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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Deanna Durbin, Nan Grey and Barbara Read are "Three Smart Girls" in this Universal film from 1936, which introduces Deanna Durbin to film audiences. It also stars Ray Milland, Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, John King, Binnie Barnes and Alice Brady. It's a sweet story about three young women, now living in Switzerland with their divorced mother, who hear their father (Winninger) is marrying again. Not having seen him in 10 years and knowing their mother still loves him, they board a ship to America, with the help of the housekeeper/nanny, determined to stop the wedding. Realizing that the intended, called "Precious" (Barnes) is nothing but a gold-digger aided and abetted by her mother (Brady), they arrange for her to be introduced to a wealthy Count. This is arranged by their father's accountant (King). The man he chooses is a full-time drunk (Auer), but the girls mistake him for an actual wealthy count (Milland). What a mess.
This is a delightful film, not cloying or overly sugary at all, with some nice performances, particularly by Auer, Milland, Barnes and Brady. The young women are pretty and all do good work. The emphasis, of course, is on young Durbin, who is a natural actress and a beautifully-trained singer. In fact, her voice as a youngster is much more even than it would be as an adult - she has no trouble with the high notes, as she did later on because she put too much weight in the middle voice. She sings a delightful "Il Bacio" in a police station.
One of the nicest things about the film is to see the father, played by Charles Winninger, not want his children around - until he sees them and gets to know them. Barnes as the gold-digger isn't all that young, but the girls' mother looks way up there, so the inference probably was the older man seeking his youth with a younger, more glamorous woman. In fact, he finds the youth he was seeking in his daughters.
Universal gives Durbin the big star buildup here - she has the final shot in the movie. Ray Milland at this point was still paying his dues, and it will probably be a surprise even to film fans how young and attractive he is.
Very entertaining and of course, this led to a sequel and big stardom for Deanna.
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