Three Smart Girls (1936)

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Released 7-Nov-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Gallery-Photo-Ten black and white publicity stills without sound.
Scene Synopsis-A list of ten scenes - no thumbnails or sound.
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1936
Running Time 80:36
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Henry Koster

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Deanna Durbin
Charles Winninger
Binnie Barnes
Alice Brady
Barbara Read
Ray Milland
Mischa Auer
Ernest Cossart
Lucile Watson
John 'Dusty' King
Nella Walker
Hobart Cavanaugh
Nan Grey
Case Custom Packaging
RPI Box Music Walter Jurmann
Bronislau Kaper
Charles Previn

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


" ... the 1940s sweetheart, Deanna Durbin!" 

    Roadshow's local release of The Deanna Durbin Collection at the end of last year is cause for rejoicing by the many fans of this iconic musical star whom many consider to be the best soprano ever to achieve film stardom. Deanna Durbin made twenty-one feature films in her career, all for Universal, and nineteen of those are included in this handsomely hat-boxed set. Two 1940 films are not included, It's A Date and Spring Parade. The rights to It's A Date were purchased by MGM and remade in 1950 as Nancy Goes To Rio with Jane Powell. Spring Parade possibly had a similar fate. This release of the remaining nineteen films, from Three Smart Girls (1936) to For The Love of Mary (1948),  provides "26 hours of nostalgic movie musical entertainment", and fills a gap in DVD musical film history.

    Deanna Durbin was just fifteen when Three Smart Girls, her first film for Universal, was released. She had been contracted by MGM for a feature that was eventually cancelled, but she did make a short musical film for that studio, Every Sunday, which teamed her with another young singer MGM were testing, Judy Garland. Louis B. Mayer signed Judy to a long term contract, but let Deanna go. After success on Eddie Cantor's radio show, Universal cast the young soprano in Three Smart Girls and assigned director Henry Koster to coach the hopeful starlet. Deanna delivered a performance that instantly endeared her to audiences who flocked to her films. The receipts from Deanna Durbin's first two films reportedly saved Universal from bankruptcy and by the time she was twenty-one Deanna Durbin was Hollywood's top box office earner. In 1948, after thirteen years and twenty-one films for Universal, Deanna Durbin turned her back on her career and retired to France where she still lives, repeatedly refusing to be coaxed back into the limelight.

    The Oscar nominated script for Three Smart Girls by Adele Comandini and Austin Parker is a mix of screwball comedy and sentimental family fare concerning the three Craig sisters, Joan (Nan Grey), Kay (Barbara Read) and the youngest Penny (Deanna Durbin), who live in Switzerland - beside a lake, where else?- with their divorced mother, Dorothy (Nella Walker) and housekeeper Martha (Lucile Watson). The girls' father, Judson (Charles Winninger) lives in New York and has not seen his daughters for ten years. The girls read in the paper that their father is planning to marry Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes). Penny suggests a plan to go to New York to stop the marriage, drag their father back to Switzerland and reunite their parents. With Martha's supervision and financial help the "shock troops" set sail for the United States where they soon discover that Donna is a blonde gold-digger who has definite plans for their father. Major scheming is the order of the day and complications and confusions abound, hilariously involving mistaken identity between Lord Michael Stuart (a very young and handsome Ray Milland) and Count Arisztid (the always amusing and not so handsome Mischa Auer). 

   This trivial fluff comes from a time in movies when the most used adjectives were "gay" and "grand", and black Americans only appeared as porters, maids and shoeshines. There is a particularly offensive moment involving a maid who dares to contribute to a discussion and is rebuffed with a sharp, "Who asked you?" These historical oddities aside, Three Smart Girls is an attractive and entertaining showcase for its young star, and Henry Koster directs with assured style, managing to encourage a delightful performance from his fledgling songbird. Although the film is squarely placed on the fifteen year-old's shoulders, she is provided with formidable support by a gallery of great supporting players including Alice Brady, Hobart Cavanaugh and Franklin Pangborn, with a very brief appearance by Dennis O'Keefe. Although her screen persona - as well as her dentures -  is not quite refined in this her first feature, Miss Durbin is surprisingly natural and unaffected, and her singing is glorious with Gus Kahn and Bronislau Kaper providing two new songs for the film, "My Heart Is Singing" and "Someone to Care for Me", which became instant "hits". In addition Deanna sings "Il Bacio" ("The Kiss") by Luigi Arditi  and a couple of operatic arias.

    Joe Pasternak produced Three Smart Girls and he did everything to showcase the new star. The importance to Universal of Deanna Durbin and her first film is evident in every frame, and at Oscar time their efforts were rewarded with three nominations, including one for Best Picture. The opening credits end announcing "Universal's new discovery Deanna Durbin", and we hear a soaring soprano voice as the title dissolves into a close-up of Deanna singing "My Heart Is Singing". She is on a sailing boat in Switzerland with her two sisters - some quite nice location work combined with rear projection. As the plot takes us through hotel suites, nightclubs, Park Avenue apartments and Newport estates the sets are very impressive and glamorous, and the women's costumes are attention grabbing. Binnie Barnes wears one number that would look fantastic on any red carpet! Ensuring that everything complements the new star, Pasternak went on to produce the soprano's next five films, until he was lost to MGM where he went on to showcase the talents of that studios soprano songbirds, Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson.
    So successful was Three Smart Girls that Deanna Durbin went on to play Penny Craig in two other films. This release of the films of this great star of the 40s is long overdue, and this first feature in the set is a delightful introduction to a fresh, natural, vibrant talent that can still thrill after seventy years.

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Transfer Quality


    Considering the age of this film - over seventy years - this is a very satisfactory transfer.
    There does not appear to be any major restoration work, although reel cues have been removed and the entire length of the film is free of any debris.
    The final reel does have a split second of image wobble (74:58) and a brief scratch (76:43), but these are the only blemishes detected .
    The image is steady and is presented in a 4x3 transfer with 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the original presentation having been 1.37:1.
    With the exception of the inevitable soft-focus 1930s closeups, the image is sharp and clear, with a very pleasing grey scale - non glaring or flaring whites with deep blacks and everything in between.
    There is a fair amount of grain, but this is not distracting and is soon lost in the generally pleasing image.
    A very small amount of aliasing was noted, principally on a striped T-shirt in the opening sequence (05:18).
    The disc is single layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The seventy-two year old audio is in very good shape.
    There is only one audio track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 reproduction of the original mono Western Electric Noiseless Recording, which was Oscar nominated.
    The dialogue is clear and sharp with not one syllable indistinct or any sync problems.
    There is barely detectable background hiss, and no pops, crackles or dropouts.
    The reproduction of the music is, of course, way below the quality of today's recordings, but the excellent orchestrations are full and undistorted. A slight edge of distortion only appears on some of Deanna Durbin's vocals, but this is being very picky.

    There are no subtitles on the disc.


Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The box set contains a Sixteen Page Souvenir Booklet.
    Apart from this booklet and the Stills Galleries on five of the titles, there are no other extras on the entire nineteen discs, not even a trailer. The reverse of the slick also contains small reproductions of the Stills Gallery.
    The picture disc reproduces the title's cover.
    There are no subtitles.


    All menu screens are 4x3.
    The main menu design is extremely basic. The screen comprises two stills of the three girls, with music from the credits of the film.
    The options are :
        Play Film
        Scene Index: Selecting this option gives a new screen with two further stills and a list of ten scenes. No thumbnails, no sound.
        Stills Gallery : Selecting this option gives access to ten very nice quality black and white publicity stills, again without sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    In Region 1 Three Smart Girls is only available as one of six Deanna Durbin films included in the two-disc Deanna Durbin : Sweetheart Pack. That version does contain the following extras not found on the disc from the local nineteen title set.
    Subtitles : English for the Hearing Impaired
    Original Theatrical Trailer/Teaser : (00:58) This does not feature any live action, just a couple of portraits of the star, orchestral background music, and blurb extolling the delights of Deanna Durbin "coming soon to this theatre", including a quote from Eddie Cantor. An interesting little oddity.
    The nineteen title box set has not been released in Region 1, although it was released in Region 2 in 2003 - not sure about the hat-box - where it is more than double the Australian price.


    Undoubtedly Deanna Durbin was one of Hollywood's greatest musical stars, yet she is today relatively forgotten. Here is a rare opportunity to travel back seventy years and see a fledgling, unspoilt talent showcased in a first rate 1930s family/screwball comedy, presented in a good transfer of a clean print with pleasing sound. Nostalgia unlimited!

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Monday, March 03, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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