Three Daring Daughters
Principal cast list:
Jeanette MacDonald, José Iturbi, Jane Powell, Elinor Donahue, Ann E. Todd, Edward Arnold.
Jeanette MacDonald plays a Louise Morgan, a single mother who has been divorced for many years. She has three girls of various ages—two in their teens, one younger. Although her husband had abandoned her, she had always told the girls nothing but good things about their father, with the result that all three worship him and think their mom is pining away for him. On a cruise, Louise meets José Iturbi, who falls hard for her, and although she plays very hard to get, he eventually talks her into getting married in Cuba. Returning to New York, Louise is determined to break the news to the girls, only to find they have used her absence to arrange the return of their father. Louise and Iturbi are forced to keep the marriage a secret from the girls until they can figure a way to work things out. But the girls have plans of their own.
Excerpts from newspapers of the day:
The New York Times, February 13, 1948
Knowing José Iturbi (as most movie-goers do) to be a fellow who is highly accommodating to the uses and conventions of the screen, it is not in the least surprising to find him up to his usual corny tricks, both at the piano and away from it, in “Three Daring Daughters.” As a matter of fact, his blushless clowning has assumed such familiarity that it would now be a shock to most of us to see him at anything else. But it is just a bit too bewildering to find Mr. Iturbi, in this film playing himself the famous pianist, becoming Jeanette MacDonald’s lawful spouse. (That’s right, he marries Miss MacDonald—makes her Mrs. Iturbi, just like that—without the least anxiety about the literal paradox.) And it is even more disturbing to find him making romantic love to her—he bouncing around like an eager bantam and she playing coy and aloof.
…But Mr. Iturbi, when he isn’t making moon-eyes at Miss MacDonald and doing comic stunts, gets off a batch of musical numbers of varied nature on his midget and his grand. His range is from “Rumanian Rhapsody” (played with Larry Adler, the harmonicist, in symphonic style), through “Liebestraum” and “Ritual Fire Dance” to “Route 66” and the “Dickey-Bird Song.”
Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1948
From the standpoint of plot alone, “Three Daring Daughters” is daring in only one way and that is the enormity of the insult that it heaps upon the intelligence of its audiences. One could begin with the fact that José Iturbi, celebrated pianist, under his own name takes unto himself a wife during the course of the story called Louise Morgan, impersonated by Jeanette MacDonald. Additionally, the question might be raised of just how idiotic can a picture get in dealing with relationships between precocious meddling children and somewhat moronic grownups, and the often Mr. Iturbi is to be chased at some time or other in cinema…Yet, after all these things have been discounted, one can settle down to appraise the revel which is enjoyed in this film with personalities, melody, harmonies and bewitching Technicolor.
The Nashua Telegraph, March 26, 1948
The popular, golden-voiced Jeanette MacDonald makes an auspicious return with José Iturbi and young Jane Powell in this lilting comedy. Miss MacDonald plays the role of a beautiful, successful business woman with three growing daughters. Her romance and marriage with Iturbi and subsequent mix-ups in trying to explain “the facts of life and love” to her adolescent youngsters highlight the humorous situations of the plot.
Photographed in Technicolor, the dramatic theme is enhanced with singing by both Miss MacDonald and Miss Powell, plus the brilliant playing of Iturbi, who enacts himself…when he isn’t beating the ivories in ear-tingling versions of such classics as “Rosenkavalier,” “Liebstraum,” and the “Ritual Fire Dance,” intermingled with a bit of boogie-woogie, he is beating his brains out trying to convince Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Mary Eleanor Donahue that they will like him much better as a papa than the man who deserted their mother years ago.
…An additional musical highlight is Iturbi’s rendition of the famous “Rumanian Rhapsody,” in which he enlists the aid of his equally brilliant pianist-sister, Amparo Iturbi, a great symphony orchestra, and Larry Adler on his harmonica.
…All told, this new offering is a treat for all who enjoy a successful blending of romance, music and laughter.
The Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star, February 29, 1948
Mr. Iturbi plays a wide variety of selections from Liszt to boogie-woogie and enacts himself as the celebrity who meets Miss MacDonald on a holiday cruise and who, after winning her hand, finds himself in the formidable position of trying to win over her children as well…Iturbi’s piano wizardry, and heavenly singing on the part of both Miss MacDonald and Miss Powell, make the picture a rich musical feast.
The Post-Standard, April 2, 1948
“Three Daring Daughters” proved lovely to look at, delightful to hear. The eminent cast would draw fans in any case. But the picture is good, the story sparkling and the music diversified enough to suit any taste, long hair or garden variety. And Jeanette MacDonald comes back to the screen in color as beautiful as remembered and her voice captivates.
José Iturbi projects his talents as conductor, pianist—in classics and even boogie-woogie; his sense of humor and pantomime is tops. And there is pretty Jane Powell as the talented eldest daughter who inherited her mother’s vocal gifts…
With plenty music of entrancing variety…there is a fine feast for the ear. And yes, the romance comes out all right and everybody is happy—a quintet at last.
From Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movies Guide:
Three Daring Daughters (1948) C-115m. **1/2
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Jeanette MacDonald, José Iturbi, Elinor Donahue, Ann E. Todd, Jane Powell, Edward Arnold, Harry Davenport.
Woman magazine editor tells her daughters that she’s remarrying. Despite predictable results, well-acted MGM comedy succeeds.
Thoughts of ManyFountains.com:
As the diversity of the above reviews will show, this movie has different effects on different crowds. In larger cities—places where the critics fancied themselves world-weary and wise—“Three Daring Daughters” was a critical flop. In smaller towns, where the audiences and critics were a bit more innocent and accepting, the movie was a huge success. Even today, it receives mixed reviews, based on the background of the viewer.
As for me, I’m a bit at a loss, reminded of that cereal which is composed neither of grapes nor of nuts, but still calls itself “grapenuts.” “Three Daring Daughters” called itself a musical comedy romance. Well, nobody could deny it’s a musical, but there’s not a lot of comedy, and as for romance…well…it’s embarrassing to make this observation, but there was more chemistry between Iturbi and Jane Powell in “Holiday in Mexico” than between Iturbi and MacDonald. The most romantic scene in “Daughters” occurs with the lovebirds in separate rooms—he is wistfully playing “You Made Me Love You” on the piano in his hotel room, and she—across the yard and able to see and hear him—is wistfully singing along in her room.
I must agree that it was a bad idea to have Iturbi use his own name in this movie. At the least, it confused a lot of people. At worst, it caused a lot of other people to dismiss the movie out of hand based solely on that one gaffe. It is very unsettling for an ordinary viewer.
On the other hand, I’m not sure where the New York Times got the idea to ridicule Iturbi’s performance. He’s better in the movie than Jeanette MacDonald. It was around this time that Iturbi was being considered for straight dramatic roles, and based on his performance in this movie, I think he could have handled them. He’s convincing enough as a fellow who’s desperately in love; the credibility problem does not lie with him. I’ve seen MacDonald in enough other movies to know she could act the part of a woman in love, but in this movie, she was an ice queen from start to finish, and one is left wondering why Iturbi wanted her anyway.
Amparo Iturbi appears in two scenes, and there’s a nice moment when Iturbi jerks his head at her while they’re playing a duet, telling her of the arrival of his beloved Louise. Amparo glances over to see who has captivated her brother so, and then gives a slow, approving smile. Actually, Amparo’s acting was better than MacDonald’s, too. MacDonald didn’t want to make this movie with Iturbi; she wanted Nelson Eddy. And it showed. (See “Interesting Trivia” below.)
Also, the movie is told almost entirely from either Louise’s or from the daughters’ point of view, and suffers greatly from it. There are gaps crying to be filled. Anyone with the least bit of Iturbi knowledge would have wondered why he was on that boat in the first place, when he had his own plane and he lived to fly it. And how did the “daring” daughters win him back after his declaration that he wanted no further part of them? This is never resolved, and has to leave one curious.
Because of things like these, the movie has always left me with an oddly disconcerted feeling—pun unintended, but inevitable.
Still there is some terrific music in it, and good performances by most of the cast. The three girls are great. And one has to like Edward Arnold, cast against type as a tough-but-softhearted business tycoon who is bamboozled into helping the daughters, then the mother, and then Iturbi. Finally tired of helping each part of the family offset the other—and of always missing his meals on their account—he takes the girls in hand and tells them in blunt terms the “facts of life” and so changes their perspective enough to make things work out satisfactorily.
The movie is based—very loosely—on a play called The Bees and the Flowers, but aside from the female characters having the same names, and the weak plot of a couple who get married and try to keep it a secret from the woman’s daughters, there’s little resemblance to the play. Iturbi of course is not in the play—the new husband is a very ordinary businessman named “Tack.”
Originally the movie was to be called “The Birds and the Bees” but apparently it was too “daring.” In England it was called “Keep Young with Music.”
The Roman Catholic Legion of Decency objected to the movie because it portrayed divorce as acceptable.
According to one MacDonald biography, “Hollywood Diva,” MacDonald wanted “Three Daring Daughters” not only to be her comeback movie but also a reunion with her screen flame Nelson Eddy (by some accounts, her offscreen flame as well). According to MacDonald, she could have lit up the screen if only Hollywood had been sensible enough to cast Eddy in the role. But Iturbi was Pasternak’s current “favorite,” and apparently MacDonald was left feeling that she would have nothing to do in the movie but admire Iturbi. (Amusingly enough, Clark Gable had initially refused to do “San Francisco” with MacDonald for about the same reason.)
Shortly after MacDonald’s arrival on set, she was driven almost to distraction by the constant noise of someone incessantly playing scales on the piano. She sent her maid to find the “annoying child” and make him stop. A few minutes later the maid was back, and the scales were still playing. “Didn’t you find him?” MacDonald demanded. The maid, wide-eyed, replied, “Yes ma’am—it’s Mr. Iturbi!”
Iturbi disappeared from the set once and could not be found. MacDonald went looking for him and found him in the studio barber shop getting a haircut. “But you don’t need a haircut!” she told him. Iturbi replied, “Of course I do—do you think I want to be taken for a musician?”
Memorable Iturbi Lines
Every day I practice. Every day in the week, and every week in the year. And all the time I worry. Maybe I’m not good enough. You see there is one thing about music. You always feel there is so much more than you know. Maybe there is some wonderful secret you haven’t quite captured.
Louise: But think of all the people you’ve moved and inspired.
Iturbi: And maybe put some to sleep, too.
A crowd can be a very lonesome thing. But one person—just one—can mean more than a hundred-thousand.
I love it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. But I would like it if someone could like me a little…in spite of my music.
Very good. I like that very much. I like all music that makes people happy. But it was not quite “in the groove.”
I wish I were so sure about anything, as you are about everything.
Iturbi’s Musical Numbers
Soloist: Liebstraum (Liszt)
You Made me Love You (Monaco/McCarthy)
Allegro Apassionato (Saint-Saens)
Route 66 (Troup)
Where there’s Love (Waltz from Der Rosenkavalier) (Strauss/Brent) with Jeanette MacDonald
Je Veux Vivre aka Juliet’s Waltz Song (Gounod) with Jane Powell
Sweethearts (Herbert/Wright/Forrest) with Jeanette MacDonald
Ritual Fire Dance (de Falla) with Amparo Iturbi
Rumanian Rhapsody (Enesco) with Amparo Iturbi and Larry Adler
Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony