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Edward G. Robinson,
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William C. McGann
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 <email@example.com>
I highly recommend this Pre-Code film, an early directorial effort by Mervyn LeRoy. "Three on a Match" is more frank about life than many other films from that early era. Though Bette Davis is in it, she was still an ingénue with a very small part. She makes no major impact, but the real star of the show is Ann Dvorak (pronounced Vorzhak in case you didn't know). I have only recently gotten acquainted with this exquisite actress and have yet to see a bad performance in the half dozen or so films I've seen of hers. She was amazing in "Match," just so very natural, believable, one of the best at making not great dialog zing. And her eyes!! Wow!
The concept of the film comes from a superstition that grew during WWI about three soldiers lighting cigarettes from the same match being bad luck for one of the three. This is not a war film. The girls are civilians, who at one point light up cigarettes with one match, recalling that superstition. The three are: Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis and Joan Blondell (she's also good). What is surprising is how their lives change and how straightforward the film is in depicting one woman's downfall. It's very intense, with a shocking and heartbreaking ending.
We get to know three girls as children first and then see them again years later when they reconnect after becoming young women. As children they were very different. As adults their lives take different paths. The film is segmented by yearly dates, jumping ahead every few years to see where they are and how things have changed.
The story becomes a bit predictable, but it's still very much worth sticking with because of how honest the portrayals are and how good Dvorak is. She made an even bigger impact not too long after this by playing Paul Muni's sister in Howard Hawks' "Scarface." "Three on a Match" is worth seeing for a view into a short period of early sound films when they approached their subject matter fearlessly, and had more realistic female characters. Once the production code was instated, female roles became more constrained. This is one of the must-see Pre-Code films.
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