  13. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: New York Times ]15 June 1939: 31.
  14. Leatrice Joy Back in Films With Deanna: Returns to Cameras After Ten Years Of Retirement By Frederick C. Othman United Press Hollywood Correspondent. The Washington Post ]24 July 1939: 12.
  15. Pasternak, Joe (1956). Easy the Hard Way. Putnam. p.  178.
  16. 1 2 Nugent, Frank S. (November 9, 1939). "Rivoli Offers Deanna Durbin's 'First Love'". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  17. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.