Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Three Smart Girls (1936)

One of the most enjoyable movie viewing pleasures over the past year or so has been seeing several of Deanna Durbin's films for the first time.

Tonight I watched Deanna's very first feature-length film, THREE SMART GIRLS (1936). THREE SMART GIRLS was released the same year as the MGM short subject EVERY SUNDAY, in which Deanna costarred with Judy Garland. (That short can be seen on the DVD release of FOR ME AND MY GAL. I saw it in a revival theater many years ago, but that was the only Durbin film I'd seen until the fall of 2007.) MGM let Deanna get away shortly thereafter, and MGM's loss was Universal's great gain.

The THREE SMART GIRLS are sisters played by Deanna, Nan Grey, and Barbara Read, who live in Switzerland with their divorced mother (Nella Walker). When the girls learn their father (Charles Winninger) is about to marry a gold digger (Binnie Barnes), they set sail for New York, where they meet their father for the first time in a decade and proceed to wreak delightful havoc with his wedding plans. Along the way the two older girls (Grey and Read) meet a couple of eligible young men, played by John King and the charming Ray Milland. Milland lights up the screen in each of his scenes and adds an extra dose of sparkle to a good movie.

It's a fun, fast-paced romantic comedy, and of course, Deanna sings several numbers as well. It's easy to see why she immediately became a big star. (In fact, Deanna's impact was such that my mother was one of many little girls named Deanna in the years following the release of THREE SMART GIRLS.) Deanna is surrounded by a large cast of pros including Alice Brady, Lucile Watson, Ernest Cossart, Mischa Auer, Joyce Compton, Franklin Pangborn, and Hobart Cavanaugh.

The film was shot in black and white and runs 84 minutes. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 1939 a sequel was released titled THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP.

THREE SMART GIRLS was directed by Henry Koster. Koster directed Durbin in a half dozen of her earliest films before he moved on to MGM and Fox, where he directed films such as TWO SISTERS FROM BOSTON, THE UNFINISHED DANCE, THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, MY BLUE HEAVEN, and two Loretta Young classics, THE BISHOP'S WIFE with Cary Grant and COME TO THE STABLE.

THREE SMART GIRLS is available on DVD and video. The VHS print I watched was in excellent condition.

Previous reviews of Deanna Durbin movies: FIRST LOVE (1939), HIS BUTLER'S SISTER (1943), NICE GIRL? (1941), FOR THE LOVE OF MARY (1948), BECAUSE OF HIM (1946), MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938), and THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY (1943).

Update: Here are reviews of the next two films in the series, THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939) and HERS TO HOLD (1943). My review of the 2020 Blu-ray release of THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP is here.

May 2018 Update: I had the joy of seeing THREE SMART GIRLS on a big screen in 35mm at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.


Blogger Unknown said...

They were all so good in that film!
I tend to think of Binnie Barnes mainly as Milady De Winter from The Three Musketeers but she did her thing very well in Three Smart Girls. Plus, Nan Gray seems almost forgotten today but she was certainly able in this film.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

I absolutely love Ray in the film!

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After THREE SMART GIRLS hit the theatres, Deanna Durbin became a movie star! Her acting and singing were first class and the whole film is so well directed by Henry Koster. Also, check out Deanna's other films which shows her growing-up and getting even better as each new film was released.

1:52 AM  

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