The ‘Three Smart Girls’ Movie Duo is a Cute 1930s ‘Trap’ of a Comedy


I’m not a screwball comedy kind of moviegoer, but on occasion, I do enjoy an oldie movie watch. Some of these include re-watches like the 1936 Three Smart Girls and its sequel, Three Smart Girls Grow Up. As I prepped some recent lists, I decided to re-watch these, and discovered they’re still cute if not quite angsty.

Three Smart Girls (1936) and Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939): The Story

Living abroad is a happy place for young Penny Craig (Deanna Durbin) and her older sisters, Joan (Nan Grey) and Kay (Katherine Reed, played by Helen Parrish in the sequel). They live, along with their mother, an idyllic life, or so they think. When their mother suddenly learns that the husband she’s been divorced from for ten years is to re-marry, the girl’s hatch a plan to reunite them! First they must find a way to get to New York.

Once there, Penny finds herself thrilled to again have a father, and though its rough beginning, Mr. Craig (Charles Winninger) quickly adjusts to having his daughters with him again. Through all the ups and downs, the girl’s find their place again – and meet men who make them swoon.

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Back in the day, I watched a ton of the films starring Deanna Durbin. Three Smart Girls is in fact also her screen debut. While it has its own share of “angst,” what surprises me is that its sequel seems to have an even greater dose of it. I don’t love that aspect of the film, but it’s still a good time, especially if you’re fond of the black-and-white era of filmmaking.

These parents get the The Parent Trap treatment before we knew this to be a beloved trope. Like anything, it’s a really fun plot, and one I enjoy no matter the variation. There’s less antics when it comes to breaking apart the adults, but Penny’s last-minute effort is funny and brings the film full circle. The follow-up film is similar in many ways, only the sister’s are the subject of Penny’s meddling. If I’m being honest, I don’t really like the plot of Three Smart Girl’s Grow Up.

It has the potential to be darling (because who doesn’t love a fun matchmaking scheme?), but if feels as though it forgets what happens in the first film, and so the emotions don’t really seem genuine. That said, both are a good time and those of us who enjoy a vintage comedy will get a few laughs from these films.


‘Three Smart Girls’ Movie Pair is a Cute 1930s ‘Trap’ of a Comedy. Review of the 1936 and 1939 films with Deanna Durbin. Text © Rissi JC

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About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

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