Three on a Match – 1932


My Review


Your Bogie Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Mervyn LeRoy

The Lowdown 

The film follows three grade school classmates, Mary (Joan Blondell), Vivian (Ann Dvorak), and Ruth (Bette Davis), as they grow up, go their separate ways, and then reconnect at a beauty parlor.  When Vivian turns her life upside down after deciding that she’s unhappy with her marriage, Mary and Ruth stand by helplessly and watch their old acquaintance throw her life away with a long series of poor choices and a severe struggle with substance abuse.  Although Vivian’s life careens out of control, her misfortune ends up leading Mary and Ruth to a better life as they assume the roles of wife and mother that Vivian leaves behind.

What I Thought

Well, this was my first step into the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, and boy was it a doozy.  I admit, I have a number of large gaps in my cinema knowledge, and this period between the late 1920’s and early 1930’s is one of them.  I just didn’t have a lot of exposure to the films of this time until now.

That being said. . .

Within the first ten minutes of the movie, you’ll see kids showing off their “bloomers,” smoking, and dancing suggestively.  By the end of the movie, you’ll have seen adults drinking, high on drugs, wearing see-through nightgowns, and falling from several stories onto a busy street in a very realistic suicide scene.  It’s provocative filmmaking to say the least, and let me tell you, it’s captivating.

From beginning to end, this is a wild ride through the lives of three young women who start out on very different paths (bad girl, popular diva, straight ‘A’ student) and end up places that they never thought they’d be – some good, some disappointing, and some outright horrible.  It’s exciting, dramatic, occasionally funny, often stimulating, and eventually very painful to watch.

I really enjoyed this movie, but after Black Legion, Two Against the World, and now Three on a Match, let’s just say that I’m ready for more of a pick-me-up Bogart movie.

The Bogart Factor

The movie is barely over an hour and Bogart doesn’t appear until about forty-seven minutes into the film, so there’s not a lot of time spent with his character.  When he does show up however, his role largely dominates the storyline until the end of the film.

Playing Harve, the number one thug to a mobster named Ace (Edward Arnold), Bogart shows up with a gang of toughs to shake down Vivian and her new boyfriend after they kidnap Vivian’s young son Junior in an attempt to extort her wealthy ex-husband.

It’s a scene-stealing role for Bogart, as his cool and detached onscreen persona overpowers every other actor in the frame.

While not a large role for Bogie, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

The Cast 

Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis are all superb and perfectly cast.

Blondell is so good, I can’t wait to catch up with her in other roles.  Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long as she’s apparently in a few other Bogart movies on my list.

Dvorak is able to play both high class and depravity with equal strength, and it’s a role that makes me want to explore the rest of her filmography.

Then there’s Bette Davis, who supposedly spent her time on the film at odds with Director LeRoy who didn’t appreciate her acting, which probably explains why her character is the least developed of the three.  I don’t know what Leroy was seeing, as Davis is just as gorgeous and fun as ever.  (Yes, I’m well aware that this blog is turning into a Bette Davis fanblog . . . I don’t know what to say.  She’s becoming more and more an obsession with me all the time.)

Warren William, as Vivian’s ex-husband Robert Kirkwood, is very good, and another actor with a filmography I need to explore.

Lyle Talbot plays Michael Loftus, Vivian’s shifty, flop-sweating, junkie of a boyfriend who gets into debt with Bogart’s boss.  He’s just good looking enough to con you, and just oily enough to hate.  He’s does well in the role.

Child actor Dickie Moore plays Dvorak and William’s son, Junior, and does a good job of being cute and heartbreaking at every possible moment.  (For a good piece on Moore, check out @HollywoodComet’s review of Dickie Moore’s book about being a child actor here, as she is currently in the midst of a child actor blogathon.)

Classic Bogie Moment

There aren’t a lot of scenes to pick from, but towards the end of the film, when Harve and his thugs are hold up in Vivian’s apartment, Bogart, dressed in a charcoal suit and black fedora, sits hunched in a chair, commanding the room on sheer charisma as he tells his crew about the cops canvassing the streets.

Perhaps Bogie’s best line, and maybe the most chilling line of the film, comes after Bogart strong-arms Dvorak into a room and slams the door.  Dickie Moore approaches and whimpers:

Moore:  You musn’t hurt my mama.

Bogart: (SNEERING) Okay, I’ll bear that in mind.

The Bottom Line

Although short, this is a classic gangster role for Bogart.  Even though he’s not in it for long, it’s a great film, an easy watch, and a fun early Bogart role.  If you’re really jonesing for a Bogart gangster film though, you might want to pair it up with something like High Sierra just to get a good fix.

13 thoughts on “Three on a Match – 1932

  1. I’m still a newbie to the Pre-Codes myself, but I think it’s a shame Ann “The D is Silent” Dvorak wasn’t a bigger star. I’ve read that she was on the verge of stardom when she got in trouble with her studio (Warner Brothers) for eloping and taking off for a year-long honeymoon. She still had time on her contract, but after that, Warner’s never cast her in as good of roles.

    • Yeah! I’m reading a Bogart bio that goes into the studio system quite a bit, and if you took any length of time off, it sounds like you were pretty much done – which meant you could go from leading actor to bit player in less than a year. Wild stuff.

  2. Great post! Three on a Match is such a wonderful movie and it’s really a shame that Ann Dvorak doesn’t get more recognition. I never knew of the superstition of “three on a match” until I saw this film.
    And thank you for the shout out 🙂

    • Yeah, I thought it was pretty ironic that there was a superstition about lighting matches for smoking that talks about gettin you killed, considering that your chances for death go up about 100% from smoking in the first place… Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m a big Warren William fan and count this as among the better movies he is in, but that’s not to say that it is at all his movie–agree that Ann Dvorak is fantastic here, especially at the end, and Three on a Match is pretty much all hers. While this one ranks higher even on the Warren-meter than the Bogie-meter, you definitely chose a great title to tease you into the world of the pre-Code era!

  4. I really think Warren William’s best film is Lady For A Day. If you like Damon Runyon characters, you will enjoy this film. William plays a great Dave The Dude. Lady for A Day is an essential to me.

  5. Pingback: Bette Davis | The Bogie Film Blog

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