Plot: Vivian (Ann Dvorak), Mary (Joan Blondell), and Ruth (Bette Davis) have been friends since childhood, always close with each other despite some drastic and obvious personality differences. Ruth tends to be passive and bookish, Mary is a free spirit who attracts attention, and Vivian is well, Vivian and driven to seek out attention, even if it isn’t always the good kind. As young adults, the women take different paths in life and lose contact at times, but still remain in touch when possible. But time passes and after a decade apart, the women find each other once again and catch up on where life has taken them. Ruth is a typist in a career she despises, Mary has found minor success as a chorus girl, while Vivian is married to a wealthy lawyer and in truth, can do whatever she pleases in life. She confides that she should be happy, but she isn’t and craves more of a visceral thrill out of life. But when she takes a risk and pursues the things she thinks will make her happy, will it give her the satisfaction she desires or will she find herself trapped in an even darker place?
Entertainment Value: This one runs just over an hour, but never feels rushed and packs in a massive amount of drama, some terrific performances, and a narrative that shows that precode cinema was all about. The story follows all three women, but focuses in on Vivian, who has the easiest path in life, the least amount of happiness, and feels the lure of the dark side. The dynamics at work in the lives of Vivian and Mary are given more time than Ruth, perhaps due to the middle of the road nature of her life, which isn’t as interesting as the others. But I still feel like all three are given ample time to shine and develop. In this hour, we follow the women from childhood through their educations and into their adult lives, but again, the short duration isn’t an issue and the stories feel fleshed out. Three on a Match deals in some untoward topics, especially for the time and was rooted in real life elements, such as class struggles in the Great Depression, moral decline, and a kidnapping that had parallels with the Lindbergh case that was a global news sensation. The movie fizzled with critics and audiences, but has gained substantial acclaim in the decades that followed.
All three of the leads are quite good here, though Bette Davis is given a less than ideal character to showcase her talents with. But she is still able to radiate some of her charm and she looks fantastic, so while the role isn’t one tailored to her strengths, her presence alone elevates the part. Joan Blondell has the most likable character and the charisma to make sure we all cheer for her, while Ann Dvorak turns in the best performance of the lot, in a complex role. Dvorak is able to convey Vivian’s internal struggle and deliver the desperation the role needs, but she wisely keeps the melodrama reined in and as such, the tone remains serious. Warren William is rock solid as always, given the tough task of playing Vivian’s husband, while familiar faces Lyle Talbot, Glenda Farrell, and even Humphrey Bogart show up in the supporting cast. Bogart plays a nasty mafia man and makes the most of his limited screen time here. I think fans of old school Hollywood will have a great time with Three on a Match, as it still feels raw and powerful, boasts an impressive cast, and tells a memorable narrative.