Three Smart Girls

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Three Smart Girls
Three Smart Girls Poster.jpg
Lobby card
Directed byHenry Koster
Screenplay by
Produced byJoe Pasternak
CinematographyJoseph A. Valentine
Edited byTed J. Kent
Music byCharles Previn
Heinz Roemheld
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. This film became a vehicle for 13 year old Jeanne Dante, who had been on Broadway in Call It a Day. The film was produced by Harry John Brown who had recently joined Universal from Warners.[4]

Joe Pasternak wanted Judy Garland for Durbin's role, but Garland's home studio, MGM, wouldn't loan her out for the picture. However, Joe would produce four Garland films when he moved to MGM. Durbin was picked up from MGM after a short film, Every Sunday co-starring Garland. MGM dropped Durbin's contract freeing her to do Three Smart Girls.

In July 1936, Deanna Durbin appeared alongside Dante, with Henry Koster 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, but it led to a number of imitations.[11]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b Erickson, Hal (2012). "Three Smart Girls (1936)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on November 14, 2012. 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 Times, 21 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.
  11. ^ HAYS OFFICE BATTLES TO MAINTAIN SCREEN PURITY, Los Angeles Times, 7 Feb 1937: C1.

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