Obscure but Worthy: Looking at Revivable Songs, “The First Time I Saw You”

 By Roger Crane, Song Scout

Some songs, of course, are obscure because they should be but, for each of those, there are many others worthy of more attention. For the second entry in this “Obscure but Worthy” series I present “The First Time I Saw You” which was written for and featured in a 1937 movie titled The Toast of New York, where it was introduced by Frances Farmer portraying a singer-entertainer named Josie Mansfield. Surprisingly the song was played on a harp and sung to Cary Grant. I believe that Farmer did her own singing. The melody is by 1930s bandleader Nathaniel Shilkret and the lyric is by Allie Wrubel who more often wrote only melody (for example “Gone With the Wind,” The Masquerade Is Over” and “I’ll Buy That Dream”)..
After its introduction, the song gained some popularity via the airplay and recordings of the Swing Era bands, including Charlie Barnett, Jimmie Lunceford and Bunny Berigan. But the song then seemingly disappeared until heavily featured in the classic 1947 film noir Out of the Past. As you movie buffs know, this film is considered one of the greatest multi-layered films noir of all time. The movie starred the stunning Jane Greer as the ultimate femme fatale Kathie Moffat and Robert Mitchum as Jeff, a man mesmerized by her dark-haired beauty and lethal charm. The movie is unimaginable without Roy Webb’s score which includes many variations on the melody of “The First Time I Saw You.” For example, –
1) the song plays over RKO’s signature logo, a radio antenna sitting on a globe, even
before the title of the film appears.
2) a nice jazz combo version early in the film
3) a version with violins as Kathie and Jeff share a drink in an Acapulco cafe
4) a romantic on the Mexican beach version as Kathie and Jeff first kiss
5) a version on a radio in Kathie’s bungalow
6) a version whistled by Jeff in his room
7) a final “kiss” version at Pyramid Lake
In each of the above incarnations, “The First Time I Saw You” adds a mournful undertone and haunting nostalgia to Out of the Past. In fact each time we see the stunning Kathie Moffat we often hear this music which could alternately be called “Kathie’s Tune.” By the way, this was not the first time that the song appeared in a film nor. In the previous year it was used briefly in another RKO production, Crack-Up (Pat O’Brien and his girlfriend Claire Trevor are listening to the song on the jukebox at Joe’s Place). But, although “The First Time I Saw You” is interesting and the lyrics serviceable, the song is not heard anymore.

A Few Sample Recordings

None of the versions available on line are worthy of the song but the following will give you an idea as to the melody.

The original recording from the 1937 film “The Toast of New York. Apologies for the sound quality. The uploader recorded from his TV set.

2) Bunny Berigan swings it. The vocal is by Ford Leary

Jimmie Lunceford with a vocal by Dan Grisson



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