Musical Monday: Three Daring Daughters (1948)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Three Daring Daughters (1948) – Musical No. 64

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Starring:
Jane Powell, Jeanette MacDonald, Edward Arnold, Elinor Donahue, Ann E. Todd, Harry Davenport, Moyna MacGill, Tom Helmore, Dick Simmons, Thurston Hall (uncredited), Ian Wolfe (uncredited)
Themselves: José Iturbi, Larry Adler, Amparo Iturbi

Plot:
Three sisters (Powell, Todd, Donahue) want their divorced parents to get back together. After an illness, their mother Louise Morgan (MacDonald) goes on a cruise to Cuba without her daughters for a rest. While Louise is gone, the sisters work with businessman Robert Nelson (Arnold) to get their father back home. Unbeknownst to her daughters, Louise falls in love with pianist José Iturbi (as himself).

Trivia:
• The only film where José Iturbi performs as lead actor rather than a specialty performer or supporting character.
• “Three Daring Daughters” (1948) is not officially said to be a remake “Three Smart Girls” (1936), though the movies are very similar. Opera singing Jane Powell is similar to the Deanna Durbin role and the daughters are trying to get their newly married mother back with their father. The films end differently, though.
• This was Jeanette MacDonald’s first film after four years and her second to last film.
• Elinor Donahue is billed as Mary Eleanor Donahue
• Pat Hyatt dubbed Ann E. Todd and Beverly Jean Garbo dubbed Elinor Donahue
• “Three Daring Daughters” was called “morally objectionable” by Joseph Breen in the censorship office and the Catholic League of Decency for portraying divorce as respectable.
• The same cruise ship set in “Three Daring Daughters” was used in “Luxury Liner,” according to MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot by Steven Bingen, Stephen X Sylvester and Michael Troyan

Elinor Donahue, Jane Powell and Ann E. Todd in “Three Daring Daughters” (Screencap by Jessica P.)

Highlights:
• The Technicolor cinematography
• Costumes by Irene

Notable Songs:
• “The Dickey Bird Song” performed by Jeanette MacDonald, Jane Powell, Elinor Donahue, Ann E. Todd
• “Where There’s Love” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “Springtide” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell
• “Je veux vivre” performed by Jane Powell
• “Ritual Fire Dance” performed by José Iturbi and Amparo Iturbi
• “Route 66” performed by Jane Powell
• “You Made Me Love You” performed by Jeanette MacDonald

Jose Iturbi and Jeanette MacDonald in “Three Daring Daughters” (Screencap by Jessica P.)

My review:
Aside from cameo appearance in “Follow the Boys” (1944), singer and actress Jeanette MacDonald hadn’t performed in leading film role since 1942 in “Cairo.”

Her return to film came in the form of a Technicolor, Joe Pasternak-produced MGM musical “Three Daring Daughters.” While the outcome of the film may have been disappointing to critics and didn’t revitalize MacDonald’s career as audiences may have hoped, it’s a charming and fun film.

MacDonald plays the mother to three scheming and lively young daughters played by Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue (billed as Mary Eleanor Donahue). MacDonald is a hardworking single mom who is successful at a fashion magazine. However, her hard work is threatening her health so her doctor suggests a solo vacation. She obeys and fills the prescription with a cruise. While she’s gone, the three sisters believe their mother is unhappy because their parents are divorced and visit his boss to bring home their father.

Meanwhile, MacDonald is being romanced by pianist Jose Iturbi (playing himself). When the two come home married, the daughters aren’t thrilled with their new stepfather.

MacDonald looks gorgeous with her vibrant red hair and Irene gowns. She is believable as a mother of teenage daughters, and I love seeing her in this new type of role that is different than her other films. MacDonald is filled with grace in this role, and young actresses said they loved working with her. Jane Powell wrote in her autobiography that MacDonald was very funny and Elinor Donahue said that MacDonald doted on her.

Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue are so fun and hilarious as the three daughters. The girls meddle and cause trouble of course, but somehow it’s not frustrating in this film because they are trying to help their mother. There is one hilarious scene where Elinor Donahue follows Jose Iturbi “in a disguise.”

Concert pianist José Iturbi started appearing in MGM films starting in 1943, usually appearing as a specialty appearance. “Three Daring Daughters” was the only film where Iturbi appears as a leading man. Reviews in 1948 noted that Iturbi was a weak lead and romantic partner for MacDonald. While this may be true, I do love Iturbi in this film (and in general). I feel sort of sad for him, because the children aren’t very nice to him.

Of course, another highlight in the film is Edward Arnold, who plays the wealthy employer of the daughters’ biological father. The whole family constantly imposes on Arnold asking for him to bring their father home, send him home, bring him back, etc. Arnold gets caught up in the family drama and is won over by the daughters. It’s also fabulous to see Arnold in Technicolor!

Outside of the cast, the film features gorgeous music. Iturbi and his sister Amparo Iturbi perform the “Ritual Fire Dance” (which they also performed in Two Girls and a Sailor). Jane Powell and Jeanette MacDonald also sing a lovely duet together of “Springtide.” I may be mistaken, but I’m not sure any other actress had the opportunity to sing with MacDonald. MacDonald also sings a wistful version of “You Made Me Love You.” While we hear Iturbi’s concert music, we also hear him play boogie-woogie on the piano.

“Three Daring Daughters” isn’t MGM’s best-known musical, but I adore it. It’s a fun, vibrant and heartwarming story.

Ann E. Todd, Jane Powell, Jose Iturbi, Jeanette MacDonald, Elinor Donahue in “Three Daring Daughters”
(Screencap by Jessica P.)

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Three Daring Daughters (1948)

  1. Has there ever been a more radiant, more glowing screen presence as Jeanette MacDonald’s? She was made for the Technicolor camera. Older folks like me still mourn and remember her fragile beauty, grace and elegance. And of course, that sparkling voice. “Three Daring Daughters” may have been passed off as a mere trifle, but I found it be an enormously enjoyable bonbon. Thanks TCM.

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