First A Girl
First A Girl is a remake of the Reinhold German film “Viktor und Viktoria” on the theme of transvestism. Later to be remade again as a musical comedy this time staring Julie Andrews. Each version have the same basic storyline of a girl who becomes an international success after being ‘adopted’ by a drag artist who gets sick and talks the girl into going on in his place. But each version has a different twist on the theme. The first excelling in androgeny so much that it is truly difficult to distinguish between the male and female impersonators. The third, being made half a century later kept the 1930’s Parisian Jazz backdrop but contemporised the theme making the girl’s alter ego boyfriend to a gay nightclub entertainer. Jessie’s version pays less heed to the gender deception and gives more attention to creating a stylish production full of wit and humour.
The songs were contemporary, and beautifully rendered . The plot, not new, was adapted well infusing many new elements, and was wonderfully performed by a terrific cast. Whilst it stands the test of time, in “The Age Of The Dream Palace” Jeffrey Richards notes “ Jessie is never for a moment convincing as a man, but she handles very well the comic scenes this involves, such as a session of double brandies and cigars…which leaves her hopelessly incapacitated.” The truth is that Jessie continues to wear full makeup as Victor. This is by design, to maintain the character as a girl impersonating a man. A fact to which the other characters just cannot see and hence allot of laughs. The big ‘hit’ song from First A Girl is “Everything’s In Rhythm With My heart” - the wonderful bird cage number. The song’s music sheets flew off the store shelves in huge quantities and now turn up regularly at memorabilia events. The related studio track appears on all 3 of Jessie's compilation CDs. More lavishly staged is the number “Half and Half” which matches anything that Hollywood has produced, but mysteriously not yet made it to CD. The most memorable song has to be “Say the Word And It’s Yours”. This is an enchanting ballad that Jessie performs whilst lounging on a picturesque befogged Riviera beach dressed in a huge floppy hat and bathing costume.
First A Girl , received rave reviews and was a great success . With successive successes Jessie really established herself as a huge international Film Star and was to break box office records on both sides of the Atlantic.
The critic of the Sunday Times (10 November 1935) declared: “I adore Jessie Matthews in First A Girl . This little person makes a bewitching attraction appearing with Sonnie Hale in a brilliant and deliciously irresponsible musical. She takes all the opportunities the film affords her with both hands. Although an unstinted production, spectacle is not permitted to run riot. There is amplitude without excess. We never lose track of the story or lose ourselves in dizzy splendour. Jessie Matthews has never done anything better than this. She is delightful to look at, joyous to hear. Especially clever is her male impersonation. Such brilliant work could not fail to keep the fun going. The Birdcage Dance is a most appealing conception and a top scoring hit for Jessie, but Sonnie Hale steals a little of her glory with his monstrously funny parody. This is the sort of picture in which Victor Saville excels. He is a top-notch Director. With the aid of a grand company of technicians, a dance expert like Ralph Reader, well-known actors, including Griffith Jones, Alfred Drayton, and Martitia Hunt, he has evolved a smart, colourful, well-photographed, perfectly directed, tasteful, tuneful and good-humoured comedy.”