First Love (1939)

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Released 7-Nov-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1939
Running Time 80:56
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Henry Koster

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Deanna Durbin
Robert Stack
Eugene Pallette
Helen Parrish
Lewis Howard
Leatrice Joy
June Storey
Frank Jenks
Thurston Hall
Case Custom Packaging
RPI Box Music Charles Previn
Johannes Strauss

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


    The sixth movie in Roadshow's local release of the nineteen disc The Deanna Durbin Collection is First Love. Released by Universal in November 1939, just one month before her eighteenth birthday, First Love gave the young soprano her first screen romance, and a hugely publicised first screen kiss which was literally headline news around the world. Audiences flocked. Usually dismissed by the "experts" in derogatory terms,  First Love is a totally captivating retelling of Cinderella in 1939 dress and one of the best young romance movies ever made.

    The movie opens with the graduation ceremony at a girls' school, with all the graduates being collected by parents to return to their homes, except one. Constance / Connie Harding (Deanna Durbin) is an orphan and is going to live with her wealthy uncle, James F. Clinton (Eugene Pallette), her aunt Grace (Leatrice Joy) and cousins Barbara (Helen Parrish) and Walter (Lewis Howard). With the exception of  Uncle James this is a pretty unlikeable and twitty bunch. At least the servants they employ are sympathetic.

    At the local country club Connie encounters horse-riding rich boy Ted Drake (Robert Stack) and is smitten. A big party/ball is to be held. Connie doesn't have a suitable gown! The kindly servants come to the rescue!  Barbara doesn't want her to go! Connie has to be back by midnight! She has an escort of six policemen on six white motorbikes! Connie waltzes with the princely Ted and flees at midnight, losing a slipper on the stairs! Sounds familiar? This is a delightful retelling of Cinderella and to criticise it for being "unoriginal" - as many "experts" have - is ludicrous. It is a beautiful modern - 1939 modern - fairytale from beginning to end and the old story is told lavishly by Universal.

    Deanna Durbin is a wonderful Constance - I'll have to get out my thesaurus to find more adjectives for her -  looking lovely and singing gloriously. Huge world-wide publicity was made of Deanna's upcoming "first screen kiss" in this film and the search for the "prince" who was to deliver it was almost on a par with the "search" for Scarlett O'Hara. The lucky young man was twenty-one year old Robert Stack in his first film. Later to find huge television success as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables, Robert Stack here is almost unbelievably blonde and handsome, the perfect prince for the young screen musical princess. The entire ball sequence is worth multiple viewings, but the waltz segment is one of the most romantic things I've ever seen. The set , the music, the costumes, the Oscar nominated photography, in fact every element is perfect, including the young couple waltzing. The imaginative isolation of the lovers from the throng astonished me. A truly great sequence and movie history.

    The supporting cast give excellent performances with the exception of  Kathleen Howard as the schoolmarm Miss Wiggins. This performance would have been old hat in 1939. That aside the rest of the cast are great. Eugene Pallette with his inimitable walk and voice is fun as the only sane voice in the Clinton Family, Leatrice Joy is batty and enjoyable as the astrology-obsessed aunt and Lewis Howard has good moments as the dissolute son. Helen Parrish, so dreary in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, here does what she does best, playing glamorous sourpuss to the hilt, and looking beautiful. There is a host of character reliables such as Frank Jenks (the cab driver in 100 Men And a Girl), Thurston Hall and Marcia Mae Jones as well as the collective-fairygodmother  servants, who contribute much warmth to the proceedings. The female domestics are played by Mary Treen, Dorothy Vaughan and Lucille Ward, while "George the Butler" is Charles Coleman and the chauffeur is Jack Mulhall. These are all sterling performers whose faces we know, but whose names are rarely heard.

    The film's musical highlights were Amapola, Home Sweet Home, One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly and Spring In My Heart (Johannes Strauss), so beautifully sung and staged in the ball sequence. Three new songs are also listed in the booklet accompanying the boxed set, but these are not in the film. The original score by Charles Previn, another Oscar nomination, once again enhances a Durbin film.

    The production team led,  for the sixth time, by Joe Pasternak, topped previous Durbin vehicles and Henry Koster's direction deserves high praise- we'll forget Miss Wiggins. I don't know where the major credit should go for the entire ball sequence, whether to Koster, Pasternak or Director of Photography Joseph Valentine. Whoever is responsible, that sequence is perfection.

    What a sensation First Love  must have been in 1939.

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Transfer Quality


     First Love looks startling. This film is almost seventy years old and this transfer is a pleasure to watch. I have seen better transfers of 30s movies, in meticulous restorations, but this looks almost as good.
    The image is presented in a 4x3 transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the original presentation having been 1.37:1.
    The image is extremely steady, with a tiny amount of wobble in the credits,  sharp and clean and with no low level noise. I tried to see grain, but gave up. The picture is smooth and beautiful to look at.
    The grey scale is outstanding, with deep, solid blacks and whites without a hint of flaring - as in the heroine's white cape.
     I was not aware of any film-to-video artefacts. No aliasing, even on Venetian blinds.
     Film artefacts are limited to the intermittent white fleck, and one instance of positive flecks (43:30). This is being very critical of what is a beautiful transfer.
     Reel cues were noted late in the film.
    There are no subtitles and the disc is single layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sixty-nine year old audio track is in very good condition.
    There is only one audio track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 reproduction of the original mono Western Electric Noiseless Recording.
    The dialogue is clear and sharp with not one syllable indistinct and no sync problems. Deanna Durbin's visuals match the pre-recorded vocals perfectly.
    There appears to be no doctoring of the soundtrack at all. There is at times a very slight background rumble, barely audible. I was more aware of it when it stopped. There is also the occasional crackle or pop. These comments aside, the quality of the sound is extremely good, sharp and vibrant, the original musical scoring sounding most attractive. There is very slight distortion on the loudest vocal passages, but I would rather have these very slight "imperfections", which are in no way distracting, than lose the dynamism of the sound as a whole.
     There was one dropout during the opening Universal logo music (00.11).


Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The box set contains a Sixteen Page Souvenir Booklet.
    Apart from this booklet and the Stills Galleries on five of the titles - no gallery on First Love- there are no other extras on the entire nineteen discs, not even a trailer. The reverse of the slick for First Love contains small reproductions of five stills.
    The picture disc reproduces the title's cover.


    All menu screens are 4x3.

    The main menu design is extremely basic. The screen comprises two stills from the film, with orchestral music from the credits of the film.
    The options are :
        Play Film
        Scene Index: Selecting this option gives a new screen with two further stills and a list of ten scenes. No thumbnails, no sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.


    There is no current release of First Love in Region 1.
    The nineteen titles box set is available in Region 2 where it is more than double the Australian price.First Love is also available separately, as well as being included in the five disc set The Deanna Durbin Collection : Box 2 along with Three Smart Girls Grow Up, Can't Help Singing, The Amazing Mrs Holliday and For the Love of Mary.


     First Love is one of the best of its genre. A classic story given a classic treatment, with an iconic star partnered with a handsome prince who himself was to become an iconic star of TV. A fantastic movie in a sparkling transfer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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