There are several movie moments that come to mind for me when I think of Niagara Falls. Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara,” “Superman II,” a Woody Woodpecker short where he goes over the falls in a barrel, and, of course, the Three Stooges…slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. In today’s movie, Niagara Falls is also the place that teenage boys from upstate New York go to lose their virginity. It’s premise sounds like a typical 80’s sex comedy, but this is a 1969 coming-of-age dramedy…”The First Time.”
The film focuses on three teens, Kenny (Wes Stern), Mike (Rick Kelman) and Tommy (Wink Roberts). Their age is never really revealed, yet they seem like they’re getting close to college, yet they still ride their banana seat bikes around town like they were the Goonies or somethin’. The trio’s big plans for the summer end up getting broken up, however, when Kenny is shipped off to stay with his grandparents in Buffalo while his father is off on an extended business trip.
Life in Buffalo is boring, so Kenny embellishes his experiences in his regular letters to his two buddies. One day, while sitting in a soda shop, he overhears the jerker behind the counter talkin’ with another guy about a joint in Niagara Falls called Rosie’s. Their talk of the lovely ladies you can meet there particularly spikes Kenny’s interest. So, in the letter he’s writing to the other two, he mentions frequenting the establishment.
A few weeks later, Mike and Tommy show up for a visit anxious to visit Rosie’s. Kenny tries everything he can think of to dissuade them, but they won’t hear of it. The three hop on a bus and head for the border. Upon arriving in Canada, Kenny tries to distract them more…taking them to all sorts of different Niagara Falls tourist attractions. Eventually, Mike gets sick of the tourist stuff and demands that they head for Rosie’s. Since Kenny really doesn’t know where it is, they start wandering the streets aimlessly. Eventually, he picks a boarded up building and says “here it is,” pretending that the place has been shut down. Not satisfied with that, they start asking for directions and eventually end up at a club with lovely dancing girls.
After they fail to produce proper ID, the bartender insists they leave…but on the way out, they happen upon a young woman named Anna (Jacqueline Bisset). She’s English and claims to have lost her passport…the boys assume she’s a prostitute. They agree to help her get into the US where, unknown to them, she plans on meeting the man she is having an affair with. Unknown to HER, the guys think they will be rewarded with her professional services. I mean, after all, they took her on the Maid of the Mist and everything.
When they arrive back at Mike and Tommy’s hotel, Anna thinks she’s just being allowed to rest…but the guys are playing rock paper scissors to see who goes first. Meanwhile, Anna has to deal with the reality that the man she is having the affair with no longer wants her.
I guess you could say that “The First Time” is somewhat of a precursor to films like “Porky’s” or “American Pie,” but without the raunch. It was 1969, after all. Mainstream movies were still pretty tame. As the film begins, it seems like it’s going to be a comedy…but then it goes for being a sentimental coming-of-age tale. The end result comes across as a bit uneven. The hotel room sequence that fills that last half hour of the movie feels as if it may have been intended as a one-act play, with the previous hour serving as padding to make it a feature. Nothing really happens for most of the film…except for a lot of footage that I’m sure was much to the liking of the Niagara Falls, Ontario visitors bureau. I will say, though, that the Niagara Falls scenes are creatively shot, even if they may be better suited for the Travel Channel.
Still, the film does go a long way on the strength of the two leads. Wes Stern is very likeable and convincing as the awkward Kenny. Bisset, on the other hand, is quite hypnotic. The climactic scene between the two does have a certain honesty to it, but it takes the entire movie to get there. It’s somewhat touching, and actually pretty sexy when all is said and done. As we wait, however, we have to wade through the somewhat grating Mike and over-the-top golly-gosh-gee-wilikers voice of Tommy. Both performances feel better suited to a late 60’s sitcom.
I guess the big problem is that the film is trying to be a squeaky clean sex comedy. Though the last half hour of the film works to some degree, as a whole the film struggles a bit. But if you like fun footage of Niagara Falls with your Jacqueline Bisset, then this is the film for you. NIAGARA FALLS! Slowly I turned….