Three Smart Girls (1936)

“I’m not pig-headed, I’m strong-minded.”

Synopsis:
Three sisters (Nan Grey, Barbara Read, and Deanna Durbin) try to prevent their estranged father (Charles Winninger) from marrying a gold-digger (Binnie Barnes) by hiring a man (Ray Milland) they believe is a destitute count to woo Barnes.

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Review:
Teenage singing sensation Deanna Durbin — perhaps best known as Judy Garland’s one-time “competitor” — rose to international stardom in this chipper romantic comedy about a trio of can-do sisters desperate to prevent their father from marrying a calculating gold-digger. A little of Durbin goes a long way, and given that she’s only one among three sisters equally invested in the situation, this is the perfect introduction to her talents (see my review of One Hundred Men and a Girl for an example of too much Durbin in one sitting). Barnes is amusingly predatory, Alice Brady is perfectly cast as Barnes’ meddling mother, and the mistaken-identities storyline involving Milland’s impersonation of a destitute count is nicely handled (if, naturally, terribly far-fetched). However, I have a hard time buying the film’s overarching subplot involving Winninger’s relationship with his daughters: would they really react with such unmitigated glee — rather than, say, muted anger or conflicted emotions — upon seeing him for the first time in ten years? And why, exactly, has he stayed away from them for so long? (This point is never explained.) Regardless, this type of escapist fluff was appealing enough to audiences at the time to help bring Universal Studios out of near-bankruptcy, and remains worth a look simply to see Durbin at her freshest.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Deanna Durbin as Penny
  • Binnie Barnes and Alice Brady as “Precious” and her mother
  • Ray Milland as Michael

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as the film which made Durbin an international star.

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One Response to “Three Smart Girls (1936)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    Intended as comedy – yet mostly populated with characters that are either beastly or annoying – ‘TSG’ is the cinematic equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.

    If the sisters are smart girls, give me some that are less intelligent.

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