The First Time (Frank Tashlin / U.S., 1952):

The narrating baby ("There I was: Delightful, delicious, and deductible") is from Sterne's Tristram Shandy, reused in Ichikawa's Being Two Isn't Easy. The birth itself is visualized during the couple's mad dash to the hospital as a POV shot through a tunnel, a dirty pun only Frank Tashlin could pull off. Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale are up to the challenges of parenthood, even as they feel the strain on their middle-class budget. In his maiden live-action directorial effort, Tashlin hangs on to the cartoonist's fondness for the gag that tops and further tops itself -- the search for a babysitter (one's a teen gum-snapper, the other's a stone-deaf crone) innocently leads the husband to a bus-stop floozy, who vamps along but finally gives up, grossed out by his clueless double-entendres. A distinct, unflinching social critique cracks the sitcomish surface, splendidly personified by Cummings' grimace as he pushes the salesman's maxim ("Sell it with a $mile"). After a spat, Cummings comes back home and finds Hale a sarcastic parody of the devoted hausfrau, complete with translucent negligee and dinner tray; when people are controlled by commercial ad jingles about milk and cows, frustrations at the heart of the domestic dream can come out only as a drunken "Moo!" The material is reflected laterally on Tashlin's later work (the washing machine that devours diapers would go on to devour customers during the opening credits of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?), but this is the director's early humanistic period, where a baby gets drive-in cartoons along with his milk. With Bill Goodwin, Cora Witherspoon, Jeff Donnell, Carl Benton Reid, and Mona Barrie. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home