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Three women who were childhood schoolmates take different paths in life. Vivian marries a very wealthy lawyer and has an adorable boy. Mary, on the other hand, takes the hard road through reform school. After a superstitious faux pas, Vivian's luck turns. She strays from her steadfast husband to a life of debauchery and alcoholism. Meanwhile, Mary turns her life around and not only wins the heart of Vivian's ex-husband, but also becomes a loving step-mother to Vivian's only child. Then Vivian's worthless boyfriend makes a desperate move. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Would you stop remindin' me of heaven when I'm so close to the other place."
Critic Leonard Maltin describes "Three On A Match" as a "hard hitting example of forbidden Hollywood". That it is, no happy endings here, as this depression era film follows the rise and fall of childhood friends who get caught up in the seamy underworld of booze, drugs and gambling, ultimately trading places along the way.
The three friends are Mary Keaton Bernard (Joan Blondell), Vivian Revere Kirkwood (Ann Dvorak) and Ruth Wescott (Bette Davis), shown growing up between 1919 and 1932 as a montage of newspaper headlines place the story in a historical context. Blondell's character is a reform school standout, whose life experience puts her in a position to counsel a depressed and "fed up with everything" Vivian. Viv takes up with small time hood Mike Loftus (Lyle Talbot) after disappearing with her young son from a cruise ship. Loftus ingratiates himself with mobster Harve (Humphrey Bogart in a minor role) and his boss Ace (Edward Arnold) by going into debt for two grand. The desperate creep attempts to blackmail the boy's father, wealthy lawyer Robert Kirkwood (Warren William), but that plan heads south as the cops quickly close in. Vivian's resolution is one of the more depressing finales to a tale that realistically depicts a pair of unfortunate souls whose lives spiral completely out of control.
The film does have it's share of light moments; one of the newspaper clippings describes the new fashion trend in beachwear, a "brief" sun suit, ably modeled by Bette Davis. In stark contrast, Mr. Kirkwood's attire of choice is a business suit and tie while sitting under a beach umbrella, hard to work up a good tan that way. Davis' screen time is limited but effective, with a sit up and take notice scene where she's shown wearing just a slip early in the film, rather daring for the era and showing more skin than one might expect.
Warner Brothers/First National masterfully portrayed the down and out, seamy underside of life during the 1930's, '40's and '50's, tackling all manner of subjects in their movies. "Three On A Match" tells it's tale without a wasted moment, sometimes relying on scenes that only last a few seconds to move the story along. It's hard edged and no nonsense, all the more provocative for it's mature subject matter and realistic portrayals; highly recommended.
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