Necessary background: in FIRST A GIRL, Jessie Matthews has disguised herself as a young fellow in order to get a break in show-business. This is where the leading man discovers her secret, and… he’s sorry?
It’s either a direct homosexual allusion, a joke on effete British leading men, or both.
Directed by Victor Saville, FIRST A GIRL is a remake of the German VIKTOR, VIKTORIA, which formed the basis for Blake Edwards’ VICTOR, VICTORIA, which is also pretty bold about gender and sexuality themes — only forty years later.
Jessie M deserves a chapter of her own in any Encyclopaedia of British Rumpo — her fondness for seriously diaphanous costumes ran afoul of the American censors, and her dancing impressed Fred Astaire. she had offers from Hollywood but stayed in England to get married (to that chap in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE) and have a kid. By the time she was disillusioned with that, America was no longer calling. She was a working-class cockney girl who trained herself to talk incredibly posh, and somehow it goes with her cheeky chipmunk smile. Her husband, by contrast, was a posh lad who trained himself to speak cockney, leading to music hall success.
Like Barbara Windsor, Jessie always pissed in the dressing room sink. You don’t want to use the toilet — who knows who’s been in there?
Her leading man is Griffith Jones, best known (to me, anyhow) as the villainous Narcy (Narcissus) in Cavalcanti’s THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE, just about the best British noir ever. According to my friend Lawrie, Jones had a slight bitter streak: “Of course, they don’t want sincere acting nowadays,” he would grumble, when “in his cups”.
Victor Saville, who directed Jessie in a number of successful British musicals, did go to Hollywood, where he directed Rita Hayworth in TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (memorable scene: a young man dances to a Hitler speech on the radio), Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell in KIM, before tanking spectacularly with THE SILVER CHALICE, which sent him back to England and a long retirement.
NB: though Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL is often listed as Britain’s first talkie, Victor Saville’s KITTY, which is half-silent and half-talking (BLACKMAIL’s first reel is also mute) was apparently first. I wonder what it’s like?