Three Smart Girls (1936)
For my inaugural mad movie challenge from Kristina at Speakeasy I have been assigned the debut film for Edna Mae Durbin. Soon to be world famous as Deanna Durbin and according to legend, rescuing Universal Pictures from bankruptcy. She had previously appeared in a musical short with fellow child star about to make good Judy Garland for MGM studios where she was on a 6 month contract. Upon her release she found herself at Universal going before the cameras for her first of 21 feature films. Universal was obviously building her up for the star treatment as she is billed in the opening credits as Universal’s New Discovery.
The film itself plays like an earlier version of The Parent Trap at times with Durbin and her two sisters played by Nan Grey and Barbara Read attempting to put their long divorced parents back together when it is learned that Father is engaged to a much younger woman. Slapstick ensues when Mother/Daughter team Alice Brady and Binnie Barnes set out to land the girls Father played by Charles Winninger for his money. The girls with the help of young and handsome Ray Milland set about stopping the nuptials and hopefully get Mom and Dad back together again.
Durbin herself was already singing on radio by the time this film was released and her appearance here is as a feisty young teenager who isn’t one to sit back when she wants to set things in motion. Almost comparable to our friend at MGM, Andy Hardy. Unlike the Hardy films, this one only produced one sequel in 1939, Three Smart Girls Grow Up.
Both films were directed by Henry Koster who is perhaps best known for filming the sentimental Harvey and the popular Biblical epic The Robe. As for Deanna’s singing voice, it is beyond her years and seems to be that of a much more mature woman. The film begins with her singing as if to showcase her right from the opening frames and she’ll sing twice more before the fadeout.
Like so many other leading men of the 40’s and 50’s, Ray Milland got his start playing young romantic minded men in the 30’s and it’s easy to see that he would be around for years to come. Some good laughs come at the expense of Mischa Auer as a would be suitor to Barnes and Superman fans will be sure to recognize Perry White from the George Reeves series, John Hamilton.
The film is an easy going screwball comedy/musical with some genuine laughs along the way. For me this viewing is a discovery as opposed to a rediscovery and I thank fellow film fan Kristina for the challenge. Be sure to head over to the Speakeasy to check out her challenge movie.