Joan (Nan Grey), Kay (Barbara Read), and Penny (Deanna Durbin) are children of divorced parents who have just learned that their father plans to re-marry.
The girls live in Switzerland with their mother (Alice Brady), and their father lives in New York. When they learn of his engagement, they decide to go to New York with their housekeeper Martha (Lucile Watson) in tow.
Judson Craig (Charles Winninger), the father in question, is a wealthy banker engaged to the gold-digging Donna Lyons (Binnie Barns). He hasn’t seen his daughters in ten years, but they still care about him… and they know that Donna is after his riches rather than his heart. The girls plan to stop Judson from marrying Donna.
Three Smart Girls was released in 1936. The film was directed by Henry Koster for Universal Pictures.
On DVD, Three Smart Girls appears in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack, a box set featuring six of Durbin’s lovely musicals. I’ll be reviewing each film from this set, in the order that they appear.
Three Smart Girls was Deanna Durbin’s first feature film and spawned two sequels: Three Smart Girls Grow Up and Hers to Hold.
With the first film revolving around the girls’ attempts to get their parents back together and the others revolving around the personal dramas of the sisters, the trilogy is a bit like a blend of The Parent Trap and the Three Daughters series.
Family-centric drama is blended with comedy (often in the form of witty dialogue) and music. Deanna Durbin is best-known for her voice and was a radio star before becoming a film actress. (Promotional materials for this film, as seen below, describe her as “RADIO’S SENSATIONAL SONGBIRD.”) Three Smart Girls features lovely vocal performances by Durbin. Tunes include “My Heart is Singing” and “Someone to Care For Me.”
Nan Grey, Barbara Read, and Deanna Durbin are wonderful to watch together. They’re very believable as sisters and bring a great energy to the film. They bicker now and then but also share some of each other’s mannerisms and seem to have a true bond between them. The characters are written to realistically portray a sisterly bond, but the performances do a great deal for the trio’s believability as well.
It’s easy to see why Deanna Durbin became a star. Though this film on the whole is highly enjoyable, Durbin is one of the most captivating parts of it. All of the performances are solid, but Durbin in particular is full of charisma.
The story of Three Smart Girls is light and definitely predictable, but the talented, nicely-selected cast keeps the viewer entertained. Any musical fan should enjoy this one. The score: 4/5