Tonio Costa (Mario Lanza) is a famous opera singer who is mobbed everywhere he goes by crowds of eager fans hoping to catch a glimpse of him (and, usually, to convince him to sing).
His manager, Ladislas Tabori (Kurt Krasznar), worries about the singer’s unpredictable behavior — which includes singing outside of the theater, for the fans who couldn’t get in, rather than for the wealthy, paying crowds indoors.
When the management of the latest venue cancels Tony’s appearance and threatens to sue him, Tony becomes frustrated and refuses to continue on to the next performance. Instead, he decides to take a break, traveling in disguise.
The disguise doesn’t work, and Tony ends up singing for a crowd of eager fans. He’s intrigued by the presence of one woman, who ignores his impromptu performance and just continues reading the letter she’s carrying.
This mysterious lady, Tony soon finds out, is Christa Bruckner (Johanna von Koczian), a local resident who is deaf. A romance grows between the two.
Rudoph Maté directs 1959’s For the First Time, a musical romance distributed by MGM.
This film was aired by TCM as part of a tribute to Mario Lanza in January, and he is wonderful to watch. There’s no doubting that he has a great voice! The film’s music is very enjoyable and ends up playing an important part in a few of the film’s most emotional scenes (which I won’t spoil). This was Lanza’s final film before his untimely death at the age of 38.
This film provides a unique take on the familiar “famous man meets woman who is seemingly immune to his charms” story by adding in the element of Christa’s struggle with deafness. The romance here is very sweet and the issue is treated sensitively, if a bit idealistically. (Christa is beloved by the town and faces no discrimination or poor treatment due to her deafness, which isn’t always the case in the real world.)
This makes the film unique because the romance doesn’t feel shallow. It evolves into a story of a couple who truly love each other, and who help one another find true happiness. Tony wants to do anything he can to improve Christa’s life and make her happy. He takes on extra performances to pay for consultations with experts that may be able to restore her hearing, but he also supports her emotionally through her struggles. The relationship also has a positive impact on Tony, leading him to become more mature and to understand the importance of forming strong bonds with loved ones.
For the First Time is a sentimental, moving romance that truly surprised me. On top of its story, it boasts very good lead performances by Lanza and von Koczian, as well as beautiful photography of Italy. I would recommend this for any fan of tear-jerking romantic dramas. The score: 4/5