Watching 1939: Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

three smart girls51939 film:
Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)

Release date:
March 24, 1939

Deanna Durbin, Charles Winninger, Nan Grey, Helen Parrish, Nella Walker, Robert Cummings, William Lundigan, Ernest Cossart, Felix Bressart, Grady Sutton (uncredited),

Universal Pictures

Henry Koster

With their parents (Walker, Winninger) back together, the Craig sisters (Durbin, Grey, Parrish) are all together as a family with their parents. Everything is happy when Joan Craig (Grey) gets engaged to Richard Watkins (Lundigan). However, the good news brings heartache to Kay Craig (Parrish), who also was in love with Richard. Seeing her sister unhappy, youngest sister Penny (Durbin) sets out to find Kay a boyfriend, which brings about family misunderstandings.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Deanna Durbin was in two films released in 1939.
– Nan Grey was in four films released in 1939.
– Helen Parrish was in three films released in 1939.
– Charles Winninger was in four films released in 1939.
– William Lundigan was in six films released in 1939.
– Robert Cummings was in four films released in 1939.
– Nella Walker was in nine films released in 1939.
– Ernest Cossart was in six films released in 1939.
– Felix Bressart was in four films released in 1939.

three smart

three smart girls4

Other trivia:
• A sequel to the film Three Smart Girls (1936). A third film about Deanna Durbin’s character Penny Craig, Hers to Hold (1943).
• Deanna Durbin and Nan Grey reprise their roles from Three Smart Girls (1936). Helen Parrish replaces Barbara Read. Read was considered “a little too grown up” for the role.
• This sequel to Three Smart Girls (1936) was made in response to fan mail that Universal received asking for more stories about the Craig sisters, according to film historian, Robert Osborne.
• The film’s musical director, Charles Previn, can be seen conducting at the musical school when Deanna Durbin first approaches Robert Cummings.

three smart girls

three smart girls3

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Watching this movie is like snuggling in a cozy blanket. “Three Smart Girls Grow Up” is sweet, heartfelt and lovely start to finish.

This film is a follow up to “Three Smart Girls” (1936), which was almost like a “Parent Trap” prototype with a trio of sisters trying to get their parents back together before their father marries another woman. “Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) picks up not long after the first film ends. The Craig parents are back together and the youngest sister, Penny (Durbin) is having her introduction into society. At this very party, the eldest Craig sister Joan (Grey) becomes engaged to her beau, Richard Watkins (Lundigan). This should be a happy occasion but there’s one problem — middle sister Kay (Parrish) is also in love with Richard, and Penny is the only one to pick up on her sister’s unhappiness. Penny decides to play matchmaker and find Kay a boyfriend, but her family mistakes that Penny is in love with an older man in the process. Throughout all this, Penny tries to speak to her parents about the problem (Walker, Winninger), but both are too busy for her — especially her father.

This follow up film was made “literally by demand” when Universal received fan mail asking for more Craig sister adventures, according to film historian Robert Osborne on the DVD release of this film. This was Deanna Durbin’s fifth film, as well as her fifth box office hit.

The cast of characters are largely the same, except that Helen Parrish replaced Barbara Read, who was said to look too mature for the role.

The film opens with the three sisters — Joan Grey, Deanna Durbin and Helen Parrish walking arm and arm down to a party their parents are throwing. The credits roll over the three girls in evening gowns and it’s just joyous and thrilling.

Throughout this film I found myself crying at different moments. The sisters comforting each other, Deanna Durbin singing, Deanna Durbin trying to tell her dad that she’s awfully worried about her sister, Helen Parrish and Deanna Durbin crying in bed together. Charles Winninger and Deanna Durbin are lovely together. No one could play goofy and also heartfelt quite like Winninger could.

This film is all just so terribly sweet and heartfelt. Deanna Durbin really was one of the loveliest actresses and she comes across as so genuine on screen. It’s hard to put in to words just how tender this film is — especially if you have siblings or have two sisters like I do!

There are also several funny and sweet moments. I love Ernest Cossart, who plays Binns the Butler, especially when he is one of the few that sees Kay is having heart trouble and brainstorms with Penny that she needs someone tall, dark and handsome.

Speaking of handsome, William Lundigan is incredibly dreamy in this film. No wonder all the girls love him!

Of course, with any Deanna Durbin film, you are treated to a number of gorgeous operatic songs. Durbin’s “The Last Rose of Summer” and “Because” are especially lovely.

It’s funny to see Durbin and Parrish together as sisters in this film, when the two play enemies in “First Love” (1939). While “First Love” was really Durbin’s first coming of age film where she gets her first kiss, “Three Smart Girls Grow Up” also allowed her to grow into a young lady.

As a sequel to a film, “Three Smart Girls Grow Up” could be viewed as just a trifle. But it truly is something special.

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)

  1. This movie is very dear to me. You did a wonderful job describing it!

    I wrote in my Blu-ray review the last time I saw it about my “eyes filling with tears of joy.” So nice to hear you reacted emotionally to this film as well.

    Best wishes,


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