Paced with lightning speed, this compact 64-minute gangster melodrama brings together Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis as former schoolmates who have a reunion after more than 10 years. Blondell, who spent some time in reform school, is a stage actress; Dvorak is a high-society woman, married to lawyer Warren William; and the intelligent Davis...read more
Paced with lightning speed, this compact 64-minute gangster melodrama brings together Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis as former schoolmates who have a reunion after more than 10 years. Blondell, who spent some time in reform school, is a stage actress; Dvorak is a high-society
woman, married to lawyer Warren William; and the intelligent Davis is a stenographer. Meeting in a restaurant, the women light their cigarettes from the same match, defying the superstition that the last person to use the match will be the first to die. Later, they meet at a bon voyage party for
Dvorak, who is preparing to embark on a cruise with her son, Buster Phelps. Blondell brings along as her date Lyle Talbot, a tough underworld figure whose raw energy appeals to Dvorak. Instead of leaving on the cruise, she runs off with Talbot out of a perverse boredom with her society ways.
William enlists the help of Blondell in finding his wife and son and along the way falls in love with her. When William finds that Dvorak has taken up with Talbot, he divorces her and regains custody of the son, employing Davis as his nanny. Later, when William's marriage to Blondell is announced,
Dvorak falls into a depressed state and resorts to drink and drugs. Meanwhile, Talbot is in deep over his head in gambling debts and tries unsuccessfully to blackmail William. He then hires mobster Humphrey Bogart (referred to simply as "The Mug") and his henchmen to kidnap Phelps. When it looks
as if William will not pay the ransom, Dvorak fears that her son will be killed and tries to interfere, but she is too drugged up to do any good. She also is taken prisoner by the kidnapers. As a morbid last resort, Dvorak scribbles a message in lipstick on her nightgown and jumps from the window
of the hideout, alerting the police to its location. She is killed, but the police manage to save the boy from the same fate.
Director Mervyn LeRoy skillfully crams a great deal of plot into 64 minutes, avoiding the pitfalls that would turn this into a 120-minute soap opera in lesser hands. At the same time, LeRoy creates three-dimensional characters instead of resorting to the cardboard cutouts which usually hamper a
melodrama of this brevity. THREE ON A MATCH not only brings life to its characters but also to the decade of the 1920s, which is given a classic nostalgic treatment (although it had ended just two years previously) in a year-by-year montage constructed of newsreel footage, headlines, fashions, and
music. THREE ON A MATCH also provided Bogart with his first gangster role after playing a succession of pretty boys. He would return to Warners four years later (costarring with Davis) as the full-fledged gangster Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST. THREE ON A MATCH was remade as the routine
BROADWAY MUSKETEERS in 1938.
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