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First A Girl (1935)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of First A Girl (1935)
DirectorVictor Saville
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScenarioMarjorie Gaffney
Original play Reinhold Schunzel
Director of PhotographyGlen MacWilliams
Music DirectorLouis Levy

Jessie Matthews (Elizabeth); Sonnie Hale (Victor); Anna Lee (Princess); Griffith Jones (Robert); Alfred Drayton (McLintock)

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Star struck shop girl Elizabeth pretends to be a boy in order to perform on stage as a female impersonator. When she falls in love she must drop the disguise and become a woman once more.

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A sparkling script, amusing central conceit and excellent performances combine to make First A Girl (1935) pure pleasure from beginning to end. Jessie Matthews makes a suitably attractive boy and the confusion provoked by her cross-dressing antics are dealt with in a sophisticated fashion by director Victor Saville.

Although Matthews' feather trimmed performance of 'Everything's In Rhythm With My Heart' is delightful, the best song and dance routine in the film doesn't feature the star herself. 'I Can Do Everything But Nothing With You', sung by Donald Stewart, is accompanied by a fabulous dance routine choreographed by Ralph Reader. Not as pinpoint perfect in their moves as their Busby Berkeley-trained American counterparts, this bevy of British chorus girls certainly have a charm all of their own.

It's not entirely clear whether romantic lead Griffith Jones prefers Matthews as a boy or a girl and at some points his make-up and behaviour suggest that he is more feminine than Matthews. Confusion regarding the relationship between 'Bill' and Victor also leads to some magic moments, such as the withering look a passer-by gives them as Victor carries a drunken and almost comatose 'Bill' into a hotel room. The role of 'Bill' offers Matthews a real chance to show off her comedic talents, especially in the scene where she must smoke a cigar and match Jones drink for drink. Sonnie Hale is also given a chance to shine: his performance as Victor/Victoria is perfectly pitched and his drag act finale a triumph.

Of all the Matthews/Hale collaborations, this one seems the most polished and even-handed. A huge success at the time it was released, First a Girl is possibly the quintessential Jessie Matthews musical and certainly the most enduringly amusing for a modern audience.

Jenny Hammerton

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Video Clips
1. Shopgirl Samba (3:33)
2. Marvellous Girl (3:21)
3. Cigars (2:42)
4. Dance number (2:23)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Matthews, Jessie (1907-1981)
Saville, Victor (1896-1979)
Tennyson, Pen (1912-1941)
Musical Comedy in the 1930s