Three Smart Girls

Last updated
Three Smart Girls
Three Smart Girls Poster.jpg
Lobby card
Directed by Henry Koster
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Screenplay by
Music by Charles Previn
Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Joseph A. Valentine
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 20, 1936 (1936-12-20)(US)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$326,000 [1] or $319,107 [2]
Box office$1,635,800 [1]

Three Smart Girls is a 1936 American musical comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring Barbara Read, Nan Grey, Deanna Durbin (her feature film debut), and Ray Milland. [3] The film's screenplay was written by Adele Comandini and Austin Parker, and is about three sisters who travel to New York City to prevent their father from remarrying. The three plot to bring their divorced parents back together again.


It began an eight-year span of successful Deanna Durbin musicals and spawned two sequels, Three Smart Girls Grow Up and Hers to Hold . [3]


Three sisters living in Switzerland hear their father is going to marry a younger woman in New York. They travel there to stop it.

Their plan involves getting a man to seduce her father's fiancée. They accidentally hire a genuinely rich man who falls for one of the sisters.



The film was based on an original story. It was purchased for Universal by Adele Comandini. In May 1936 the studio announced they would make it as a vehicle for 13 year old Jeanne Dante, who had been on Broadway in Call It a Day , and it would be produced by Harry John Brown who had recently joined Universal from Warners. [4]

In July 1936 it was announced Deanna Durbin would appear alongside Dante, with "Henry Kosta" to direct. [5] By August Dante had dropped out and the three girls were to be played by Durbin, Nan Grey and Barbara Read. Binnie Barnes signed to play the vamp. [6]

Ray Milland was a last-minute replacement for Louis Hayward, who was originally cast, but fell ill shortly of pleurisy four days into filming. The replacement was made in September. [7] [8]


The film was a huge box office hit. Writing for The Spectator in 1937, Graham Greene gave the film a mixed review, complaining about the sentimentality of the first half of the film, and noting that it is only with the appearance of Precious, her mother, the Hungarian Count, and the English nobleman in the second half of the film that the picture is made. While criticizing Durbin's "consciously girlish" performance, Greene praised the acting of Auer and claimed that the second half of the film was where "some welcome humour of an adult kind creep[s] tardily" into the film. [9]


Three Smart Girls received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Sound (Homer G. Tasker), and Best Original Story. [10]


The film not only made Deanna Durbin a star, it led to a number of imitations. [11]

Related Research Articles

Ray Milland Welsh actor and film director

Ray Milland was a Welsh-American actor and film director. His screen career ran from 1929 to 1985, and he is best remembered for his Academy Award-winning portrayal of an alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) and also for such roles as a sophisticated leading man opposite John Wayne's corrupt character in Reap the Wild Wind (1942), the murder-plotting husband in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), and Oliver Barrett III in Love Story (1970).

<i>One Hundred Men and a Girl</i> 1937 film by Henry Koster

One Hundred Men and a Girl is a 1937 American musical comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin and the maestro Leopold Stokowski. Written by Charles Kenyon, Bruce Manning, and James Mulhauser from a story by Hanns Kräly, the film is about the daughter of a struggling musician who forms a symphony orchestra consisting of his unemployed friends. Through persistence, charm, and a few misunderstandings, they are able to get famed conductor Leopold Stokowski to lead them in a concert, which leads to a radio contract. One Hundred Men and a Girl was the first of two motion pictures featuring Leopold Stokowski, and is also one of the films for which Durbin is best remembered as an actress and a singer.

Deanna Durbin Canadian singer and actress

Edna Mae Durbin, known professionally as Deanna Durbin, was a Canadian-born actress and singer, who later settled in France. She appeared in musical films in the 1930s and 1940s. With the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano, she performed many styles from popular standards to operatic arias.

Robert Cummings American film and television actor

Charles Clarence Robert Orville Cummings was an American film and television actor known mainly for his roles in comedy films such as The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) and Princess O'Rourke (1943), but was also effective in dramatic films, especially two of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, Saboteur (1942) and Dial M for Murder (1954). Cummings received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Single Performance in 1955. On February 8, 1960, he received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion picture and television industries. The stars for motion picture and television are, respectively, at 6816 Hollywood Boulevard, and at 1718 Vine Street.

Joe Pasternak

Joseph Herman Pasternak was a Hungarian-born American film producer in Hollywood. Pasternak spent the Hollywood "Golden Age" of musicals at MGM Studios, producing many successful musicals with singing stars like Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, as well as swimmer/bathing beauty Esther Williams' films. He produced Judy Garland's final MGM film, Summer Stock, which was released in 1950. Pasternak worked in the film industry for 45 years, from the later silent era until shortly past the end of the classical Hollywood cinema in the early 1960s.

Binnie Barnes English actress

Gertrude Maud Barnes, known professionally as Binnie Barnes, was an English actress whose career in films spanned 50 years, from 1923 to 1973.

<i>Cant Help Singing</i> 1944 film by Lewis R. Foster, Frank Ryan

Can't Help Singing is a 1944 American musical Western film directed by Frank Ryan and starring Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, and Akim Tamiroff. Based on a story by John D. Klorer and Leo Townsend, the film is about a senator's daughter who follows her boyfriend West in the days of the California gold rush. Durbin's only Technicolor film, Can't Help Singing was produced by Felix Jackson and scored by Jerome Kern with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg.

Charles Winninger

Charles J. Winninger was an American stage and film actor, most often cast in comedies or musicals.

Nan Grey American actress

Nan Grey was an American film actress.

<i>Every Sunday</i>

Every Sunday is a 1936 American musical short film about two adolescent girls and their efforts to save a public concert series, which was being threatened by poor attendance.

Barbara Read, also known as Barbara Reed, was a Canadian-American film actress of the 1930s to 1940s who appeared in 21 films during her career.

<i>Three Smart Girls Grow Up</i> 1939 film

Three Smart Girls Grow Up is a 1939 American musical comedy film directed by Henry Koster, written by Felix Jackson and Bruce Manning, and starring Deanna Durbin, Nan Grey, and Helen Parrish. Durbin and Grey reprise their roles from Three Smart Girls, and Parrish replaces Barbara Read in the role of the middle sister. Durbin would reprise her role once more in Hers to Hold.

<i>Mad About Music</i> 1938 film by Norman Taurog, Bruce Manning, Joe Pasternak

Mad About Music is a 1938 American musical film directed by Norman Taurog and starring Deanna Durbin, Herbert Marshall, and Gail Patrick. Based on a story by Marcella Burke and Frederick Kohner, the film is about a girl at an exclusive boarding school who invents an exciting father. When her schoolmates doubt his existence, she has to produce him. Mad About Music received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Music, and Best Original Story.

<i>First Love</i> (1939 film) 1939 American musical film by Henry Koster

First Love is a 1939 American musical film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. Based on the fairy tale Cinderella, the film is about an orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after graduating from boarding school. Her life is made difficult by her snobby cousin who arranges that she stay home while the rest of the family attends a major social ball. With the help of her uncle, she makes it to the ball, where she meets and falls in love with her cousin's boyfriend. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Music.

<i>Spring Parade</i> 1940 film by Henry Koster, Felix Jackson

Spring Parade is a 1940 American musical comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. It is a remake of the 1934 film.

<i>The Amazing Mrs. Holliday</i> 1943 film by Jean Renoir, Bruce Manning

The Amazing Mrs. Holliday is a 1943 American comedy drama film produced and directed by Bruce Manning and starring Deanna Durbin, Edmond O'Brien, and Barry Fitzgerald.

<i>Something in the Wind</i>

Something in the Wind is a 1947 American musical comedy film directed by Irving Pichel and starring Deanna Durbin, Donald O'Connor, and John Dall.

Felix Jackson

Felix Jackson was a German-born American screenwriter and film producer.

<i>Hers to Hold</i> 1943 film by Frank Ryan

Hers to Hold is a 1943 American romantic musical comedy film and is the third film in the unofficial Three Smart Girls trilogy. In Hers to Hold, Deanna Durbin reprises her role as Penny Craig, who is the only sister remaining at home.

Adele Comandini was an American screenwriter who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Story for Three Smart Girls (1936).


  1. 1 2 Three smart guys: How a few penniless German émigrés saved Universal Studios Asper, Helmut; Horak, Jan-Christopher. Film History; New York Vol. 11, Iss. 2, (Jan 1, 1999): 134.
  2. Dick, Bernard K. (2015). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 114. ISBN   9780813158891.
  3. 1 2 Erickson, Hal. "Three Smart Girls (1936)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  4. GREEN PASTURES' PLEASES HOLLYWOOD New York Times 24 May 1936: X3.
  5. NEWS OF THE SCREEN New York Times 1 July 1936: 29.
  6. Binnie Barnes, Back From Reno, Will Enact VamP in "Three Smart Girls" Los Angeles Times 22 Aug 1936: 7.
  7. SUPER STYLE PAGEANT PROMISED IN IRENE DUNNE FEATURE: Sparkle of Alice Faye to Lend Zip to Temple Film Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times21 Sep 1936: 13.
  8. Around and About in Hollywood Read, Kendall. Los Angeles Times 23 Sep 1936: 15.
  9. Greene, Graham (26 March 1937). "Three Smart Girls/For Valour". The Spectator . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 139–140. ISBN   0192812866.)
  10. "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved August 8, 2011.