It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
For the First Time (1959)– Musical #569
Mario Lanza, Johanna von Koczian, Kurt Kasznar, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hans Söhnker,
Famous tenor Tonio Costa (Lanza) is temperamental and causes problems for his manager (Kasznar). Tonio falls in love with Christa (Koczian), who is deaf. However, she won’t marry him until she is able to hear him sing.
-Last film of Mario Lanza. “For the First Time” was released on Aug. 14, 1959, and Lanza died of a heart attack at age 38 on Oct. 7, 1959.
-Mario Lanza’s first film since he made Seven Hills of Rome in 1957.
-A dachshund at the beginning begging
-The opera montage of Mario Lanza performing Othello, Pagliacci or Aida
-“Come Prima (For the First Time)” performed by Mario Lanza
-“Ave Maria” performed by Mario Lanza
-“O Sole Mio” performed by Mario Lanza
-“La donna e mobile” performed by Mario Lanza
-“Death Scene from Othello” performed by Mario Lanza
Only a few weeks ago, I reviewed Mario Lanza’s first film. And now I review his last, which came only 10 years later.
“For the First Time” isn’t a great film, but it’s sweet and entertaining. The core of the film focuses on a difficult singer (played by Lanza) whose ways are changed when he falls in love with a girl who is deaf. Before he was unreliable when it came to performances, though audiences still came out in droves to hear him sing. But after meeting the girl, he schedules performance after performance to raise money so she can see specialists and hear.
The Aug. 15, 1959, review in the New York Times by Howard Thompson was favorable, of the film: “SURPRISE! A Mario Lanza picture actually succeeds in being moving. We’re speaking of yesterday’s new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release called, very appropriately, “For the First Time.”
Film in Capri, the Technicolor and cinematography by Aldo Tonti are gorgeous.
German actress Johanna von Koczian in her first English speaking film is lovely and endearing. Zsa Zsa Gabor isn’t in the film very much, but she plays Lanza’s wealthy friend who always appears to help get him out of a jam.
And then there is Mario Lanza. Lanza’s singing is beautiful throughout this film, and we really get a great look at how talented he was through the opera montage. But Mario Lanza lacks the playful smile and twinkle in his eye that he had early in his career, especially in films like “The Midnight Kiss.” In his first films, Lanza was so chipper that he may have been a Gene Kelly caricature.
It seems that Mario Lanza often was typecast as the difficult singer in his musicals who believed he was the greatest singer in the world. And from what I have read in biographies on Lanza, it seems that art may be imitating life here. Lanza had a beautiful voice and knew it. Howard Keel wrote in his autobiography that the two were friends but also had a jealous competition of who was the better singer. And according to books like Mario Lanza An American Tragedy by Armando Cesari and Mario Lanza: Tenor in Exile by Roland L. Bessette, Lanza had problems with drinking and binge eating, which took a toll on his health and brought about his early death. And unfortunately, the tragedy didn’t end with his death in 1959. His wife Betty died in 1960, leaving their four children without parents and Kathryn Grayson took care of for a time, according to Hollywood Songsters: Garland to O’Connor by James Robert Parish, Michael R. Pitts.
While “For the First Time” is a sweet and enjoyable movie, I couldn’t avoid thinking about how the title was opposite to Lanza’s story — this would be the last time audiences would see him in a film. He does a great job in the movie, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how only a few months later he would be dead.
Despite the misfortune that followed, “For the First Time” is a lovely film that is also wonderful to look at.
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“For the first time” seems amateurish. But when Lanza sings all bets are off. There was no voice as clean and clear as Lanza. There are better vehicles for Lanza elsewhere but if you want the full measure of his voice you will have to put up with “For The First Time”.