Three Bad Sisters (1956)

Lorna is tormented by the emotional pain that her Bad Sisters inflict on her.

California millionaire Marshall Craig has died in a plane crash. With a long family history of suicides, many are convinced that Marshall himself swung the plane into a nose dive to end his own life. But his spinster sister Martha (Madge Kennedy) isn’t convinced, and his daughters couldn’t care less.

Despite the fact that they don’t seem to care much about him one way or the other, Marshall leaves all of his money to be divided between his daughters, Vicki (Marla English), Valerie (Kathleen Hughes) and Lorna (Sara Shane). The title of the film is a bit misleading. In fact, only two of the sisters are bad. Vicki is a saucy man-eater and Valerie is a manipulative schemer, but Lorna seems genuinely smart and sweet.

Level-headed Lorna is engaged to the family lawyer and quickly takes control of the estate with the help of her fiance. You’d think her sisters would be torn up over the loss of their father and at least temporarily forget about the money while mourning their loss, but being the bad seeds, they don’t exactly react with the usual grief.

Splitting the money seems the fair thing to do, but Valerie is jealous of her sister’s control and isn’t too keen on sharing the mounds of cash that her father left behind. Naturally, rather than feeling saddened over the loss of a parent, she hatches a plan to stop her sisters from getting any of the money. After meeting Jim Norton (John Bromfield), the pilot who survived Marshall’s apparent suicide crash, Valerie convinces him to try to seduce Lorna and ruin her engagement, therefore ruining the control that she has over the money. Will Valerie’s greedy and sinister plan succeed?

While Lorna only endures mental anguish at the hands of her siblings, Valerie takes her anger out of Vicki with physical violence.

While the premise may sound like that of a sinister drama, Three Bad Sisters is a bit difficult to put into a box. It’s full of hilarious, snarky dialogue and double entendres, which adds a lot of comedic value to the film. Some of it is unintentionally funny, but most of it would have been funny in 1956 as well, such as the ultra-cheesy quote used for the title of this post.

(Image via wrongsideoftheart.com)

At the same time, the film is highly melodramatic with a number of truly suspenseful scenes thrown in as well. It’s just a total mish-mash of genres. The mix of serious drama, overblown material and exaggerated performances makes it unclear whether the film was intended to be taken seriously. Either way, the result is very enjoyable – an almost perfect mix of fun, surprises and fear.

The character of Aunt Martha provides a nice contrast to the “bad sisters.” She’s suspicious and also genuinely cares about her brother and what happened to him. She can be a bit obnoxious because she’s so pushy about it, but in general her character is beneficial to the film. This adds a whole other dimension/element to the plot and adds a lot of tension. The removal of this one character would turn the story into something very basic and too simple.

Aunt Martha may be the most interesting character, but the stellar performance here comes from Kathleen Hughes, who is amazing as the evil Valerie. Her performance is perfectly exaggerated. She definitely zooms past the realm of believability, but her crazed expressions and over-the-top delivery are the perfect fit for this film, and she carries off the role of manipulative tormentor very well.

Overall, Three Bad Sisters is an exciting film to watch. Fans of witty dialogue and overzealous characters will certainly get a kick out of this one. The score: 3.5/5

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