You’ll find that with many of the movies I write about, something in my history earns them an honored place in Clyde’s Movie Palace. Go through my movie essays, and you’ll know quite a bit about me. It’s no coincidence that if you’re a film buff, you’ll remember those movies, good or bad, that you saw immediately before, during, or after any significant event in your life, then you have a recollection of others.
And so it is with First Love, a 1977 supposedly honest look at the college romance and sex life of two lovebirds who meet on campus where their never-ending passion conquers all. Or not.
The film stars
Laurie Partridge, Susan Dey, and Ralph Hinkley William Katt as the two romantically involved students.
I initially saw First Love at the Johnda-Lou Drive-in in Wheelersburg, Ohio (see the inserted picture). Johnda-Lou ceased to exist many years ago, but my memories of it linger on endlessly.
The first movie I remember ever seeing there was Viva Las Vegas. The last movie I saw there was Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind a couple of summers after its original release. I remember that trip to the Johnda-Lou, thanks to the oppressive sweltering heat and humidity and the abundance of mosquitoes flying in from off of the Ohio River.
My date for First Love was a gal we’ll call Joyce for no other reason than that was her name. And after a few cinematic double features and trips to the Johnda-Lou, we fell hopelessly madly and endlessly in love. At least one of us did while the other person was pretending.
Joyce and I did become engaged. I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen…..oh wait. That’s a different movie.
But she did break our engagement. “Clyde,” she said, “the love of decency does not abide in you.” Okay, she didn’t say that either, which is too bad because then I would have come back at her with a little John Wayne. “So long, Joyce; I hope greasy tire-changing bastard makes you happy this time.”
The last I heard, she was messing around with an alcohol-guzzling, garage-owning grease monkey with a nice car and plenty of cash. That part of the story is genuine but it wasn’t the end. As St. Paul-of-the Harvey might have said: “There is always the rest of the story.”
Hell, can’t tell you everything. We saw at least four movies together, so you’ll have to wait until I write about one of those or finish the screenplay of my life story, whichever comes first. At 70 years old, my life is pretty much an open book.
Elgin Smith (William Katt) is a collegiate soccer player. We know this because when the film opens, he is practicing his skills while Cat Stevens stands on the sidelines singing a little ditty called Child for a Day back in the days before Cat Stevens was given the royal U.S. treatment of being ostracized for a quote he now says was not quite what he said. But that’s what we do in this country. We’re experts at ostracizing. We can jump the gun and do it even if there’s no reason to do it in the first place. Ask the Dixie Chicks, who turned out to be right all along.
Elgin’s somewhat of a best friend, David (John Heard), lives in the same college dorm in the room adjacent to his own. Besides his friend Elgin, David has lots of other companions. That being female companions like Shelley (Beverly D’Angelo), who is often on the outside looking in, and Felicia (June Barrett).
David and Shelley have this arrangement. He can have sex with any woman he wants, and apparently, her part of the deal is that she gets to hang out in Elgin’s room while he’s trying to study and listen to the moans and groans emanating through the paper-thin walls. Consider it as Shelley and David going on Let’s Make a Deal. David gets the grand prize behind door number one, and poor Shelley gets the zonk deal behind door number three.
David’s investment in the relationship with Shelley is such that he tries to get buddy Elgin to take her out for a good time. But Elgin is looking for something else in his love life.
David: You don’t find her attractive.
Elgin: Yes, she’s very attractive.
David: Then why not?
Elgin: She’s not my type.
David: Not your type? What the hell are you looking for?
Elgin: What I’m not looking for is something casual. I’ve had that.
David: Oh, I see. You’re looking to fall deeply and romantically and spiritually in love. Like Romeo, Yeats, Keats. How about Shelley? Come on. The four of us, dinner Friday night. You and Shelley, me and Felicia.
Elgin: Uh, Felicia doesn’t know about Shelley?
David: No, I love Felicia.
Elgin: David, I don’t think you know what love is.
David: Love is what feels good.
Here’s a hint. By the end of this movie, I don’t think any of these characters will really know what love is. Worse, they’ll probably confuse you on the subject matter to the point that you’ll also be clueless. And maybe that’s what happened to Joyce and me. By the end of this movie, we were both clueless. I don’t know how it worked for her, but I remained in the dark for another 23 years.
At dinner with Shelley, David, and Felicia, Elgin gets his first glimpse of Caroline Hedges (Susan Dey), who enters the restaurant, immediately capturing Elgin’s attention and ours because director Joan Darling sets it up that way. There’s nothing like a grand entrance.
Our attention is also drawn to the fact that the person escorting Caroline must be her father because he’s an old fart. Sort of like what I am now but wasn’t back in 1977. We almost expect Mommie to come waddling in, but she doesn’t show. Nothing like a Daughter and Daddy having a nice dinner date alone.
On the walk back to the campus, no one seems to have enjoyed the dinner except for David, the clueless.
David: Well, I guess I’m going over to Felicia’s for a while.
Shelley (in a low voice): Like for approximately all night.
After Horny David and Snobby Felicia leave, Shelley invites herself to Elgin’s room and does her best to hook up with him. Once in the room, she gets to the point by asking him if he wants sex.
Before Elgin can mull that proposition over properly, Shelley gets undressed and offers herself up to be sacrificed. But Elgin, having fallen head over heels fanatically in love with Caroline after seeing her in the restaurant for five and a half seconds, turns whiny Shelley’s advances down, causing her to leave while throwing a nasty little tantrum. We now better understand why Felicia is doing the bump and grind with David and Shelley is not.
Then again, turning down the chance to have hot sex with Beverly D’Angelo under any circumstances is a bit crazy. Just ask Chevy Chase, who only wanted to cheat on her because Christie Brinkley was naked in the swimming pool.
Shelley (in her bra and panties): Now why don’t you get undressed.
Elgin: Shelley, I can’t just do this.
Shelley: Oh yeah, you can.
Elgin (brushing her away): No, no, no, no, I can’t. All right?
Shelley: You think I’m not good enough for you?
Shelley: You probably want Felicia.
Elgin: No, I don’t want Felicia.
Shelley: It’s because I threw myself at you.
Elgin: No, you’re a very beautiful girl, Shelley.
Shelley: You think I threw myself at you. You can’t handle a real woman.
Elgin: Listen to me.
Shelley: You want us all to be shy about it. You know, I don’t just come on like this to just anybody.
Elgin: Shelley, I believe you. Listen, now I don’t want you to leave here angry.
Shelley: You don’t know what you want.
Elgin: Yes I do.
Shelley: (leaving and disgusted) See you around.
After being rejected by David and Elgin, Shelley has every right to be butthurt.
The next day when Elgin is at his job as the dumb waiter in the school cafeteria, as Lady Luck and a lesson from Movie Coincidences 101 would have it, Caroline is there, drinking tea and reading Flaubert.
Who is Flaubert? How the hell should I know? I didn’t go to college. If I did, do you think I’d be here writing dumb movie reviews on this blog for your enjoyment? You’re damn right; I wouldn’t. I’d be in Hollywood writing dumb screenplays like First Love and planting positive reviews for it all over the place to counteract all the negative commentary on blogs like this one.
Elgin (walking over to Caroline’s table holding another customer’s coffee): What are you doing here?
Caroline: I’m trying to have a cup of tea. What are you doing here?
Elgin: I work here.
Caroline (looking at his work clothes acting amused): I see.
Elgin: What are you drinking? Can I uh… (Caroline holds up her tea bag to remind him.) Oh (chuckles) Well, can I get you some hot water.
Caroline: That’d be terrific.
Elgin: All right. (Takes some hot water off of another server’s tray and sets it on the table) Here we are.
Server (looking back at Elgin and sarcastically): No rest for the weary.
Caroline: Yeah, are you okay.
Elgin: It’s very hot. (Hands her the water).
Caroline: Thank you.
Elgin: You’re welcome. (He sits across from her and begins staring at her. In the background Professor Oxton is still waiting for his coffee.)
Caroline: You’re staring at me.
Elgin: No, I’m staring at your book.
Elgin: Cause it looks familiar.
Caroline: Madame Bovary.
Elgin: Flaubert. Right. Are you studying him? Are you in a course that uh…
Caroline: No! No, no it’s just something I always wanted to read.
Elgin: That’s such a coincidence. You have no idea. Flaubert writes with such great precision doesn’t he. (speaks French– <don’t ask me. I don’t speak the language but I can count to ten in Spanish the next time that comes up in a movie.>) He’s one of the great masters. (Caroline just shakes her head slightly while holding up her tea bag)
Elgin (getting up from the table): Oh, I’m sorry.
At this point, Elgin manages to spill coffee all over Caroline and her book, thus allowing himself to bring her a replacement copy later and giving her a reason to jot down which dorm she resides in when she’s not reading Flaubert or having tea. And doing meet-cutes in the campus restaurant. But at least we know who Flaubert is. He wrote that movie with Jennifer Jones, James Mason, and Van Heflin.
Later that evening, Elgin takes a new copy of the screenplay for Ms. Bovary to Caroline’s residence, in which he has written a special message for her in French. What does the letter say? As I said earlier. I don’t know and don’t speak French, which means I’m at least as bright as Caroline, who doesn’t speak French either. Her copy of Mrs. Bovary was in English. And oddly, you’ll never find out whatever he wrote because Elgin doesn’t tell us or Caroline. But if you speak French, you’ll know something the rest of us don’t, and if you care to share, there’s a comments section at the bottom of the article.
(In fact, someone did, and I will tell you what it was at the end so you don’t crap out on me in the middle of the review.)
Elgin, sensing that Caroline is a bit depressed, asks her out for coffee, but she turns him down flat. What Elgin doesn’t know is that Caroline is a quick change artist, and after he leaves, she has second thoughts, jumps out of her robe, nightgown, and into street clothes, and having a change of heart, runs (or maybe she flies) down the street to ask him out for coffee. This gal is so fast that she can get ahead of him on the sidewalk and hide behind a tree as he approaches.
Whether Elgin is impressed by all this, I don’t know. But I sure was. She was so fast that Superman/Clark Kent, Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Robin/Dick Grayson would have been pea-green with envy. She was so quick she’d make The Roadrunner appear to be standing still by comparison. She was so fast that if she was in a cartoon with Speedy Gonzales, they’d have to change his name to Slowpoke Morales. Caroline is so fast….I guess you get the point.
Over coffee, tea, and leftover cafeteria crumpets, Elgin finds out that the old timer escorting Caroline to dinner the night before wasn’t her father.
Elgin: What does your father do?
Caroline: He died. It was a long time ago.
Elgin: I saw you last night. At Gino’s. Who were you with?
Caroline: A friend.
Elgin: A friend, friend? Or a friend?
Caroline: You’re a very direct person.
Elgin: You didn’t answer my question.
Caroline: I know.
In other words, she doesn’t want to talk about it, and obviously, Elgin is shooting for a career as a district attorney. But sometimes, when you say nothing, you’re saying something. In other words, if you surmise that the odds are the old guy who is not Daddy Dearest is possibly Sugar Daddy Dearest, you win the stuffed duck.
Elgin makes the not-so-startling discovery that Caroline is taking a class in Religious Philosophies being taught by one Professor Oxton (Tom Lacy). You’ll remember Professor Oxton from the cafeteria scene where he never got his cup of coffee from Elgin. You know, the cup that Elgin spilled all over Flaubert? Yes, that one. Coincidence? Not really. This comes from the old Hollywood Budget Manual under rule 102.3: Keep your cast to a minimum by using minor coincidences if necessary.
After telling Caroline he was already in Ox’s class and there’s nothing like starting a relationship with a pretty big lie, he does his best to persuade the professor to please let him sign up. But Ox has seen this scene before and, like, practically every fall and will have none of it.
Oxton: Cut the crap, Smith. Who’s the girl?
Elgin: Dr. Oxton, I need Religious Philosophies.
Oxton: We are already three weeks into the course.
Elgin: Yeah, well my freshman thesis though…..
Oxton: Spinoza. I know. (Chuckles) It’s a campus phenomenon. Every year around this time, when students have sized up the quarry in the courses they didn’t take, somebody arrive proclaiming that he cannot live without Advanced Calculus III, or the Scottish Tractarianism, or Religious Philosophies.
Elgin: Well Dr. Oxton, I can assure you…..
Oxton: That in your case it’s Spinoza and not sex. Unfortunately I can spot you all a mile off. But I don’t feel I should deprive you of the opportunity to at least try on the outside chance that you might soak up some knowledge inadvertently.
I really like Professor Oxton. He only has about three or four short scenes, but his dry wit will make you smile. And by the time you make it through First Love, you’ll need any smile you can get.
After class, Caroline asks Elgin to escort her to the symphony, where they act like every evil theater patron I’ve ever encountered, much to the annoyance and dismay of the audience members around them. But whatever it is, the pair act more like Kindergarten delinquents than college students as they giggle through the performance. I wanted to put the two of them in the time-out corner.
What’s so funny? I don’t know, and I couldn’t figure it out. Since we can’t see Elgin’s right hand, he could be goosing her. If you’ve ever seen First Love, end up watching it, or run into Susan Dey or William Katt, ask them and let me know.
Or it could be that Director Joan Darling wanted them to have a happy time before their balloon burst.
As they leave the concert hall, Young Couple in Love runs into Old Married Couple Not Very Much in Love, and Elgin finds out that just as we suspected, the old fogey Caroline had dinner with at Gino’s was her lover. Not only that, he’s married and has kids. And to add a dramatic cherry on top of this soap opera mound of goulash, we also find out that the old coot’s wife knows Caroline quite well because they are all good old happy family friends and bosom buddies. It’s evident that the old guy is more of a buddy to Caroline’s bosom than his wife suspects. They probably even barbecued together on Saturday afternoons by the backyard’s cement pond.
His name is John March (Robert Loggia), her name is Ann, and music critic John thinks Mozart went well. Apparently, he wasn’t sitting near the giggling Elgin and Caroline or wouldn’t make that analysis. John must have had Orchestra Seating. Either that, or he turned off his hearing aid.
To say this Friends and Lovers meeting creates a chill in the air is understating the situation. If Caroline seems cold toward John, she’s a regular iceberg toward Ann. So much so that when she plants an obligatory kiss on her cheek (Rich people give lots of obligatory kisses and hugs but seldom mean it), one can only surmise that she is thinking of the kiss Michael Corleone planted on his brother Fredo in Godfather II and you know what happened there.
John seems none too happy that Caroline has taken up with someone her own age. Elgin seems disgusted to find out that someone eligible for social security was banging the love of his life. Okay, so Loggia was only 47 at the time. He was still 22 years older than Dey, and appearance-wise, I think he came out of his mother’s chute looking like he was at least 50. I think the guy has always been old. As for Mrs. March, she seems bewildered by the sudden chilliness engulfing her. But she invites Caroline and her young fellow to dinner anyway, which Elgin declines because we know that isn’t happening. But it’s a shame it doesn’t because the movie could use a dinner scene where all hell breaks lose by this time.
In the cab ride back to Elgin’s place of residence, Elgin brings up the subject of John March, Senior Citizen.
Elgin: I was hoping he was a relative.
Caroline: Well, he’s not.
Elgin: I really don’t care what he is.
Caroline: I really don’t feel like going home tonight. Would you mind if I spent the night with you? I don’t mean it the way it sounds. I just don’t want to be alone.
Elgin: All right
Caroline: Thank you
And true to her word, Caroline spends the night sleeping peacefully on Elgin’s comforting arm. No, I didn’t make a mistake. She literally spends the night sleeping on his arm. And you thought they were going to have sex, didn’t you? Get your mind out of the gutter. Decent people don’t have sex on the night of their first date; they wait until the sun comes up.
Caroline (gently caressing Elgin’s shoulder): Does it still hurt?
He doesn’t answer her, of course. It’s just a way to segue into the big sex scene you’ve sat around waiting to happen for the first 35 minutes or so. She gently kisses him, and so there can be no mistake that it’s time to do the nasty, she drops her dress down for Elgin and Laurie Partridge fans everywhere, including yours truly.
“You are so beautiful,” Elgin says softly.
Nice move there. Women love to be told that just before you get down to business. You’ve been doing your homework. But cherish this moment. Everything Elgin does from here on out is questionable.
After struggling to get his pants off and getting back into bed, and just before commencing with his not-so-expert lovemaking, Elgin makes his first huge mistake.
Elgin (almost in a whisper): I love you.
Caroline: You don’t even know me.
Elgin: I do.
Telling a woman you barely met three nights ago that you love her is a big no-no of the worst kind. I don’t care if you are getting ready to do the bed sheet tango. You don’t go down that road because it’ll come back to kick you in the ass. She’s in bed, naked, hot, and wants your body, and old man March is home with the wife. Just go to work and leave it at that.
Let’s be honest. One-and-a-half dates with this gal are not the basis for a lasting relationship, especially when she’s on the rebound. Watching her eat spaghetti with her married lover does not count, and having coffee late at night only counts for a 1/2 date. You get full credit for the symphony.
Second, the “You don’t even know me” is the kiss of death. I know this to be a fact, plain and simple. What she’s really saying is, “I’m horny, I want to have sex, and you’re hot, but cut the love crap. And besides, you’re just the runner-up here.”
And that is something Elgin is willing to forgive and forget….at least for now. And after the lovemaking session is over and the flagpole calms down, Elgin doesn’t get any wiser.
Elgin: Do you think you could ever love me?
Caroline: Mmmm….I want to. Very much I want to.
Elgin: And you will. ‘Cause I’m going to make you.
Let’s pause it right there. Another Clyde rule to live by: You cannot make someone love you. It’s just not possible. You can wine them, dine them, and sleep with them, but trying to be something you’re not to get someone to fall in love will not work. I mean, if I was giving a class in love and romance, I’d yank this movie out as a perfect lesson in what not to do when wooing and screwing.
Elgin: I just wanted to say your name. (pauses)…..You know, I want to tell you something. That was the first time…….
Caroline: (interrupting) First time? The First time? (chuckling) What do you mean? (Both chuckling)
Caroline: What do you mean?
Elgin: That was the first time that it’s ever felt right. Like it should feel when you make love to somebody.
Caroline: Elgin, you’re a very special person……..
Caroline: One time I went for a walk in the zoo and it was snowing. I saw the Bactrian Camel. He was holding his head straight up in the air with his mouth open and his tongue out. Snowflakes were falling on his tongue. I don’t know if he’d ever seen snow before. I don’t even know where Bactria is or if it snows there. Maybe he was remembering the snow. Or maybe it was a new feeling and an old one for him at the same time. That’s how I feel right now.
I can understand this. I always feel like a camel in the zoo in a snowstorm, too stupid to go inside after I have sex. Doesn’t everybody?
What are you really trying to say, Caroline? I can tell you what this little speech is all about. It’s so that you’ll see a connection when the camel comes on when the movie ends. The only problem with that is, without me here to point it out to you, you’ll have long forgotten the whole bullshit camel in the snowstorm story by the time that camel makes an appearance.
Guys who have been without sex for too long and then go to bed with a woman think it’s the best they ever had, so they must be in love. And I believe there’s something to that theory.
Everything I know I learned at the movies, where you can find more scientific formulas than you’ll discover in any textbook.
After the sex, we have a pointless scene of Elgin being jealous and socking his best friend, David, in the kisser. For this, Elgin gets fired for being late so that he can get a job as a switchboard operator later in the movie and call Caroline because they didn’t have cell phones in those days, kiddies.
There are more conversations about sex showing how open and progressive young people were in the 70’s. Not like it is now where we have a whole political party trying to encourage all of us to embrace the first half of the twentieth century where you only had sex under a blanket fully clothed and then only if you wanted to make a baby. In act, word is that Parmount won’t put this movie on disc because Governor Fascist Ron DeSphincter would have it banned.
So go pop some popcorn, nicely buttered (unlike the 94 percent fat-free crap I have to endure), and then come back because this is a long one. Lessons in sex and love need to be covered in depth. But it is very entertaining.
Elgin (lying in bed, under the blanket with Caroline): Let me ask you something.
Elgin: See, I don’t know for you but for me……
Caroline (getting frustrated with Elgin’s questions): I just said that it was wonderful. That you were wonderful.
Elgin: Yeah, and I don’t see how it could be any better then it is with with us and I was wondering….
Caroline: If I felt the same way.
Elgin: Yeah, that’s part of it.
Caroline: The answer’s, “Yes, I do.” (Elgin begins crawling out from under the blanket) Where are you going?
Elgin: Do I satisfy you?
Caroline: Yes, in a lot of ways.
Elgin: Like…wait a minute…no.
Caroline: Where are you going?
Elgin (now sitting up): Do you come? Do you have OR-GASMS? (emphasis on the word orgasms)
Caroline (chuckling): You don’t mean orgasms do you? (pronouncing the word correctly and without emphasis). What do you think I’ve been doing?
Caroline (sarcastically): When? Elgin I was coming all over the place.
Elgin: When exactly?
Caroline: How could you miss it?
Elgin: Be more specific.
Caroline (sighs): Where were you? I could hardly breathe, and my body was having convulsions.
Elgin (sounding disappointed): Oh, that was it huh?
Caroline (noticing the disappointment in his voice): Yeah, that was it. I’m sorry. Next time I’ll send up flares.
Elgin (laughs): No, it was beautiful.
Caroline (eating a cracker): Mmmmm…thank you very much.
Elgin: Do you come with everybody, all the guys you sleep with?
Caroline: (sarcastically again): Only with you. (She playfully kisses him.)
Elgin (pushing her back down to the bed): Ha!
Caroline: Don’t ask such stupid leading questions.
Elgin: It’s just that all I ever hear about or read about in the world are female orgasms and I’ve never seen one. I just wanted to know for sure.
Caroline: Well, now you’ve seen many. You can be sure.
Elgin: It’s just that with a guy, uh…there’s an obvious, uh, progression of events, you know. (Suddenly seemingly at a lost for words) First uh….
Caroline: You’re hard.
Elgin: Yeah…and then…uh you know….
Caroline: White sticky stuff
Elgin:Yeah. And then you know…
Caroline: And then you’re soft and no good to me anymore.
Elgin: Why couldn’t I say that?
And Elgin, who may think he’s hell on wheels with a soccer ball, is the world’s worst conversationalist. If there’s something wrong to say in a relationship, this guy will bring it up at some point in this movie. On the other hand, the conversation does get us to where we knew this was going all along and could have gotten there without the lesson in male and female orgasms.
Elgin: This guy John March, did you sleep with him?
Elgin: I guess it’s cause I’ve actually seen the guy that makes him more real. What does he do?
Caroline: He’s a lawyer.
Elgin: Huh! Figures. How’d you meet him?
Caroline: He’s in my father’s firm. He and his wife, the lady we met at the concert are very good friends with my mother. I’ve known her since I was little. Her daughter, Dottie, was very nice to me, and I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.
Elgin: Was he nice to your mother too?
Caroline: Can we just shut up and make love?
Elgin (chuckling): How old is this guy?
Elgin (incredulously): Forty-six! You and I together aren’t forty-six!
Caroline (getting angry): I believe I made a request.
Elgin: Did you come with him? Did you?
Caroline: I don’t remember.
Elgin: He’s real experienced isn’t he?
Caroline: He’s very experienced. Elgin, do you have any idea how much this is turning me off?
It is obvious that Elgin does not. Elgin is a rather clueless dolt.
I don’t know if we’re supposed to be sympathetic towards the character of Elgin, but even after having viewed the movie the first time years ago he came off as a self absorbed asshole. But apparently that’s what it takes for some people because Caroline invites Elgin up to the family home for the weekend with a note she signs, “Love, Caroline.” Okay, so she kind of, sort of, uses the big L word. But it still isn’t “I Love You”. And that’s bad.
At the family home they make love in Caroline’s old childhood bedroom, followed by a terribly creepy scene where she shows Elgin a gigantic dollhouse her father had built for her, and one in which Elgin wants to have sex. Unfortunately, this is also where Caroline’s father committed suicide, which means Elgin continues on with his knack for doing and saying the wrong things at the wrong time. I’ll cut him a break here though since this was a bit of ancient Caroline history he was unaware of.
Adding insult to injury, just as Caroline and Elgin are packing up their gear to hit the road, she gets a phone call from John March, who wants her back. And it’s not like you couldn’t have seen this coming. After basically treading water for well over a half hour, the movie has to go somewhere, and this was pretty predictable, as is Caroline’s decision. But the fact that Caroline makes this decision after what amounts to about a seven-second conversation on the phone makes no sense.
Is something going on between her and March even while she’s been screwing around with Elgin? Worse, we are never given any indication of what happened between her and March after the Lasagna. Did he break up with her, or did she break up with him? We don’t know. Did he break a date with her the night of the symphony or simply lie about what he was doing? Not likely. One would think he would have had to know she had symphony tickets. And this becomes a considerable problem in judging characters when you leave too much information out of the script or on the cutting room floor. There are way too many holes in the whole damn story.
But the writers never see fit to clue us in so that any motives or reasoning as to why Caroline would lust after a guy who should be a father figure and not the friend of the family stud horse. Instead of screwing her, March should have sent Caroline to a shrink to get her head screwed back on straight.
Whatever the reasons or the motives, they are simply tossed aside so that we can cry with poor Elgin over his lost love, and Caroline is portrayed as nothing more than a cold-hearted bitch. It doesn’t add up, except later, in an argument with Elgin, who is trying to win her back, she finally reveals that her relationship with March lasted three years, and she still loves him.
Caroline: Elgin, I told you my situation. I hoped you would understand.
Elgin: What the hell are you doing Caroline? I mean what are you doing with your life? What are you doing with my life?
Caroline: I don’t want to do anything with your life and I just want to live mine.
Elgin: You’re acting like I’m a stranger, I’m not a stranger.
Caroline: I just don’t want to have a scene with you.
Elgin: You already have a scene with me.
Caroline: It’s over Elgin! It’s over! I’ve been very honest with you.
Elgin: You just can’t do this to people! I love you! I’m good for you! I know I am!
Caroline: I think you’re very sweet.
Elgin (shouting): I’m not sweet! Jesus Christ, Caroline! You can’t do this to us, you just can’t!
Caroline (crying): Please, I’m drained! I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! I can’t stand hurting you! I think you’re a lovely person!
Elgin: You’re a cunt!
Woah, there Elgin! The first time I saw this film and that word came out of his mouth, it was unexpected. Now I will be the first to admit that when I’ve been hurt and angered during a relationship, the big C word came to mind on occasion. But thinking it is one thing, and even when a break-up ensued, it never reached my lips. In this instance, Caroline kind of deserved it, though with her mealy-mouthed protection of John March.
She more or less flaunts her relationship with March around campus, although that may be more of March’s doing than hers. He’ll show these young whippersnappers who the real man is one way or another. When the pair run into a drunken Elgin at a bar, Mr. March seems quite pleased with himself and smirks with glee. Yeah, he’s an asshole. I wanted to slap the grin of triumph off March’s face even though Elgin more or less brought much of this on himself.
You and I know this is not the end of the story either. Because Elgin is, as Dave put it earlier, deeply and romantically and spiritually in Love. Like Romeo, Yeats, and Keats. And he’s not going to give up very easily. But as usual, it’s up to you to find out how this plays out because, as those who have been here before will tell you, I never give away the final act unless it’s some blockbuster where everybody already knows the final outcome and even though you can get a complete film synopsis of many movies on Wikipedia including this one.
And, oh yeah, the pointless side plot with Shelley and David is also resolved if you haven’t completely forgotten about that oddity by now. But that side story always seemed like nothing more than minutiae and time that could have been better spent exploring the depth of your main characters, particularly one very messed up and troubled Caroline Hedges. When you consider what this movie could have been had they not left so many loose ends as the running time is a scant hour and a half.
While First Love is a well-acted movie, it is not a particularly good film. It has been quickly forgotten by most people (although I did find one guy who mentioned it favorably in an article about something else) who were around when it was released. But still, despite the very flawed and weak script, I find it interesting in several aspects, mostly in what could have been, should have been, but isn’t. I remember my date Joyce thinking the whole thing was kind of silly in the end.
On the surface, it appears that the screenwriters and Director Joan Darling wants us to view Katt’s Elgin Smith as the poor sap who falls in Love and has his heart trounced on by the ambiguous Caroline. Or at least that’s how most people who have seen the film feel.
Over the years, and each time I’ve seen First Love, I find myself discarding that scenario more and more. I don’t view Smith as being particularly likable, and I guess what I’m trying to say is that he’s a jerk. And that’s the main reason I included the long-winded conversations above. I felt it necessary to prove my point. When I said the same thing in a Netflix capsule review years ago, some didn’t take too kindly to my analysis. But they never do.
If you seek out the film (and I’ll tell you where and how at the end of this lengthy essay), it’s essential that you don’t focus on Elgin as being some saintly college kid who had the misfortune to fall in Love. He’s overbearing, obnoxious, and often self-centered. Hardly the sweet guy persona most others see. He’s not looking for Love; he’s trying to force himself into falling in Love or at least into what he thinks real Love should be.
In Love? From the beginning, his instant infatuation with Caroline comes off as a bit stalky creepy. And his continual penchant for questioning her as if he’s straight out of law school becomes more than a bit annoying. It’s actually to Caroline’s credit that she doesn’t dump him early on.
Worse, he continually brings up her past, namely one John March, and cannot let it go. Frankly, guys, if you fall for a girl with history, you have two choices: You can either forget it and put it behind you, or it’s best that you move along because the relationship will never last.
The mistake everybody involved in this film made was making it all about Elgin and only Elgin. Caroline is a mystery, and by far the more mysterious character of the two, and her story is more profound and troubling. The scenes at the Family home tell us that this girl has some severe issues and that there may have been more to her relationship with John March than what meets the eye. In fact, it’s apparent that although he says he loves Caroline, March may have preyed on Caroline’s daddy issues to win her over when she was highly vulnerable. But we’ll never know because we know as much about this guy at the movie’s end as we did when he ate Ravioli at Gino’s. That’s what happens when your film has a running time the equivalent of early Disney animated movies.
The actors do well with what they have to work with. According to IMDB, William Katt was approached three times before agreeing to do the film. Whether it was the problems with the script, I don’t know. But I’ll ask the next time I bump into him on the street or see him at a Greatest American Hero convention. Don’t hold your breath.
You will also remember Katt as Sue Snell’s hapless boyfriend, Tommy Ross, in Brian DePalma’s original film version of Carrie. Katt also did a turn in the revival version of Perry Mason, playing the son of Paul Drake, which allowed him to star alongside his real-life mother, Barbra Hale.
Dey was never to become a big theatrical name, but like Katt, she has left a permanent mark in the television landscape. Before First Love, her only previous theatrical release was a small role in the film, Skyjacked, which I might write about someday as well, but you can find bits and pieces on my Instagram account here.
She would star in the well-done and now cult science fiction film Looker with Albert Finney and then with Tom Hulce in Echo Park. But other than that, her theatrical career never developed, so she’ll probably always be known as Laurie Partridge or Grace Van Owen in the L.A. Law series. She also did a one-year stint on the short-lived series “Love and War” which is available from Amazon. You can see a short Christmas clip I uploaded to YouTube right here.
The problem with First Love is its weak script, which could be why writers Hitchcock and Freeman never went on to do anything much in the way of screenplays. Looking at their IMDB resumes, I would say First Love may have been the pinnacle of their writing career. The words are not the problem, as you can tell from reading some of the candid and snappy dialogue. That’s the best part of the movie.
But the plotting is ludicrous, and character motives are non-existent. Have the characters keep their clothes on and clean up their language and this could pass as a Lifetime or Hallmark Movie.
First Love was based on a short story, “Sentimental Education,” by Harold Broadkey. You can try reading the original novel by itself at the New Yorker, but I think it’ll cost you. Or you can get it as part of First Love & Other Sorrows: Stories by Harold Broadkey on Amazon. Prices range very low for a used paperback to $35 for the Hardcover.
Me? I purchased the Kindle Edition for about $3 back in 2014. It is now $11.99. Go figure.
And I have read it. Maybe I’ll eventually offer a book review, although I found Broadkey’s book and the movie don’t have much in common.
As for the rest of the cast, for what they are given to do here, Beverly D’Angelo and John Heard do okay, but the roles are mostly forgettable. As you know, both would go on to do much better things. D’Angelo in films like Hair, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and opposite Chevy Chase as Ellen Griswold in the National Lampoon Vacation series, along with a stint on HBO’s Entourage.
Heard’s long list of credits includes playing the father in the first two Home Alone movies, Big with Tom Hanks, Beaches, Awakenings, Cat People, and a few hundred more. Robert Loggia’s list of acting credits is also endless, but my favorite will always be his role as Sallie Macelli in the cult classic Innocent Blood (1992). (Both actors sadly passed away after this review was written)
Joan Darling, who directed many T.V. series and episodes and acted as well, seems to have only had this one shot theatrically in the director’s chair. It’s a shame, but for the 70’s supposedly being enlightened, women directors just weren’t given many opportunities when it came to theatrical films, nor would they for years to come. But she starred, guest starred in, and directed many a T.V. episode, including one of the funniest episodes of any television series in T.V. history. That would be Chuckles Bites the Dust from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. So check out her credits on the IMDB.
If you run across First Love, you won’t hate yourself for viewing it at least once, and I would recommend it as far as that goes. You may even find it head-scratching enough to watch it more than that.
You can watch it by buying it on Amazon or Vudu, which would be the best way if you have either service. The bad news: The film is in Standard Definition and has been cropped to a 4:3 ratio. It was filmed at 1:84.1. These are the same scans used for an old VHS rendering. Paramount owns the rights, so maybe Kino Lorber or some other outfit like Shout Factory can wrestle it out of their incompetent hands and spruce it up for us. Don’t hold your breath.
For all the talk about film preservation, studios crap away their catalog titles regardless of what gems they are and who is in them. And that’s a shame because the actors involved certainly have their history in the entertainment industry.
You can also catch the film on YouTube in a couple of really shitty uploads at low resolution, so I wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re a really nasty tightwad.
I’ve watched it many different times over the years, but as I said, way back when I started this essay a year and a half ago (or so it seems), we have history. I guess what I’m saying is that taking everything into consideration, the most I can offer up for First Love is a C- with the hope that your First Love turned out better than Elgin’s. Oh, hell, or mine, for that matter.
As for your French Lesson, here it is.