Thursday, November 6, 2008

First a Girl (1935) Film Review - Jessie Matthews

Plot Summary - A cross-dressing musical from the UK. A wannabee showgirl/singer named Elizabeth (Jessie Matthews) meets Victor (Sonnie Hale) one rain-soaked day, an out-of-work actor who dreams of performing Shakespeare but occasionally gets work as a female impersonator. He gets a job to perform that evening at a London music hall, but is hoarse with a bad cold - what to do? He comes up with a great idea, Elizabeth perform in his place posing as a male who performs as a female impersonator - yeah, a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. She goes on stage as Victoria, and dresses as a man, "Bill", when off stage. A big agent sees her performance and hires him/her to travel and perform across Europe - Victoria becomes a hit! In Paris her show is attended by a princess and her fiance, Robert, who proclaims her a "marvelous girl" when he sees Victoria on stage. Surprise for him - "she's" a man. Robert and "Bill" bond over doubles and huge cigars at the club bar after the show, but a dropped "girl's comb" makes the princess and Robert suspicious so they come up with a plan to expose her on a trip for the four of them to the South-of-France. Romance to follow.

Review - This is a highly enjoyable film, the plotline of the 1982 film "Victor Victoria" is quite similar to this throughout the film, but this earlier version lacks the gay theme that is featured in the later version of this story. The film includes some very entertaining and stylish musical numbers, some almost Busby Berkeley in style - one number features women in this huge birdcage. The film opens with a fun fashion show (out-there gowns by "Seraphina"). I really, really liked the performance of actress Jessie Matthews in this, a very likable charmer - she kind of reminded me of Liza Minnelli with a touch of Anne Hathaway, especially around the eyes. Anna Lee appears as the princess, I know her so well from my years watching General Hospital where she played Lila Quartermaine - I don't think I've ever seen her quite so young and beautiful as she is in this film. This one is really good - both amusing and entertaining. A rarely seen gem. Rating - 9 to 10/10 stars

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