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Three Smart Girls (1936)

Approved | | Comedy, Musical, Romance | 20 December 1936 (USA)
Three sisters scheme to reunite their divorced parents before their wealthy father marries a conniving gold digger.



(original story), (screen play)

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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Mrs. Lyons
Lord Michael Stuart
Count Arisztid
Bill Evans (as John King)
Wilbur Lamb


The three Craig sisters, in Switzerland with their ten-years-divorced mother, run away to New York to prevent their father from marrying calculating socialite Donna Lyons. The overpowering vivacity of the Smart Girls (nominal ages 14-20) sweeps all before it, but a romantic complication between middle sister Kay and their accidental ally, Lord Michael Stuart, threatens shipwreck to their schemes... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

20 December 1936 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tri zlate deklice  »

Box Office


$326,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This film was the inspiration for Disney's The Parent Trap (1961) and the 1998 remake of the same name. See more »


In the 'long shot', Penny dives headfirst into the lake, getting thoroughly drenched, but in the nearly immediate 'medium shot', she has dry hair, hat, and face as she swims to shore. See more »


Kay: [as they watch Lord Stuart dance with Donna Lyons, a glaring Kay has suddenly developed jealousy] He's over-doing it!
Joan: [Happy to see their plan going well] He's not bad for a drunkard.
See more »


Referenced in Listen, Darling (1938) See more »


My Heart Is Singing
(1936) (uncredited)
Music by Bronislau Kaper and Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by Gus Kahn
Performed by Deanna Durbin
See more »

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User Reviews

Deanna Durbin in her feature film debut carries the movie with ease; Binnie Barnes hasn't a chance
27 January 2008 | by (San Antonio, Texas) – See all my reviews

Deanna Durbin, then 14 and just under contract to MGM, made a short feature in 1936 which paired her with Judy Garland, a year younger, in the first film for both of them. Louis B. Mayer then decided he didn't need two competing young singers, placed his bet on Garland and let Durbin go. Universal immediately signed Durbin, rushed her into Three Smart Girls and rewrote the screenplay to pump up her part. She's billed last, but with the typographic equivalent of neon lights around her name. Universal was convinced Durbin would be a smash, and they were right. Three Smart Girls is less a musical and more a screwball comedy, and Durbin, 15 when the movie was released, carries it with aplomb. She's Penny Craig, and she and her older sisters, Joan and Kay, are determined to save their father, who had divorced their mother, from the clutches of an elegant gold digger with a fierce mother. They talk their way from Switzerland, where they live, to New York City, where their father lives. They plan not just to break up their father's wedding but to reunite their father with their mother, who after ten years apart still loves the guy. Is there any doubt that Durbin will sing a song or two in her warm, luscious soprano? Nope. Is there any doubt the girls will succeed...with Kay and Joan finding love and matrimonial material along the way? Nope, again. Years later Durbin was quoted as saying that she couldn't keep playing little Miss Fixit forever. She was right, of course, but in Three Smart Girls, her first feature movie, she has little Miss Fixit down pat. Durbin is funny, determined, resourceful, energetic and, of all things, natural. Her personality is so genuine that it makes this comedy -- a mix of farce, confusion, good intentions and cheerful avarice -- downright endearing.

Durbin carries the movie with ease. It's a lot of fun watching her hold her own against the likes of Binnie Barnes as Donna Lyon, the woman with her hooks in Penny's rich father, played by Charles Winninger, who was no slouch at stealing scenes, either. Alice Brady, who played the dithering matron in My Man Godfrey, plays Donna Lyons' mother, who is even more of a gold digger than her daughter. The last of the accomplished farceurs is Ray Milland as Lord Michael Stuart, who through a contrived and amusing mix-up is mistaken for Mischa Auer.

Three Smart Girls holds up well as a light-weight and amusing comedy of manners and mix- ups. So does Deanna Durbin as a brand-new star, who with her huge success saved Universal's bacon.

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