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Saturday, March 24, 2012

THREE SMART GIRLS (1936)

Deanna Durbin, a teenage kid with a remarkably warm, well-produced coloratura soprano voice, debuted in this fluffy piece of sentimental comedy. It set her up for a decade run of stardom; ‘rescued’ Universal Studios from bankruptcy*; and jump-started major Hollywood careers for emigres producer Joe Pasternak & helmer Henry Koster. But three-quarters-of-a-century on, you’ve got to squint awfully hard to see what all the fuss was about. Durbin’s singing away on Lake Geneva when she hears that dear divorced Dad (Charles Winninger) is about to remarry! So, she hops a boat to New York, along with her two older sisters, and vows to stop it. Cue comic complications. Everything feels pretty forced after this (heck, everything feels pretty forced before this), but a few comic bits still come thru. Oddly, some hoary mistaken identity shtick works quite well thanks to fresh & funny playing from a very young, very handsome Ray Milland and from Universal’s one-man stock company clown Mischa Auer. These boys neatly underplay while everyone around them shouts. All in all, the film is more tiresome, and considerably noisier, then it need be.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Just about everyone in here makes a much better impression in a film shot either just before or just after this one. Winninger, B‘way’s original Capt’n Andy in SHOW BOAT, had just done James Whale’s all-star film version of the musical, while Durbin & Mischa Auer's follow-up with producer Pasternak & director Koster was ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL/’37. An unsung classic that gets everything right this film got wrong. Alas, neither is currently out on a Stateside DVD. Grrr. However, you can get EASY LIVING/’37, Ray Milland’s breakthrough pic with Jean Arthur.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *And over @ Fox & Paramount, it was Shirley Temple & Mae West to the rescue. Funny how powerful women once were in HollywoodLand.

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