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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 <email@example.com>
Deanna Durbin in her feature film debut carries the movie with ease; Binnie Barnes hasn't a chance
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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