The Painter and the Thief
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During the Great Depression films featuring child actors like Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney were hugely popular as they were light, escapist entertainment that allowed the downtrodden masses to experience a reprieve from their day to day lives. Deanna Durbin was one such child star as with her sassy demeanor and soprano voice she charmed viewers of the 1930s and appeared in an average of two films every year. This was the film that launched her as a star and the fact that it was a huge box office hit was probably what earned it a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed the film as while it was intended as a simple pleasure for families I found Durbin's shtick irritating and the romance within the film rather uninteresting.
In an idyllic small town on a lake in Switzerland three sisters, the spunky Penny, Deanna Durbin, the romantic Kay, Barbara Read, and Joan, Nan Grey, live with their abandoned mother Dorothy, Nella Walker. They have all been left by their wealthy and selfish father Judson Craig, Charles Winninger, who lives in New York City and has become engaged to shallow society beauty Donna Lyons, Binnie Barnes, who only wants him for his money. The girls manage to pull together enough money to visit their father and intend to have him break up with Lyons so that he can return to them and their mother. When they arrive they disrupt the plans of Lyons and her mother, Alice Brady, while catching the attention of Lord Michael Stuart, Ray Milland. They use Stuart to lure Dorothy away from her marriage after his plan for an alcoholic count to replace him fail but these plans are complicated by the fact that Stuart is falling in love with one of the sisters.
Like most films made for children the plot is thin and rather ludicrous but there is some potential for genuinely touching content in the story of a father being reconciled with his family. Sadly this is one of those films, much like The Parent Trap (1998), in which his abandonment of them is never really explained and the reconciliation is so smooth that it is entirely unbelievable. The mother of the girls is barely seen and when she is she only exists a plot device used to place the girls in a more glamorous location and allow Durbin to sing. Their father is an equally underdeveloped character as he is meant to be humorous with all of his little tics and wonderfully fatherly towards the end of the film. His transition from the sort of man who leave his wife and child to chase a younger, attractive woman to a genuinely loving father is non-existent. From the moment they show up he seems ready to be a father and so it is confusing why he would not be with them in the first place and what he is doing with a woman who is clearly a gold digger.
The gold digger was possibly the most interesting character in the film as she and her mother had a very strange, potentially abusive relationship and examining the psychological impact that her mother's influence has had on her. This is unlikely to be found in a kid's movie obviously but I would liken the presence of Lyons in this film to that of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (1952) as while that film is obviously better than this one she is an extreme character in a film that features characters who are otherwise sweet and understated. Screenwriters Adele Comandini and Austin Parker could have included just a little more of Lyons as she really spiced up the film and staved away the irritation I felt when Durbin was on screen.
My biggest issue with the film was that I found it's star to be incredibly irksome as Durbin came across as bratty instead of seeming charming and cute as she was probably meant to come across. She shouts out all of her lines in a monotonous tone and scenes that should be funny such as one in which she berates a cab driver for his poor driving skills just felt forced. Her singing scenes also come out of nowhere and feel incongruous within the film and her voice has echoes of Grace Moore, not a good thing.
If you happen to find something to appreciate in performers like Durbin then this film may be your cup of tea but to me this was not worth watching.
Three Smart Girls is a very mediocre movie which is technically well made and it has its charming scenes, but most of it felt very odd, unappealing in musical numbers and very silly in many of its scenes. Deanna Durbin was a big star during this period, but now she seems very annoying above all else. The whole movie is a silly affair that ranks among the oddest Best Picture nominees without a doubt.
reminded me of WB's '4 Daughters'
Durbin's feature film debut (the film was nominated for Best Picture) is a delight from beginning to end, as is Durbin; she sings "Someone to Care for Me" and "My Heart Is Singing."
Almost like a female version of a Little Rascals plot, Three Smart Girls is the brainless fodder of its time. Despite the charms of the actresses involved, the plot seems ultimately very silly. Good enough to warrant a sequel however.
I'm going to start saying, "Oh, Mush" in lieu of cursing. This Oscar nominee from 1936 isn't worth watching, even though I did watch it.
I thought it was a cute screwball comedy.
A bit too twee.Just funny enough.
Cute old movie about 3 young sisters who try to break up their father's engagement and bring their parents back together. Deanna Durbin plays the youngest of the three in this movie which is one of many, along these same lines, made by the talented singer with an operatic voice.
One of my favourite Deanna Durbin movies...I could do without the musical interludes though.