Cinema Slueth – Three on a Match

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 3.5 / 5

Recommendation: Three women defining their paths in a melodrama story I the pre-Code era; fast-packed in short minutes. Don’t miss Harve in the movie – love Bogart in any role.

Three on a Match is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film starring Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis in the lead cast. We see Humphrey Bogart in the supporting cast along side Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins and Edward Arnold.

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Produced by Samuel Bischoff, Raymond Griffith and Darryl F. Zanuck; and released by Warner Bros. Original story by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright for which Screenplay was written by Lucien Hubbard.  Movie was released by Warner Bros.

Three women Mary Keaton (portrayed by Joan Blondell), Ruth Westcott (portrayed by Bette Davis) and Vivian Revere Kirkwood (portrayed by Ann Dvorak) meet as adults after some time has passed. They talk about their lives so far, while lighting their cigarettes with the same matchstick, and end up discussing the superstition surrounding that act. And thus the movie follows the lives of these three women, and the very paths they take and people they meet.

As his earlier movies went, Humphrey Bogart is not the primary character. This was his first main appearance as a hoodlum kind. However his 1934 American drama film Midnight was shot earlier than this which actually gave him the role of Harve in this film. Midnight however released two years after this film. In this film he doesn’t appear for at least 40 minutes into the movie.

Joan Blondell who portrayed the role of Mary Keaton had posed for a risque 1932 promotional publicity photo that was banned later. Surprisingly that was used as a promotional photo for her. Very risque for the era if I may say so.

Ann Dvorak who portrayed the role of Vivian Revere Kirkwood is now considered as one of her best performances. It is very interesting to note that decades later in 1979 both Blondell and Dvorak die of cancer fifteen days from each other.

And not just Blondell but Dvorak also wore some risque clothing in this film.

Betty Davis plays the role of Ruth Westcott, one of her beginning films where she is in a supporting role. Hers is a very short role but a much needed glue between Blondell’s Mary and Dvorak’s Vivian.

Warren William as Robert Kirkwood appears far more older than his role as Perry Mason or Philo Vance in later movies. Yet he gave a marvelous performance here. I almost feel pity for Warren’s Robert in the film.

Interesting of note. In the ocean liner scene where Mary meets Michael Loftus (portrayed by Lyle Talbot), after offering her a drink, Michael quotes “Well, here’s looking at you”. Exactly 10 years later, Humphrey Bogart uses the same line, except tags it with “kid” in the 1942 American romantic drama film Casablanca. While the line got on to become one of the most romantic dialogues of movie history, could it have been picked up by Bogart from this film to begin with? Perhaps.

The movie also introduced Jack Webb one of the greats from the old time radio who transitioned into TV with a successful career with shows like Dragnet, Pat Novak for Hire, Jeff Regan, Pete Kelly’s Blues, etc. He plays a small role as a boy in the schoolyard, an uncredited role. I couldn’t pick him out among the myriad of kids shown in the schoolyard scene.

The movie was released around the time the famous Lindbergh kidnapping was in press. Perhaps that or the movie in general being tedious that began in a happy note but dwindled down into a gangster style movie, it bombed at the box office. Considering the story being so close to the real-life incident, it must have not been appealing to the audience either. But decades later this movie is considered very carefully made, fast-moving and packs a lot in very short reels.

The key characters names are shown along with their live-action picture and the character they are playing in at the beginning of the film. The story plot begins in 1919 and takes us through a series of years showing the progression of the three lead actresses from their formation years as a child; and concludes in the year 1932 which is when the movie was released.

Just as we see in the beginning of the film, the title refers to a now extinct superstition that was created by a match company to cut down on sharing of matches and thus increasing the sales.

It is a melodrama of childhood friends who reconnect years later where they find love, suspense and tragedy. Some consider it as a pre-Code film with a Soap Opera style of story line. Definitely racy components woven into the plot.

Spoiler Alerts:

Movie Trivia:

  1. The film was remade again by Warner Bros. in 1938 as an American musical drama film titled Broadway Musketeers starring Margaret Lindsay, Ann Sheridan and Marie Wilson.
  2. This movie was part of a promotion campaign that Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish Match King, used to sell more matches by cutting down on sharing. Incidentally Warren William’s next film  was the 1932 American pre-Code drama film The Match King loosely based on Kreuger’s life and suicide. Warren played the title role in that film. There is even a montage promoting Kreuger’s cigarettes. Montage also talks about the made-up superstition.

3. Recognize the set of the Vivian’s ocean liner cabin? Yes, it is the same one used in the 1933 American pre-Code drama film Baby Face released a year later.

4. This film marked the debut for teenage actress Patricia Ellis. She plays the role of Linda in the film. She is the girl on the right in the pic below.

5. Note the article on the amazing “wireless telephone” aka “radio”. 🙂 90 years later we have news on the tips of our finger tips in the form of smart phones.

6. Check out the complicated contraption to get your hair curled? Or dyed? Gosh, if it was there now, I would never step into a salon.

7. Another notable radio, theater and film artist we see is Edward Arnold. Lately, I have heard many of this shows that aired on radio on the Old Time Radio podcasts. Definitely notable for his role as the blind private eye in the 1942 American crime mystery film Eyes in the Night and its sequel the 1945 American mystery film The Hidden Eye. He portrays the role of Ace, a small time boss owning a gambling den.

Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

  1. In a montage, the year 1921 shows a sheet music cover of “The Sheik of Araby”, mentioning it was sung by Eddie Cantor in the play “Make it Snappy”. The play didn’t have it’s run until April to July of 1922.

2. The PS 62 “School Messenger” paper shown in the 1921 montage has the topic about Professor Irving Finklestein as the only valid news. Everything else on that page is a garble of words. For example, Under “BANQUET PALANNED”, the story starts, “Mrs. Armstrong ended her life in is said to be at a high pitch as the land avenue …” and the first item under “School Topics” begins, “A small crowd, said to be made several minutes. She alternately body, self-appointed head of her and horror…”.

3. The girl by the piano in reform school is seen leaving the piano twice in back to back shots.

4. The cigarette in Mary’s hand keeps changing between shots at the restaurant where she meets with Vivian and Ruth for the first time after leaving school.

5. At that same lunch, Mary comments about Vivian’s limo chauffeur as “Russian grand duke”. But later when they split outside the restaurant, her driver turns out to be an African-America.

6. When Vivian is faking being asleep, she has her both hands hanging by her side below her head But in the following shot when Robert sees her in the mirror, her head is now resting on one of the hands.

7. Between shots Mary’s purse goes from her hand to the bed and back to her hand while she is talking to Vivian in her bedroom.

One thought on “Cinema Slueth – Three on a Match

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: