Three Smart Girls

Three Smart Girls

I’m not a gentleman. I’m a father!

It seems I’m starting to get to the beginning of the era of musical nominees for Best Picture, where every other nominee it seemed had song and/or dance to it. I’m pretty much made to think that way when I watch a film like Three Smart Girls, which somehow manages the feat of trying to be a musical and not really succeeding at it. Oh sure, there’s songs, and people sing them, but there might as well not be for how much good they do the film… Then again, maybe this does succeed as a musical after all. Three Smart Girls is touted all over as the big screen debut of Deanna Durbin, and I can see why Universal wanted to make her their newest star, considering how operatic her voice was in this film (if indeed it was actually her voice). Unfortunately, the film as a whole is so hokey and unoriginal that I’m actually a little amazed that it kickstarted Durbin’s career the way it did.

The three girls of the title are the Craig sisters; Joan, Kay, and Penny, who live rather happily with their mother, despite their parents having been divorced some time earlier. When the sisters catch wind that their father is going to remarry, they have their suspicions about the bride-to-be, and so they head off to New York City to break off the new marriage and get their mother and father back together again. A simpler plot would be hard to find, and thus I’m forced to conclude that the film isn’t about the plot, or that it doesn’t boast it among its selling points, which was an easy conclusion to make in the face of how basic the film’s story was constructed. So what is there to watch this for, then? Well, if you were to say the singing, maybe in the 1930s this would count, but I couldn’t help but get the distinct impression that Durbin wasn’t actually singing the songs in the film, but lip-synching to either her own singing or the voice of someone else; which, I happen to know, is how they did film most musicals back in the day, and it unfortunately shows a little too much here. So, if it’s not the singing, is it Durbin, as well as her on-screen sisters, the titular trio themselves? Possibly; the film knows it has to center on the charms of the three young girls, but it seemed to overdo it for fear that underdoing it might have caused the film to fail even more, not understanding the adage that too much of anything is never a good thing. So, then; what is there to tout as this film’s selling points? Well… I really don’t know, and that’s basically Three Smart Girls in a nutshell; not enough (or too much) of any real positive attributes to really cause the film to shine, but instead being merely content to pander in hopes that it will be enough to succeed.

I really don’t want to hate on this film too much, because for all its lack of good attributes, I didn’t really hate the film, and really I can’t say I disliked it to an extended degree either. What I found about it, though, was that it was derivative, hackneyed, and overbearing in whatever it thought it needed to do correctly to succeed as a still-early-sound-era musical, and when such a product ends up not being as entertaining as it ought to be, being instead only tangentially so, then I can’t really give it a good rating as a result. Is this worth seeing? Not particularly, though I won’t rule out a possibility of some enjoyment should you decide to watch this one regardless. Just don’t go into it expecting a real contender for best picture of the year, because this really isn’t.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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One thought on “Three Smart Girls

  1. Oh it’s her voice alright but the technical competences at Universal at this point were nowhere near what they were at Paramount, 20 Century Fox or MGM. They had scooped up Deanna when MGM hadn’t picked up her option and weren’t expecting this to hit as big as it did, virtually saving the studio. I found it incredible that it was nominated for Best Picture-it’s cute and has a good cast, I particularly like Binnie Barnes, but it’s flyaway stuff.

    Deanna’s succeeding films were more professionally pulled together but as she often said she was the highest paid star with the worst material. That’s a bit harsh overall, she made a few good films-Lady on a Train, Christmas Holiday and especially It Started with Eve-but she was such a money machine for them that the higher ups restructured the same basic story where she was Little Miss Fix-it endlessly. She was a scrappy one and spent the better part of a decade tussling with them over her films quality until she became fed up with it all and walked away, retiring at 27 to France and never looking back. She was so careful of her privacy in fact that when she passed away at 91 her death wasn’t announced by her children until a week after her funeral. A shame really since she was quite talented and especially as she matured a charming and appealing screen presence.

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