Grace Livingston (Janet Gaynor) is leading a happy life in her small town, with her mother (Maude Eburne) and father (Robert McWade), being courted by two men, the steady but predictable Tommy Tucker (Charles Farrell) and the more ambitious, flashy, and worldly Dick Loring (George Meeker), who seems closer to Grace in his desire for travel and adventure. It's Tommy whom she marries, however, while insisting that they live someplace other than the town where they grew up. So Tommy abandons his successful insurance business and the couple moves to Joplin, MO, where he takes over a real-estate business, and for 11 months the couple struggles quietly while Tommy goes about trying to establish himself, and Grace becomes increasingly bored and impatient, not liking Joplin or the tiny three-room apartment where they live. Tommy has been steadily working on a plan that will bring them all the money they need, acquiring land that he is certain that the railroad needs, but closing the deal with the purchasing agent (Henry Kolker) requires him to throw a small dinner party, on the very day that Tommy is down literally to his last ten dollars, and when Grace's patience is at an end and her kitchen help falls ill. With the maid's inexperienced daughter (Leila Bennett) doing her barely adequate best, they muddle through dinner to a successful conclusion to the deal; however, when the unexpected reappearance of Dick Loring throws a wrench in the works, not only of the deal but their marriage, his presence suddenly brings to a head all of Grace's frustrations. The couple splits up, Grace leaving Tommy to return to her parents' home, and even though each soon has some wonderful news to tell the other, it takes a lot of help -- and a knock-down, drag-out fight between two of the contending parties -- to help get them back to a place where each will give the other the hearing they should.
It sometimes seems as though, during the 1930s, the studios could mix comedy and drama more freely and easily without having to go into too many explanations for their audience -- whereas in the 21st century, audiences need a guide and a warning for pictures such as The First Year, which might be very funny in many spots (especially in the scenes with Grace's parents) and steeped in drama and serious moments elsewhere. Although not remotely as substantial as some of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor's other work together, The First Year is a good representation of the high level of quality of their work together when they weren't acting in masterpieces such as Street Angel or near-masterpieces like After Tomorrow. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
- Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, (more)