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THREE SMART GIRLS (director: Henry Koster; screenwriters: Adele Comandini/Austin Parker; cinematographer: Joseph Valentine; editor: Ted J. Kent; music: Walter Jurmann & Bronislau Kaper; cast: Deanna Durbin (Penny Craig), Binnie Barnes (Donna Lyons), Alice Brady (Mrs. Lyons), Ray Milland (Lord Michael Stuart), Charles Winninger (Judson Craig), Mischa Auer (Count Arisztid), Lucile Watson (Martha Trudel), Nan Grey (Joan Craig), Barbara Read (Kay Craig), Nella Walker (Dorothy Craig), Ernest Cossart (Binns), John King (Bill Evans); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Pasternak; Universal; 1936)
“Makes you feel better for seeing it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Deanna Durbin was born in Canada in 1921 and raised in California; she was a teen singing sensation appearing on Eddie Cantor’s radio show. After doing a bit part for MGM at age 14, the studio dumped her for fellow teen singer Judy Garland. A years later Universal made her the star of this low-budget Depression-era lightweight sentimental musical/comedy, and the film that opened with little fanfare became the sleeper of the decade and made Durbin a star. After having much success, Durbin retired at the age of 27. She eventually married her third husband, Charles David, a French filmmaker, in 1949, and is still alive and well at 85, living in wealth in France and happy to be out of the spotlight. Since 1949 she has given only one short interview in the early 1980s to British film historian David Shipman. In the opening credits she’s advertised as Universal’s “new discovery.” As it turns out, she’s the one whose popularity saved the studio from bankruptcy. There were two sequels made, Henry Koster’s “Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)” and Frank Ryan’s “Hers to Hold (1943).” Three Smart Girls was nominated for Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Screenplay.

Jewish German-emigre Henry Koster (“One Hundred Men and a Girl “/”First Love”) directs this charmer that has a movie magical quality that makes you feel better for seeing it. There’s a certain genuineness that overcomes its dumb story line with wit and energy, that might even pull in the more hardened viewer. It’s crisply written by Adele Comandini and Austin Parker.

The story tells of the three active Craig sisters–Penny (Deanna Durbin), Joan (Nan Grey), and Kay (Barbara Read)–living in Switzerland with their divorced mother (Nella Walker) of ten years and when learning that their New York based Wall Street millionaire banker father Judson Craig (Charles Winninger) announced his engagement to the young and beautiful social climbing fortune hunter Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes), they scheme to come with their housekeeper Martha (Lucile Watson) to New York to bring their parents back together again.

Judson’s valet Binns (Ernest Cossart) is glad the peppy girls are trying to break-up the marriage plans, since he doesn’t like the gold-digger Donna and her bossy battleaxe of a mother (Alice Brady). Neither does Judson’s business manager Bill Evans (John King), who comes up with the scheme of getting his impoverished drunken gigolo acquaintance, Count Arisztid (Mischa Auer), who happens to be a real Hungarian count, to pose as someone more wealthy than Judson and distract Donna from going after the girls’ father. At the nightclub that they’re supposed to meet, there’s a mix-up and the real British Lord Michael Stuart (Ray Milland), a wealthy banker, is mistaken for the count. Stuart saw Kay earlier in the hotel lobby and fell for her, so goes along with the scheme if only to be with Kay.

Durbin, as the youngest sister, is the primary catalyst in reuniting her parents and saving dad from a horrible marriage. She also has time to knock off three songs: on a lake in Switzerland she sings “My Heart Is Singing,” to her father she sings “Someone to Care For Me” and to the police in the precinct house she sings an aria from the opera “Il Bacio.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”